Is Wool Animal-Friendly?

Before and after pictures of Chris, the overgrown Australian sheep thought to have been missing from his flock for five or six years.

A friend recently asked me about Chris, the lost sheep found in Australia carrying a whopping 90 pounds of wool. It is thought that he was missing for five years and had never been shorn. Since vegans avoid using any animal products, she was curious about sheep that need shearing. If sheep need us to take care of them, would it not be acceptable to use their wool?

That’s a great question because most people aren’t aware that animals in the wild are quite different than those raised for human use. What isn’t mentioned in the article about Chris is why he had grown so much wool in the first place. The reason is that domesticated sheep are bred to produce much more wool than they need for their own use. Wild sheep grow what they need to keep warm in the winter and then shed it in the summer. Many other wild animals do this as well, like hares, foxes and caribou. Not only do white winter coats keep these animals warm, but they can also keep them camouflaged against the snow.

Just like pigs, chickens and cows are bred to produce more meat, eggs and milk, it is human manipulation through breeding that has caused the need for sheep shearing. Breeding techniques, as well as drugs such as hormones, force animals to produce more of what we want rather than what is best for their well being. In Chris’ case, he had no use for 90 pounds of wool, which made him dependent on his owners for shearing. In the case of egg laying hens, a painful condition called uterine prolapse is common due to their being bred to produce large eggs and too many of them. Dairy cows can suffer from lameness due to the overproduction of milk.

Brianna is one of over one hundred rescued animals living at Maple Farm Sanctuary in Mendon, MA. This is a great video that explains the wool industry. It focuses on industrial scale production, but even smaller operations are faced with many of the same challenges, like what to do when sheep are not producing enough wool to be profitable. That's one reason why there is no such thing as humane meat or animal products. If an animal is not profitable due to age or perhaps was born unhealthy, it does not make economic sense to keep them alive. Their food and medical costs cannot be offset by selling their products. A lucky few animals, like Brianna (pictured here), are taken in by non-profit organizations like Maple Farm Sanctuary in Mendon, MA. However, there are too many needy animals to save them all and not enough resources to do so.

Many people find it overwhelming to try to figure out what is vegan and what is not. They worry that they need to learn a set of rules to be vegan. But it's actually very simple. It's a different way of seeing the world. Vegans view animals as coinhabitants of the earth, just like other humans and companion animals. Rather than seeing them as a resource to provide us with food, clothing, entertainment, etc., vegans see them as fellow earthlings just trying to live. Most humans wouldn't keep people (or dogs or cats) in order to harvest their hair, milk or meat; that would be considered exploitation of a living being. Veganism calls for that same attitude to apply to all other animals. They should not be bought, sold, bred and ultimately killed for human consumption. So, if something is derived from an animal, it's not vegan.

Laurie Johnston is the owner of Two Trick Pony, a stationery and design studio based in central Massachusetts. Two Trick Pony donates a portion of profits, as well as design services to various vegan advocacy and animal rescue organizations.