Sheep produce wool to insulate themselves from cold and heat, though they have been genetically modified over time to produce far more wool than they require for this purpose. Some sheep are bred exclusively for their wool, as it is a popular material for everything from clothes and bedding to house insulation.
Sheep are intelligent, complex animals, who have rich emotional lives and form close attachments with their familes and flock. Despite their name being synonymous with unthinking following, they have been found to posess brainpower to equal monkeys and, in some tests, even humans. Sheep have been shown to remember faces, human or animal, plan ahead and develop a complex understanding of their environment. Sheep, like many animals, experience pain, fear, loneliness and joy.
While sheep need to be sheared, sheep raised specifically for their wool are often treated as little more than wool producing machines. Shortly after birth, , sheep are castrated and have their tails cut off, often without anaesthetic. Shearers are usually paid per sheep rather than per hour, which encourages fast processing speeds. Shearing injuries are common, and range from scratches to deep wounds. Shearing is extremely stressful for sheep, as is their handling during mustering, yarding, and penning. Sheep are often sheared too close or when it is too cold in order to maximise profits, meaning that many die from exposure or hypothermia. In Australia for example, nearly a million sheep die each year during the first 30 days after shearing. Once their wool production slows, sheep are almost always sent to slaughter, as are many of their lambs, most of whom are slaughtered between 2 and 14 months old.
Breeding sheep for their wool is exploitative, cruel and completely unneccessary for most of us. Many people reason that since sheep are not killed for their wool directly, that buying and wearing wool is okay. However, by purchasing wool you are directly funding not only the wool industry, but the meat industry as well, since the two are fundamentally connected. Sheep are sentient beings who deserve to be treated as more than mere commodities; they have their own needs, preferences and emotions, and have as much right to be here as we do. They are simply not ours to buy, sell, eat, use, kill or wear.