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15 Aug '15

What's Wrong With Wool?

Posted by Unicorn Goods

You recycle. You volunteer on the weekends. You donate to NPR and the Nature Conservancy AND your alma mater. You're trying to do the right thing. The last thing your fragile conscience needs is a swift kick in the butt. But do you wear wool?

Most wool is the product of a process called mulesing ("MULE-sing") in which skin around a sheep's tail area is cut off, often at the same time as the tail (called docking). The resulting scar tissue from the muelsing process is more resistant to flystrike, a condition in which blowfly larva hatch on the soiled hindquarters of sheep and parasitically infest the animal.

Mulesing was developed in the early 20th century by Mr. Mule, who accidentally mutilated one of his sheep in this way when he was shearing it for its wool. 

Muelsing and docking both became common practice in an attempt to protect sheep from flystrike in the 1930s. Australia, currently the world's largest producer of wool, still accepts both muelsing and docking as common practice. The procedures are performed after lambs are weened form their mothers before their first birthday. The animals are put into metal restraining cages called marking cradles in which their legs are pulled toward their head. Modified wool sheers, basically giant scissors, are used to cut away flesh. The procedure is generally done by unskilled persons without the use of anesthesia. The animals suffer notable pain upon procedure and during the healing process, which can last up to two weeks.

Ironically, flystrike is largely a man-made problem. Merino sheep, the most commercially used sheep breed, have been bred to produce as much wool as possible, meaning that current merinos have undulating wrinkled skin. More surface area = more wool. But this thicker, wrinkled skin is harder to keep clean, and the hind area holds more urine and fecal matter, which attracts blowflies and causes flystrike. In our attempt to squeeze as much money out of sheep as possible, we created a breed that inevitably suffers more, with or without humans making matters worse. 

Chris, a neglected Merino sheep, with his 90lbs of wool. (BBC, Sept 2015)

Above: The wooliest merino sheep found was abandoned or lost, found in neglected condition and close to death from the unshorn wool on its body.

In 2010, several large clothiers boycotted Australian merino wool products, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, and H&M. 

Considering that sheep were no longer mulesed or docked, wool is still an unethical product unless it is guaranteed to be done in a humane way. The overbred sheep often suffer from heat exhaustion from their surplus of unnatural wool. Sheep are often sheered too early in the season and die of exposure to cold, since waiting could result in the natural shedding of wool in the fields. Sheering is done by unskilled laborers who are paid by volume and abuse the sheep in the process of trying to get the most wool possible in the shortest amount of time. Cuts and infections are common. And the amount of water needed to clean the resulting wool is egregious. 

At Unicorn Goods, we take a stance against mulesing, and go even further to support that all animals, sheep as well as other animals grown for hair and fur, should not be used for fashion.

So think next time you don that itchy sweater, think twice. Muelsing may give you just the excuse you need to make yourself more comfortable.

Additional resources: Wiki: mulesing | Wiki: merino | PETA: wool industry

merino muelsing sheep vegan wool

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