Without people, sheep grew just enough wool to protect them from extremes of weather, both hot and cold. When people first used wool, it was plucked during the moulting season. It is since the invention of shears that breeding for continuous fleece began.
Australia has a quarter of the world’s wool with its 80 million sheep. Flocks run into thousands and it is hard if not impossible to give care to individual animals. 4% of lambs die from poor nutrition and this is seen as normal.
Sheep are sheared in the spring before they begin to lose their thick fleece. Shearing too early can result in sheep dying of exposure.
Shearers are not paid by the hour but by volume. Speed is therefore encouraged over care and animal welfare. An experienced shearer can do 350 fleeces in a day.
Sheepskin is not sheared from a sheep. It includes the skin and can only be obtained by killing an animal. This includes Ugg boots.
Merino sheep are favoured as they produce more wool per animal because they are bred to have wrinkled skin. This breeding can result in sheep dying in the hotter months of heat exhaustion because of their unnaturally large fleece. Merino sheep are also prone to collecting moisture and sweat in these wrinkles and this attracts flies who lay their eggs in the folds of skin. The hatching maggots can then eat the sheep alive. To prevent this, Australian ranchers practise “mulesing” whereby huge chunks of skin and flesh are cut from the animal to leave smooth scar tissue which doesn’t attract the flies; sadly this barbaric practise often results in the wounds harbouring flies before they have even healed. This operation is traumatic and the effects can last 2 days to a fortnight and other methods could be used.
Unwanted and old sheep from Australia are sold for meat, usually in the Middle East and North Africa, and are exported live. They are often killed inhumanely and in ways which would be illegal in Australia, Europe and America. This is no way for animals to end their lives.