Friday, April 18, 2008

The Ethics of Wool

You may notice that this website does not yet carry any wool products. That is because I have not yet found a wholesale wool supplier that can guarantee that their yarn comes from sheep who have been well treated "from cradle to grave."

Many people think that wool is a humane product since the sheep are not killed in order that their wool be harvested. But they do not consider what becomes of most sheep at the end of their lives.


Many sheep raised on commercial farms are auctioned off when they pass middle age and their wool production begins to diminish. They are sold to leather producers and buyers of waste meat.  Many end up in stockyards as "downed animals."

Recently the Humane Society of the United States publicized the results of an undercover investigation into animal cruelty at the Hallmark Meat Packing Company in Chino, California (see one article at http://www.postchronicle.com/news/original/article_212127958.shtml). The documented cruelty in this case involved downed cows. However, sheep and other farm animals often suffer the same fate.

I have spoken to animal activists who maintain that there is no such thing as humane wool.  However, I am sure there are small farmers who raise wool and lovingly tend their sheep.  I am still looking for sources for humane wool.  Anyone with information is welcome to contact me. 

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Christina said

May 19, 2008 @ 8:56 am

I find that very interesting considering much of the knitting/fiber industry is based so heavily upon wool. I guess we'll all have to rethink our wool obsessions; unless that is, you can find humanity in the wool industry and then we'll all be off the hook. Good luck and thanks for the insight

Maree said

July 19, 2008 @ 12:18 am

Very interesting.... I am a New Zealander & was raised on a sheep & cattle farm & am intrigued by the definition of 'humane'. By it's very nature the animal world is a cruel one - I am not disputing that sheep are sold on for slaughter in one form or another after their wool bearing days are over (which in my experience is after they are of an advanced age), but if these animals weren't slaughtered cleanly & quickly, left to their own devices would quickly die of starvation &/or malnutrition as the ability to feed would cease as sheep naturally loose there teeth after 4-5 years of age, purely because of wear & tear. So I pose the question: What is more humane - Prolong an animals life by artifically keeping it alive or providing a quick end once it's best days are over' "Humanity" after all is something that should apply to "Humans" as the word implies. On a more positive note - I do know of a BioGrow organic certified Merino farmer here who sells there wool to a yarn textile mill here, that yarn has just been released & available for sale if you are interested. Good luck in your endeavours.

Ruth said

July 21, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

Yes, I do agree with you. The key phrase is "a quick end." Large agri-businesses, and even some smaller farms, don't always provide that. I won't provide unsettling details here. If you're interested in finding out what happens to some animals, read the story of the sheep Hilda, who was rescued from a stockyard, survived, and inspired the creation of the advocacy group Farm Sanctuary: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/about/hilda.html. For me, a "clean and quick" slaughter means being killed at home on the farm as expeditiously as possible. This has become rare in the U.S. I don't know what New Zealand's farm animal protection laws are like, but in the U.S. they come up short, as the story of Hilda makes clear. I appreciate your comments, and I don't think we see things so very differently. Also, thank you for the information about BioGrow wool; I will check it out.

Ellen said

October 5, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

Oh my gosh, there are so many thousands of small flock owners in the US who produce wool (including myself), who treat our animals like much loved pets—finding wool yarn humanely produced just should not be an issue. Probably wherever you live in the US all you have to do is drive 50 miles to find 50 farms producing wool on a small scale. Please don't tar the whole final product (wool yarn, fiber) because of large industry practices. In just one very rural county of WV, I personally know 15 shepherds of small flocks. You might just be looking in the wrong direction for your supplies; start asking at farmer's markets.

Ruth said

October 6, 2008 @ 12:08 am

Yes, I do know plenty of small growers. Very few sell wool at wholesale for pricing reasons--they sell direct from their farms. I don't mean to tar the final product in any way, which is why I encourage buying from the small growers (see my May blog "Humane Wool Source" and my links). Until I find a humane source that sells wholesale, however, I won't be marketing wool from this site.

Chris said

March 18, 2010 @ 4:14 am

I know this threat hasn't been alive for a while but I couldn't stop myself from commenting. I agree with your post and when reading the replies something very clear came to mind. (well two) - the commenter’s are not only tied (and their livelihoods) to the wool industry, also their comments are important, but necessary for what they say about whether the wool industry is "ethical" but because to me they demonstrate a clear warping of what is "reality" - take for example Maree statement: "I am a New Zealander & was raised on a sheep & cattle farm & am intrigued by the definition of 'humane'. By it's very nature the animal world is a cruel one.... but if these animals weren't slaughtered cleanly & quickly, left to their own devices would quickly die of starvation &/or malnutrition as the ability to feed would cease as sheep naturally loose there teeth after 4-5 years of age, purely because of wear & tear." Here she is attempting to provide a rational argument for the ethics of commercial breeding of an animal for its coat by presupposing that the creation of a life (for its wool and profit) is somehow a natural processes. It is not natural. These types of arguments are abound and inherently illogical. We should not assume that the creation of a life that is brought into this world, only to fulfill human purposes – mostly monetary - is "natural". Maree’s comment demonstrates a self-legitimising thought process which assumes that commercial breeding of an animal, and whatever hardships it encounters thereafter (at the farm) is due to being "natural hardships" to the point where its slaughter (because it cannot produce wool anymore, or because it cannot care for itself within he confines of the farm) now become the most “humane” solution to an otherwise “natural” and cruel “animal” world. Granted even if sheep were left to graze in natural valleys and pastures adn were preyed on by natural preadtors like wolves, the life would be shorter perhaps yes, but would it be less in value' (not for the wolves stomach, but yes for the guy sold me my 10th sweater). We must recognise this whole cycle for what it is. And I am not saying that it is wrong to eat meat or buy wool. Buy I think we should just stop putting veils of fake rationality in front of our eyes. Also I would dispute Ellen's statement that they love their sheep like their "pets" - its inherently anthropocentric and I am sure that the love actually only goes one way - the sheep to you, as they love you for the emotional security you give them, this is assuming of course that you cannot feel love for something just because it gives your monetary security. – but that is another issue interily. Anyways – I believe that at the core these are just a rationality or a way to look at the situations we are in that may provide us a way to mask and distract us from looking deeper at some of the more ethical questions underneath our assumptions. Its like the fox asking the rabbit it just caught “what kinds of spices to you want to be cooked in tonight for dinner'” and the rabbit replies “I don’t want to be cooked for dinner” and the fox replies, “your not answering the question”

Chris said

March 18, 2010 @ 5:02 am

Just thought some might be interested in this site: http://www.fiberfarm.com/

Silvia said

July 30, 2010 @ 8:10 am

Also check out Crazy Quilt Homestead: farmjournal.blogspot.com. They keep rescued sheep and don't allow them to breed. Well said Chris.

Anna said

June 27, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

I grew up on a small farm in north Texas where we owned a few sheep, and from my experiences I believe that wool can, indeed, be humane. Our sheep grazed on our couple of acres of grass, finding shade under trees and living in a barn we had on our property. My mother would shear them in the spring, after the cold had gone, so that they would be more comfortable when it got hot. She would sell their wool in the fall, as sweaters or yarn. All of our sheep were treated as individuals and respected, like animals should be. I think that wool does not have to be inhumane, but it's difficult to find a large producer of wool without compromising the integrity of the operation.

loz said

July 6, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

you should check out www.izzylane.co.uk for ethical wool

Ruth (Paloma Textiles) said

January 29, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

I have not checked this comment thread for a while; thank you all for your additions to the discussion, and to the links you have so graciously provided. Chris offers some good points, and yes, I agree with Anna that sheep can be raised humanely (and other wool-bearing animals as well), although there are others who I know will disagree with me. I think it's good to keep the conversation going even when we disagree. Thank you all.

Tom said

October 25, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

I'm not here to be critical of anyone who has good intentions. To say that livestock that is treated well during it's productive years, then sold to humane slaughter, really misses the point of animal welfare. The questions are, should animals be raised domestically at all' Is it ever in the best interests of the welfare of an animal to be kept domestically, or is any keeping of domestic animals an ethical compromise' Should all animals be left in their natural state, to live and die with as little human involvement as possible'

Tom said

October 25, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

It seems that I can't use a question mark in this forum: '?'?'?'?'?'?'

Beth said

July 15, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

It's amazing how far discussions like these can go--now we can't even keep domestic animals' It's 'cruel' to keep animals for the benefit of humans' God put animals here for us, not the other way around. Now, that said, I am an animal lover and I fight animal mistreatment as much as I possibly can. But to go way overboard like Chris and Tom have simply gives animal rights activists a bad name. The problem for me is that this thread demonstrates a growing problem in society--treating animals better than we treat other people. In modern society, it is save the trees, protect the animals but kill the children. Killing an unborn HUMAN child is a woman's right to choose, (no concern for the child's rights--apparently you have no rights unless you have been born) but to keep animals domestically is cruel and inhumane. Come on people It's time for a REAL reality check. Also, as for Silvia's comment "well said Chris", apparently you aren't very strict on quality writing. 'Chris' got so lost in his/her thoughts that some of the latter sentences don't even demonstrate a clear thought process Chris also used 'your' when he/she should have used 'you're'. That said, please forgive my grammar snob rambling. (I'm certain that this is not my best written piece either. I'm typing this on an iPad so it is automatically correcting some of my words.) Now that I have had my say...back to the actual reason for this thread. Yes, I believe it is very possible to find humane wool. I'm sure that there are some farms out there that truely care for their animals 'from the cradle to the grave'. Small hobby farms that don't rely on their animals as their sole sources of income would probably be your best bet. Little 'Mom and Pop' farms (which are probably raising their animals for the love of the animals) are much more likely to treat their animals humanely than a large corporation that is trying to squeeze every last penny out of their animals.

Beth said

July 15, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

Shoot--my question marks and exclamation points aren't showing up: '?'?'!!!!

Beth said

July 15, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

For anyone else posting, you have to use two question marks or exclamation points for them to show up. Also, in my first comment, there are supposed to be question marks after my first two sentences and an exclamation point after 'Come on people' and an exclamation point after 'some of the latter sentences don't even demonstrate a clear thought process'. My apologies.

Lisa said

August 1, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

I only skim what is written regarding animal cruelty. My father is a butcher, I get it. The question I pose is, as with the death penalty, what is the impact on the people caused to take the lives and what makes a human inhumane enough to allow an animal to suffer. Perhaps the spread of the GM Alfalfa is a good thing. It will wreak havoc in the food chain and wipe out much of the human impact. Once we and the animals we harvest are rare, perhaps we'll appreciate each other again.

Cheryl said

September 14, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

Thanks to those who posted links as listed above. Beth, where did you get the idea that "God put the animals here for us" ' Is it related to the rhetoric in Genesis (I think) of "dominion over the earth"' How do you decide which parts of the Old Testament to live by'

Karen said

October 19, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

So if I am pro abortion of an embryo (as opposed to a child that has been born) a.k.a. an unwanted pregnancy (to result in an unwanted child), then it does not make sense that I care about how my wool is sourced and I am not in "reality" if I do' Wow. Seriously people. Judge much'

Susanne said

November 25, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

Not going into religion or abortion rights. I wanted to comment on the wish to find whole sale supplier. Do you know what that means'. I'm a small farm wool producer and yes we butcher some of our animals ( sheep, goat and chicken ) here on our farm. We try to raise our animals as natural as possible but because we own only ten acres, need to buy the food for our animals. Livestock feed is very expensive. A sheep can not support her expenses ( food and labor) with the wool alone because people are not willing to pay for what it cost. So she has to has some lambs for the market. And even that sometimes will not be enough. So, whole sale suppliers are to blame for the animal cruelty as a results and in underpayment of sheep farmer.

Connor said

December 6, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

Hi, I just wanted to post on here that beth is a uneducated bitch and needs to rethink her life. treating animals better than humans' Please explain beyond dogs and cats. Tell me some examples of people treating any animals better than humans. PLEASE. AND abortion. Oh are you talking about a zygote that is just starting to form. The child isn't even formed yet, the potential for a good life does make me sad and i will never force anyone to get one because i am personally not for abortion. but that doesn't mean I'm against it. I believe it is the choice of the woman who is literally attached to the child. I wouldn't get one because I want to see my kid live and thrive. I believe that your argument is about as important as me killing all my kids by shooting my jizz on your face. You are talking about sheep that you "own". Sheep that had their rights stripped of them at birth and are forced to live a completely planned life. You planned their life. When are you going to stop playing god' You sound like a slave owner. You bred those sheep for the purpose of using them for personal gain through their suffering. First you took them from the wild and domesticated them. Then through selective breeding, for you to make money, you made their fur extremely long which leads to giant wrinkles in their skin. Other than being severely uncomfortable for the animal it led to fly strike in their rump area. You cut off huge chunks of their ass without painkillers and left to quiver in misery in the jail cell they live in. Although I am mainly speaking of big companies, the point is the same. I completely support local farmers who grow sheep for wool if they love and treat their animals with the respect they deserve. Love and respect mean a lot of things too, from feeding to slaughtering. If you love your animal then you can't kill it inhumanely.

Paula said

December 14, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

Ok. Nothing irks me more than this "God put animals on the earth for humans" mindset. First of all, not everyone believes in god and constantly using biblical prose to prove your point in an argument just shows that your argument is weak. Also, dismissing someone's viewpoint because of a few typos makes you seem like a snob and immediately puts people on the defensive. Bringing abortion into a discussion about human animal practices is not only irrelevant, but outrageous. It just sends the message that you aren't interested in a thoughtful discussion and instead would rather inflame everyone with religiously-based rhetoric. The idea that you think we treat our animals better than humans is absurd. Even cats and dogs are mistreated daily, and those are animals we keep as companions. I suggest you educate yourself on the subject a little more before jumping into a conversation about animal welfare with your religious, self-righteous rhetoric. It only serves to derail the otherwise respectful discussion that was developing, taking it off topic and driving it right into nasty-ville.

Dawn said

January 28, 2014 @ 11:36 pm

These animals, primarily sheep, but there are others, have been domesticated. Are you proposing that we just let them all loose to fend for themselves. How cruel is that'? They will have a hard time surviving and it will take generations potentially for them to learn how to survive. Everything and everyone has a time to live and a time to die. All life should have the right to live in a certain amount of comfort and be treated with respect and care. Unfortunately, this world as it stands can be cruel and unbending to humans and animals. The best you can do right now is live according to your ethics and standards and stop trying to change someone else, because folks it won't happen. Those that make uncaring and deliberate choices for the almighty dollar will have their day. Choose to purchase wool from reputable sources or don't purchase it at all. With regard to using animals for their wool, would you prefer that we continue making the chemical laden products that destroy this earth and the animals and people on it'? Do you have any idea how many toxic chemicals go into making clothing, bedding, beds and anything that we humans use'?' Natural and organic and well treated animals are the best avenue we have right now! All we can do is encourage what we believe in by putting our dollars to what is most important for the good of all life!