Sheep Suffer Right Through the Year

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Sheep Suffer Right Through the Year

By Jenny Moxham
Published in The Geelong Advertiser
May 2011

THE Geelong region has just shivered through a week of icy weather with Aireys Inlet recording its coldest first 10 days of May on record.

Sheep are now shorn in autumn for greater profits, argues a reader.

Snow has fallen on the Grampians ranges and the Bureau of Meteorology predicts it’s going to get even colder. Fortunately, most of us are able to stay warm and cosy inside centrally-heated homes and buildings and, when we venture out, we can rug up in layers of warm clothing.

But just imagine if we had no shelter from the elements and just one woollen coat to keep us warm. How would we feel if we were robbed of that coat and left with nothing whatsoever to protect us from the hail, biting wind and icy rain?

No doubt we’d feel desperately cold and miserable. We’d be freezing to death. Well this is the sad plight of millions of Australian sheep and each year one million of them do, quite literally, freeze to death in the month following shearing.

In the past, Australian wool farmers sheared sheep in spring, but over the past 20 years this practice has changed with most farms shearing in autumn – driven by the belief that stronger wool fibres are obtained at this time of the year. Is there any legitimate reason to subject sheep to this suffering?

These days we have an abundance of cosy synthetic fabrics to keep us warm so there is no excuse for subjecting animals to this needless misery. The one and only reason for shearing sheep is for profit.

Nobody, in this day and age, depends on a sheep’s fleece to keep them warm. Of course, shearing is only a part of the suffering that these gentle and inoffensive animals endure. Their pain starts at the tender age of 2-8 weeks when their ears are hole-punched, their tails are sliced off, and the males are castrated using either a knife, a crushing implement called an emasculator or very tight rubber rings.

For cruelty, however, mulesing takes the cake. This barbaric operation involves wedging the sheep’s posterior into a contraption resembling a basketball ring then cutting off the skin around the tail area with a pair of shears. Five separate cuts are required and sometimes flesh and muscle is cut in the process, causing lameness.

Day-to-day life on the farm isn’t exactly a holiday for sheep either.

They may suffer from footrot, sheath rot, fleece rot and mastitis.

Sheep are also the main animals to suffer in Australia’s live export trade. Australia currently exports more than four million live sheep per year to the Middle East. Even before embarking on the sea voyage many sheep are already suffering from exhaustion and stress as a result of travelling for up to 2000km and going for up to four and a half days without food and water. On board these floating factory ships they are packed three to a square metre and many of them die from starvation, disease, injury, heat stress and trauma.

Then, in the importing countries sheep are routinely tied to roof racks or crushed into car boots in 40C heat. All will have their throats slit whilst fully conscious and die in terror and agony.