Wrapping Up Warm

wrapping up warm

Written by: Fee O'Shea

Gold card carrying author of six books including ‘The Rise of the Modern Vegan’. Speaker and writer, I’m passionate about all critters (including humans).

Nothing beats wrapping up warm and then settling in front of the fire for a time before heading to bed with a hottie.

When it’s winter, we all love to snuggle up with warm blankets, woolly jumpers, scarves, and hats. To take off the chill, we purchase woollen garments. Perhaps we don’t stop there and get a woollen underlay for the top of the mattress or sheepskin-lined slippers. But do we think about how the raw product is acquired?

I’m sure you all know where the wool comes from, especially here in Aotearoa, New Zealand, but do you fully understand what happens to the animals so that we can have our winter woollies?

Let’s start at the beginning with the lambs. Sheep generally only have one lamb. However, it is now common to see twins and triplets, which is more a result of genetic selection, intensive feeding, hormones and other drugs.

Two procedures are performed on lambs, usually before six weeks of age. These are docking (removing the tails) and castration (removing the testicles), both performed without anaesthetic and usually without painkillers. Docking methods vary from using rubber rings to hot irons, and the lamb is subjected to a lot of pain.

Castration is usually done before four weeks of age, and commonly, the rubber ring method is used. I’m not going to give you details; suffice to say, it’s not a pleasant job, but the industry will tell you it is necessary.

Wild sheep still exist, and like wild goats, they shed their thick winter coats in springtime. Some wild breeds only grow wool to a certain length, meaning that wild sheep do not have to be shorn in either case.

Now that the lambs have grown, and remember, these sheep are bred to have thick, woollen coats, it’s time to get the wool. The shearing process itself can be a painful experience. Typically, shearers are paid by the number of sheep shorn, which can mean they rush to get as many sheep through the shed as possible.

Unfortunately, in the rush, it’s easy to cut the end of a teat off. Struggling sheep can be brutally punched, and inexperienced or careless shearers can injure parts of the sheep, such as the face, in the race.

The wool on a sheep is there for a purpose. The hair on the outside, called guard hair, is protection from the rain. Underneath, the wool is thicker, which keeps the animal warm.

Sheep are usually shorn once a year in the spring, often just before lambs are born. Spring does not necessarily mean warmer weather in the colder areas, and some sheep can die from exposure to the cold because we’ve taken their woolly coat.

Under normal circumstances, sheep can live for approximately 15 years, but because their wool production falls off around the age of seven, they are sent to be slaughtered.

Before we leave the wool industry, here is a little more to ponder.

Other by-products derived from sheep include leather and sheepskin, which are used in the fashion industry mainly to line shoes/slippers and bedding. Lanolin is also used in a variety of products.

And it’s not only sheep that suffer. Here is where the different types of wool come from:

  • Lambswool, from lambs who a just several months old.
  • Merino, from Merino sheep
  • Cashmere, from Cashmere goat.
  • Mohair, from Angora Goat.
  • Angora, from Angora rabbit (not to be confused with the Angora goat!)
  • Alpaca, from the llama type animal Alpaca.

Animal welfare in most other countries is not as strict as here in New Zealand, but there are still reasons to stop purchasing wool, regardless of where it’s from.

Yes, wool is a beautiful product, but sadly, animals must suffer for us to have it. There is the alternative of using man-made fabrics. In 2020, a new product emerged called Weganool. Made from a plant called Colatropis and organic cotton, this vegan wool is the way of the future.

While we wait for this new product to arrive, you can find other excellent warm fabrics on the market. Linen is a tried-and-true one, as are the warm cotton-poly blends used in sweaters, and we are seeing a lot more bamboo as well. Watch out for rayon, though, as it is a chemical-intensive fabric. If you can find hemp clothing, you’ll love it, and Tencel (made from wood pulp) is another favourite of mine.

Before you head out to the store to purchase your woolly garments, please spare a thought for the animals that have had to give up their woollen coats and instead look for alternatives.

Until next time…

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