Know your wool: Sheep Farming Standards
Farming Standards have drastically improved in the last two centuries due to pressure from animal welfare groups. The abuse of animals and in particular sheep, is far too common due to the exploitative nature of farming animals for produce. Whether it be wool, meat or even milk, farming standards were introduced to help protect animals from being abused and help farmers create stricter working environments.
The UK hosts up to 90 different breeds of sheep and employs tens of thousands of workers in the sector. Today, Sheep are mostly used for meat production however there are sectors for both wool and milk. The farming standards of sheep in the UK are protected by strict UK laws and regulations.
You often here about different abuse cases for sheep (and other animals) around the world which make you feel sick to your stomach. There are reports of sheep being beaten, mutilated and even killed when being sheered, not to mention just general mistreatment of the animals. This even happens in countries where laws have been put in place to protect the animals, but unfortunately, there are always those who will ignore these rules in return for quicker and more profits.
There are many organisations that report on animal cruelty and expose thoses who are cruel to sheep. Sometimes, even the delivery of sheep from a one farm to a another often leads to the sheep being traumatised and in the end killed. Often the sheep are "looked after" by temporary seasonal workers who don't have the skills to treat and look after the animals. Up to 30,000 sheep die every year whilst being transported.
If a farmer wanted to breed sheep, there are a set of standards that they must follow. These standards and rules apply to anyone who is working with animals, including temporary contracted employees. These laws govern four distinc ways of treating animals:
- Transportation of animals
- Caring for animals at shows/markets
- Animal welfare when killed
- Conditions for animals in severe weather
There are also numerous requirements for working with sheep/goat stock:
You or your stock-keeper should be competent in a range of animal health and welfare skills such as:
- handling skills
- ear tagging
- preventing and treating basic or common causes of lameness
- preventing and treating internal and external parasites
- administering medicines
- caring for sick and injured animals
When shearing sheep for their wool, the shearers must be professionally trained to handle sheep's fur. Shearers are required to not cut the skin of the sheep, and if they do, treat it immediately. It is recommended that sheep are only sheered in warmer weather, due to sheep's sensitive nature to cold. They shouldn't be sheered in the winter and combing is recommended in colder conditions.
Some other general requirements:
- Marking or tagging sheep should be done with non-toxic aerosols
- Tethered sheep must be properly harnessed and safely to avoid injury to sheep
- Follow vaccination policy for sheep
- Treat parasites and other diseases of sheep
- Check for lameness; mustn't transport sheep that can't stand
- Record Keeping of all fallen stock
As you can see, there are many rules and regulations put in place to help protect sheep from abuse. Of course there are still those who flaunt these laws and forget about the treatment of animals.
So what can you to help? Well you can support any of your local charities that deal with farming animals and their welfare. In the UK, popular ones are RSPCA and World Animal Protection organisations. Educating yourself on how wool is produced can also benefit you in the type of wool items you purchase.