Most of the world’s wool comes from Australia. The most commonly raised sheep in that country are merinos, who are specifically bred by humans to have wrinkly skin, which means more wool per animal.
This unnatural overload of wool causes many sheep to collapse and even die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive.
To prevent this so-called “flystrike,” Australian ranchers perform a procedure called “mulesing,” in which they force live sheep onto their backs, restrain their legs between metal bars, and carve huge chunks of skin and flesh away from the animals’ hindquarters without anesthetic to produce a scar free of wool, faecal/urine stains, and skin wrinkles.
Mulesing involves cutting a crescent-shaped slice of skin from each side of the buttock area; the usual cut on each side is 5 - 7cm in width and extends slightly less than half way from the anus to the hock of the back leg in length. Skin is also stripped from the sides and the end of the tail stump. This surgical procedure is usually done without any anaesthetic.
Over 20 million merino breed lambs are currently mulesed each year. Most will have their tail cut off and the males will be castrated (‘marked’) at the same time.
Mulesing does reduce (but does not eliminate) the incidence of breech strike, that is, flystrike around the buttocks. It has no effect on the incidence of flystrike on parts of the body other than the buttocks.
The large scars left after mulesing take several weeks to heal and the wounds often become infected or flystruck. Many sheep who have undergone the mulesing mutilation still suffer slow, agonizing deaths from flystrike.
When the sheep no longer produces enough wool, they are sold for slaughter. This means they can be transported and shipped all over the world (often sold to live export) and are stuffed into overcrowded containers with no food or water.
The journey can take several days and endure intense weather, and many lambs are born during transportation and trampled to death -many adults are also injured or die. Only to arrive in countries that have no slaughter regulations, where the animals are dismembered when they are still alive.