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I am a vegan and I (believe I) understand the main philosophical arguments and stances that lead to the conclusion that we should not use non-human animals or animal products for our own ends.

Accordingly I try to avoid using wool, but wool is a widely used material in the UK where I live, and I would like to be able to explain to others the specific ethical issues with using it, as I can easily do when asked why I avoid dairy products. (eg cows are kept in poor conditions, the baby cow is always taken from the mother and if he's a boy he's usually slaughtered immediately, etc)

I am looking for factual information about the treatment of commercially farmed sheep being used to produce wool that I can use to raise awareness about this practice and explain non-dogmatically why those who care about animal welfare may choose to avoid wool.

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    Mulesing is one possible ethical concern. I've asked a subquestion about this: vegetarianism.stackexchange.com/questions/370/… – Turion Feb 5 '17 at 12:02
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    Could you add the specific ethical talking points you usually use when explaining why you abstain from dairy products? That could help people give better answers for your situation. – Adam Miller Feb 13 '17 at 15:25
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Like most livestock, wool sheep are tail-docked, castrated, and have their ears clipped.

Sheep are also selectively bred to favor the ones with the most skin-folds/highest wool production, which leads to unhappy sheep covered in much more wool than would be normal in the wild, and exacerbates the flystrike problem that necessitates mulesing, which is not required in wild sheep. [Source]

Additionally, PETA claims that sheep shearers are more often paid by volume, not time, so it doesn't take much imagination to see how that probably doesn't fare very well for the treatment of sheep most of the time. [Source]

  • No matter how good you are, at the speed they work shearers will invariably hurt the sheep. That's my main thought when avoiding to pay for wool. – ecc Feb 14 '17 at 8:04
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According to sheep101.info, sheep have a natural life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. Despite this, a sheep's wool production begins to decline after 7 years. Therefore, farmers can produce more wool by using resources to sustain young sheep than old sheep.

Since wool is a commodity, its price is driven by supply and demand, so no individual farmer has control over the price. At a given cost, if a farmer raises sheep to their natural life expectancy, they will produce less wool. Since their supply is lower at a given cost, they must charge more than competing farmers for their wool. Since they must charge more, their wool will not be bought, and their businesses will fail. This creates economic pressure to slaughter older sheep.

This economic pressure means that almost all wool must come from farms that slaughter sheep before their natural life expectancy.

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