Sheep and goats
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 at about 50 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.
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.
Ewes (female sheep) typically lamb once per year in the fall or spring. Many producers use hormones 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 (either three times in two years or five lambing periods in three years). In these cases, the excessive breeding is hard on the ewe as they do not have enough time to recuperate between pregnancies.
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 that afflicts sheep. 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, they are shipped to countries in the Middle East and North Africa where animal welfare standards are non-existent. Animals are crowded onto multi-level ships and forced to endure a journey lasting about 32 days where they suffer hunger, dehydration, heat stress and over-crowding. The suffering sheep are dragged off the ships, loaded onto trucks, and dragged by their ears and legs to unregulated slaughterhouses, where their throats are slit while they are still conscious.
Australia produces over 50% of the merino wool in the world. You can help sheep by refusing to purchase Merino wool products.