Do Vegans use Wool?

by L Matthews on December 7, 2010

Mulesing sheep


You might be vegan in terms of diet, but do you knit, wear clothes(!), or snuggle under blankets or duvets at night? Is that wool you’re using? Is that vegan?

Right off, I’m going to admit here that I own woollen items. This might sound like a shoddy defence, but I have only bought woollen items second-hand since going vegan, I have tried to avoid them for years and am now going totally ‘wool-free’… which is probably much simpler for me than for most people as the majority of my clothes are in boxes at my parents’ house more than 8000 miles away. Of course, it is tricky to say no to knitted gifts, so there are some things that will stay… for now. I’ve recently decided that I will use recycled/repurposed non-vegan yarn, having learned more about the damaging nature of much processing involved in the production of synthetic yarns and bamboo fibres.

Why is Wool Not Vegan?

Why is wool not generally considered vegan? Obviously it is derived from an animal (sheep, alpaca, goats and so forth), but the animals aren’t harmed, right? They ‘need’ shearing’ otherwise they’d be too hot, right? Wrong.

Clearly, raising sheep for either consumption of their flesh, or use of their coats is exploitation, and proclaiming that sheeps’ wool is a ‘renewable’ resource is a prime example of using one ethical argument (in this case environmentalism) to overlook another moral issue (cruelty).

Selective Sheep-Breeding

Examining the issue of shearing further it becomes clear that sheep have been bred in a selective fashion to produce more wool than they would given ordinary breeding. This is similar to selectively breeding chickens to carry more and more weight, to the point where they are unable to stand properly and are essentially ‘genetically modified’ bow-legged animal oddities in extreme pain.

Remember that sheep do not naturally go to the sheep-barber on an annual or six-monthly basis, yes they may shed hair, but not an entire fleece in a matter of minutes. I still will not buy new wool but support anyone who wishes to collect wool from the hedgerows where sheep have rubbed off some of their fleece… clearly that is not a sustainable yarn source for all but if the sheep aren’t needing it then why not? There is always the question of why the sheep are there in the first place… usually for meat rather than simply running wild.

Not an entirely vegan book, she includes silk, but a good start...

Making woolier sheep is done by selectively breeding those who have more wrinkles in their skin. This means more skin on which their fur can grow. Unfortunately, this breeding method also leads the sheep with more skin wrinkles to attract more flies which lay eggs in those skin crevices. The fly-riddled sheep are then eaten alive by the infestation of maggots/fly larvae.

Mulesing in Sheep

To prevent this the practice of ‘mulesing’ has come about, which I understand to be fairly standard in Australia (correct me if I’m wrong, please) where raising sheep makes up a huge industry. Mulesing is where large pieces of flesh are excised from the sheep to remove the infected skin. This is commonly done without anaesthetic and can involve extensive areas of the legs, and around the tail. Just for good measure, when the sheep stops producing wool at a ‘cost-effective’ rate they are slaughtered and sold for meat.

Vegan Yarn Alternatives

These are the reasons why I have stopped using wool that is animal-derived (aside from recycled yarns). Cotton, hemp, bamboo, or synthetic fibers are available alternatives which I now use when I knit. This may get you funny looks in knitting shops when you ask for non-wool wool, but at least you aren’t contributing to an animal’s agony. One option is bamboo knitting yarn, which you can get in loads of colours from Fabric.com, such as this fabulous
Bamboo/Cotton Orange yarn!

There are environmental concerns over the types of chemicals used to create bamboo yarns, with some merit to the utilitarian argument that more animals may actually be harmed by these processes than are harmed by the procurement of wool. Again, this is one reason why I’m now more inclined to apply the reuse/recycle principle and rip out old jumpers and scarves to reuse the wool. I was recently directed towards this recycled yarn by Berroco that contains silk and am impressed by the amount of effort involved in this project. I’ve yet to acquire or use the yarn but it is now on my radar thanks to a fellow knitter.

Vegan Vitamin D – Lanolin-Sourced D3

In addition… have you checked your multivit for D3? That would be animal-derived vitamin D, cholecalciferol. It may be fish-derived, or it may be from lanolin. Lanolin is the fat washed out of sheeps’ wool when they are sheared. For the same reasons as above, vegans may want to consider their consumption of such a product. Vitamin D is obtainable from veggie sources and is included in many vegan multivits (like Deva’s Vegan Multivitamin) as D2, ergocalciferol.

To help you find vegan yarn I spent a rather tedious evening adding stuff to my amazon store (I confess this was not really for your benefit, dear reader, but for mine so I can visit my own store and browse the available colours when I’m just desperate for that particular shade of blue yarn). Visit the store here, and try to ignore the fact that loads of the stuff is baby yarn in baby colours – unless, of course, you’re knitting baby booties for a vegan mummy’s delight!

Check out some of these vegan knitting blogs courtesy of lovely crafty vegan types:

BlindPurls
VeganCraftastic
VeganSockKal

And the immensely helpful site called, oddly enough, KnittingHelp is a treasury of wonderfulness when you haven’t got a clue what the pattern you’re staring at blankly actually means!

I’m also now on Ravelry if you feel inclined to see more of my creations.

Happy Vegan Knitting!

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Leave a Comment

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

bitt December 7, 2010 at 21:57

Very informative. I will save this for when people inevitably ask my why wool is bad.

Tanya December 7, 2010 at 22:07

Not all shearers are created equal! I happen to know some alpaca farmers that treat them really well and don’t do any weird things to them….but they do shear them once a year just before summer. It doesn’t hurt them. Do you cut your hair? Isn’t that the same? You’re right, I wouldn’t want to wear any wool that came from a farm that doesn’t treat the animals right or take off their flesh (ew…). But, there are some places that do it right as well and don’t hurt the animals. So is that wrong too? I’m constantly wondering how far I can go when it comes to being vegan… (and my vitamin is D2!!)

orie December 8, 2010 at 02:39

Hi!

I’m a total vegan Newbie and got asked the wool question by a confused friend the other day! Sooooo glad I found your post as i’d not even thought about it before. I did think about leather, but, honestly, wool not being vegan never crossed my mind! Duh! I wonder how many other vegans there are who use wool without thinking (maybe it’s just me!?).

I think that Tanya makes a good point, that all shearers are not created equal, but I think it is still exploitation like yousay. I’m now going to check my multivit for D3 or D2, fingrs crossed, otherwise I’ll have to get a different one. The thought of lanolin now disgusts me. Thanks for the post, I’m much better armed now to answer my friend who pretty much called me a hypocrite (in a nice way!)

Thx
Orie
xx

admin December 8, 2010 at 12:51

Hi Tanya,

thanks for the comment! I agree that not all farmers of sheep, alpaca, or other animals are cruel in their practices in the sense of mulesing or other really overt ways, but it’s likely that the animals are caused some degree of distress in being sheared regardless of method. Also, it is exploitation, and the selective breeding practices are problematic.

Do you buy your wool from the farmers you know? It’d be good to have a link to them to post if you’re confident of their animal-friendliness. I love alpacas… thought about rescuing some at some point… but I doubt there’s a huge amount out there at rescue centres!

I have decided not to use wool any longer, simply because I view it as an exploitation-product. For those who are vegan and want to carry on using wool, I’d say that it’s going to be hard deciding which stuff to buy as visiting individual farms to see them in action is unlikely to be possible. Buying ready-made woollen clothes probably means a blend of wool that is untraceable has been used… especially in cheaper items, where manufacturers will be looking for the most mark-up by cutting welfare concerns and will shop around for lower priced raw wool. I don’t think it’s possible, therefore, to be cruelty-free in buying wool.

But that’s just my opinion! Glad your Vit D is ergocalciferol (D2)! Veganism is a journey of discovery and, as you say, we have to wonder how far we can go… hopefully that’s all the way to cruelty-free and animal equality!

Thanks for reading and commenting, nice to get a discussion going on these things.
Leigh

admin December 8, 2010 at 12:58

Howdy,

Glad you liked it and good luck with the inevitable vegan-grilling and vegan-baiting!

I keep going to your blog and seeing tasty vegan food pictures and getting ridiculously hungry… thanks! I’m also immensely jealous that you are lucky enough to have Zuki, Sienna, and Heather, I’d love to have a rescue dog, but just not in the right stiuation at the moment. Roll on next year… we had to leave our lovely ratties with friends when we left the UK earlier this year, and I miss them terribly. Should see them at Christmas though, hurrah! Just out of interest, did you ever feed your rats soy?

Thanks for reading! See you on the twittermachine…
Leigh

Flat Abs December 30, 2010 at 18:34

summarized and to the point, nice!

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