"Died" in the Wool

All environmental decisions are made with your pocket. When you buy something for which an animal is mutilated or killed, you increase the trade. No amount of moralising will change someone in the killing trades – if he had the capacity to feel or empathise, he would not have started it to begin with. The only way he will stop is when you stop buying the product. Take the case of Merino wool. Australia has Merino sheep and produces most of the Merino wool in the world. India is a large importer of this wool and you buy it in the form of sweaters or shawls. But before parents decide to buy this wool for their children, let me point out that another baby of a much more helpless and gentle species is paying the price in blood.
Most sheep farms in Australia practice “mulesing” on their lambs. Merino sheep are bred to have as many folds of skin as possible so that there is more skin area so more wool. But these folds accumulate moisture, feces and urine. Blowflies lay their eggs in the folds and these turn into maggots that eat into the skin and ultimately kill the sheep with a condition known as flystrike. This whole thing can be prevented if the people on the farm keep the sheep clean and inspect them every few days. But few farmers bother to do anything that requires constant work. So the Australian Merino sheep farmers have invented the hideous practice of mulesing which is used as a “preventive’ measure against blowflies.
They throw the young lambs on their backs. Their legs are held by one person while the other takes metal scissors and , without any anesthesia , cuts away the skin around their backside, leaving a huge , bloody hole. During this process their tails are also cut off. Imagine if I were to take the entire flesh off your backside and cut off a leg as well( for that is what a tail is) without any anesthetic. In effect the child is skinned alive. There are 102.6 million Merino sheep and 55 – 80 per cent have this horrible thing done to them.
They scream with pain, For weeks the slightest movement is agony. Some lucky ones die immediately , the others take upto 115 days to recover, They are not allowed to lie in pain as this will affect the wool. So they stand still with their heads down, nose almost touching the ground, back arched and body hunched. They do not eat or drink for 3 days . They lose weight and for the next eight days can only move their front legs in short dragging steps.

Young lambs are thrown on their backs. Their legs are held by one person while the other takes metal scissors and, without any anesthesia, cuts away the skin around their backside, leaving a huge, bloody hole. During this process their tails are also cut off. Imagine if I were to take the entire flesh off your backside and cut off a leg as well (for that is what a tail is) without any anesthetic. In effect the child is skinned alive. There are 102.6 million Merino sheep and 55 – 80 per cent have this horrible thing done to them.

Some of them will die in the following weeks – of infections, flies who now lay their eggs on the open wounds and contagious diseases that go straight into the blood. Many more horrible things will happen to them later in these farms. Their teeth will be ground down , they will be castrated – again without anesthesia, they will be sheared so brutally that most of them will have over thirty wounds where the electronic scissors have bitten into them. But nothing that happens to them will be as frightening painful as mulesing.
Sheep are as bright as dogs. They have family groups, they recognise and bond with humans. They remember sheep friends that they haven’t met for two years. In all scientific tests they have been shown to have emotion and conscious thought. After the mulesing, lambs run from the person who did this to them. They will never again have the happy abandon of the grazing animal. They will always live in fear and pain – till the day they are killed, again torturously.
Not only is this procedure vicious, it is also useless. In fact the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and the Animal Health Committee of New Zealand have both recorded the fact that blowflies are attracted to the open wounds and lay their eggs: 90 per cent of mulesed lambs subsequently develop flystrike within 4 days of being skinned ! Not only that, the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in its periodical Surveillance in 2002 reports that mulesing can transmit a disease called eperythrozoonosis which is caused by blood parasites that are attracted to the gaping wound. This disease causes listlessness, anaemia and bloodfilled urine. The Western Australia Department of Agriculture has also warned that mulesing causes vulval and skin cancer in the sheep.
Inspite of knowing that this is an unnecessary form of viciousness, the Australians continue to practice it. When I wrote to all the Merino wool importers in India asking them to stop importing the wool till this practice stopped, I received a panicky letter from the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Australian Government,saying that “ No acceptable alternatives to replace this practice have been found” and then surprisingly goes on to say that , if we call off the boycott the “Australian industriy will phase out this procedure by 2010”. Both are amazing untruths.
What do you need as an alternative to a useless procedure ? Nothing. But even if they did not themselves recognise that this is useless, what about the 2-450 per cent farms that do not do it. In fact the Parliament appointed Australian Select Senate Committee on Animal Welfare saw the alternatives in practice.All the farmers do is monitor the sheep regularly . The sheep themselves tell you if they have flystrike: an abnormal gait, biting of the infected area, dark patches, inactivity. Farmers say that they can make this out in individual sheep from 500 yards away. All that is done is that the wool is sheared gently around the area and an insecticide is applied. There are lots of equally mild ways but then the farmer has to actually think of his sheep as beings who help him earn money and deserve respect. A wide survey of farmers who practice mulesing say that they do it out of tradition rather than lack of alternatives.
You should not be a part of this monstrous cruelty. Acrylic sweaters are just as warm and beautiful. No country should make most of its money – as Australia does- out of just cruelty. They are not going to phase anything out ever – unless the rest of the world makes them do it.

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