The weather is beginning to get a bit chilly here in the Southern Hemisphere, so we’re wrapping up warm and getting ready for the winter months.
We all love to snuggle up in these colder months with warm blankets, woolly jumpers, scarves and hats. And so out we purchase woollen garments to take off the chill. We may not stop there. We could get a woollen underlay for the top of the mattress or sheepskin-lined slippers. But do we think about how the raw product is acquired?
I’m sure you all know where the wool comes from, especially here in New Zealand, but do you fully understand what happens to the animals for us to have our winter woollies?
Let’s start at the beginning with the lambs. Sheep generally only have one lamb. However, it is now common to see twins and triplets, which is more a result of genetic selection, intensive feeding or hormones and other drugs.
Two procedures are done on lambs, usually before six weeks of age. These are docking (removing the tails) and castration (removing the testicles), both performed without anaesthetic and usually without painkillers. Docking methods vary from rubber rings to hot irons, subjecting the lamb to much pain.
Castration is usually done before four weeks of age; commonly, the rubber ring method is used. I won’t give you details; suffice to say, it’s not a pleasant job, but the industry will tell you it is necessary, although damned if I know why, as most male lambs end up going to slaughter.
Wild sheep still exist, and like wild goats, they shed their thick winter coats in springtime. Some wild breeds only grow wool to a certain length, meaning that wild sheep do not have to be shorn at all.
Now the lambs who haven’t gone to be eaten have grown up, and remember, these sheep are bred to have thick, woollen coats, so it’s time to get them into the shed. The shearing process itself can be a painful experience. Typically shearers are paid by the number of sheep shorn, which can mean they will rush to get as many sheep through the shed as possible.
Unfortunately, in the rush, it’s easy to cut the end of a teat off. Struggling sheep can be brutally punched, and inexperienced or…