July 14, 2014

There is no such thing as humane wool when it is left on the sheep: Why sheep shearing is absolutely necessary for sheep welfare

Sheep in Iowa.

Written by: ASAS Board

Official Statement from the American Society of Animal Science Board of Directors

Official Statement from the American Society of Animal Science Board of Directors

As long as there are sheep, shearing must be practiced for the health and hygiene of each individual animal.
Unlike other animals, most sheep are unable to shed. If a sheep goes too long without being shorn, a number of problems occur.

  • The excess wool impedes the ability of sheep to regulate their body temperatures. This can cause sheep to become overheated and die.
  • Urine, feces and other materials become trapped in the wool, attracting flies, maggots and other pests. This causes irritation, infections and endangers the health of the animal.
  • Sheep with large amounts of wool can become immobilized by physical obstacles in their path and are more susceptible to predator attacks.

How the Agriculture Industry protects sheep welfare:

There are established guidelines and educational programs designed to educate farmers and ranchers and to protect sheep.

You can visit the official website of the American Sheep Industry Association to learn more about these guidelines.

Universities, university extension services and wool producers have “Sheep Shearing Schools” open to the public and designed to teach correct, safe and humane sheep shearing practices.

Recent Claims in the media

Last week, NBC published an article featuring footage – obtained from PETA – depicting shearers mistreating sheep.

The article quotes PETA official, Daphna Nachiminovitch, who said, “PETA’s in-depth investigations show that – no matter how much anyone might wish it to be so – there is no such thing as ‘humane’ wool.”

There is no denying the footage published was violent and inhumane, but to suggest, let alone state, this is the norm in the sheep industry says a lot about the “in-depth investigations” conducted to create this footage.

The American Society of Animal Science and associated affiliations do not condone or tolerate the acts of violence and cruelty exhibited in these videos.

It is not common practice in the sheep industry in the United States or Australia to handle sheep in a violent manner or treat the animals inhumanely. The violence contained in the video footage is inhumane, does not demonstrate acceptable husbandry practices, and is not tolerated within the industry. In fact, unlike those filming the video, responsible sheep producers would never stand silently by filming inhumane treatment of sheep. Responsible, caring individuals would immediately intervene to prevent cruelty rather than continuing to film this behavior.

That is not to say that accidental cuts don’t occur during the shearing process. These cuts are generally similar to nicks that occur when people are shaving and do not involve serious injury. If the acts are intentional and severe as shown in the video appropriate corrective action is recommended.

NRCSPA97006.tifResponsible sheep producers care about the animals they are entrusted with. The husbandry practices shown in the video footage are not the norm for the industry in the United States or Australia nor are they beneficial practices.. Shearing is a management practice which must be performed on a routine basis. Handling sheep in a violent manner during the shearing process is not condoned.

Livestock farming and ranching is not easy. It is physically demanding, the hours tend to be long and there are no vacation days. Many factors which cannot be controlled such as weather, disease challenges, and predators can impact livelihoods. In spite of these challenges, farmers and ranchers raise livestock out of a labor of love and an inborn fondness for animals.

The American Society of Animal Science fosters the discovery, sharing and application of scientific knowledge concerning the responsible use of animals to enhance human life and well-being. Our members work in agriculture because they love animals and believe feeding our families, friends, and communities is important.

Photos courtesy of USDA NRCS.

Media Contact:
Samantha Walker