Dairy Cows - Photo © Twyla Francois

Sheep

In Canada, sheep are kept for meat, wool and dairy production, although meat production is most common. Some farm conditions are better than others. Like beef cattle, lambs often spend the first part of their life on pasture with their mothers. Lambs are weaned up to about 60 days of age.

In extensively managed systems, sheep are raised in open barns and/or have access to pasture. Sheep production is becoming increasingly intensified, however, where sheep may be kept in confinement systems and lambs are sent to feedlots for fattening on high-energy diets. Lambs are typically slaughtered at around six months old.

Stressful and painful procedures

Sheep are sheared once a year. Shearing is a necessary but stressful procedure due to the required restraint as well as the noise, heat and contact of the shears. Handling and removal from the flock cause sheep a great deal of stress. The shearing process itself can result in cuts unless the shearer is trained and extremely careful.

Like many species, sheep are also subjected to surgical procedures such as tail docking, castration and ear tagging without anaesthetics or post-surgical pain management.

Breeding

Ewes (female sheep) typically lamb once per year in the fall or spring. Many producers use hormones or artificially alter light levels to achieve out-of-season breeding in order to sell lambs for Easter and Christmas markets. Some producers have accelerated breeding programs where a sheep may be pregnant too often. In these cases, the excessive breeding is hard on the ewe as they do not have enough time to recuperate between pregnancies.

Transport

Canada's current animal transport regulations allow sheep to be transported for up to 52 hours with no food, water or rest. This does not include time before or after the trip when sheep may be held without food or water. Sheep are often transported in crowded trucks regardless of the weather conditions.

A special note about the Australian wool industry

Mulesing is cruel practice common to the Australian merino sheep industry, which is used to prevent fly-strike, a painful and potentially deadly condition where fly eggs hatch into maggots and bury themselves into the sheep's skin. Mulesing involves cutting off chunks of the sheep's flesh from the rump area to prevent fly-strike. Although fly-strike is a serious welfare concern in sheep, other practices exist to manage it. Mulesing is not practiced or condoned in Canada, the U.S. or Europe.

Once merino sheep are no longer productive, many are shipped to countries in the Middle East and North Africa where animal welfare standards are often non-existent. Animals are crowded onto multi-level ships and forced to endure a journey lasting many days or weeks, where they suffer hunger, dehydration, heat stress and over-crowding. The suffering sheep are loaded onto trucks and driven to slaughterhouses, where many have their throats slit while they're still conscious, as some Halal slaughter standards require.

Australia produces more wool than any other country in the world. You can help sheep by refusing to purchase Merino wool products.