Woolly thinking of the anti-shearing vegans
eLiSA ALLen, director of Peta (People for the ethical Treatment of Animals) has called on the Dorset village of Wool to change its name to vegan Wool (Mail) because it ‘promotes cruelty to sheep’ and wool has been shown to be a ‘product of extreme cruelty’. i lectured in agriculture for 25 years in the north of england. i worked on behalf of the British Wool Marketing Board as an instructor in sheep shearing. i attended updating sessions to ensure all instructors upheld the high standards required by the board. i had the privilege of judging shearing competitions, which attracted champion shearers from all over the world, so i speak with some authority about sheep, unlike the ignorance shown by Ms Allen. if farmers did not shear their sheep, most would shed their wool over a period of several weeks. instead, the process of shearing lasts two to five minutes and while i accept the sheep experience some stress, it is certainly not ‘extreme cruelty’. Unshorn sheep are prone to blow fly attack: maggots hatch and eat the living flesh, which is truly horrific. not all sheep naturally lose their wool. i have seen feral sheep living in forests with several years of wool growth, which resembles a carpet of felt and is extremely distressing to the animal. These are the welfare reasons for shearing sheep. There is, of course, the financial aspect. Historically, wool was a valuable source of income. it made farmers and the country rich. This can be seen in areas of high sheep density, such as the Cotswolds, where the magnificent churches were funded by the benevolence of wealthy wool producers. in recognition of the economic importance of sheep to the country, the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords sits on the Woolsack. However, today, the world price for wool has collapsed and many farmers find the cost of shearing their flock exceeds how much they will get for the fleece and so are out of pocket. But still they continue to clip their flock driven by welfare and not profit. i am proud to be associated with this country’s wool production.
DAVID JAMES, Port Talbot, West Glamorgan. iF veGAnS do not wish to use animalbased metaphors (Mail), that is fine by the rest of us. But if they wish to replace them with vegetable alternatives, they should be careful. ‘Take the bull by the horns’ derives from bull-wrestling and signifies an absolute determination to succeed. if you let go, you were probably dead. ‘Grasp the nettle’ is an acceptable, but weaker alternative. ‘Taking the flower by the thorns’ merely results in a hand full of thorns, as any blackberry picker can testify. ‘Feeding two birds with one scone’ goes against advice that we should not give bread products to ducks, while ‘feeding a fed horse’ will give you a very fat horse and probably result in an accusation of animal mistreatment. Also it lacks the utter futility of flogging a dead one. i have no practical experience of catskinning, but i allow there may be more than one method. However, long practice has found only one way to peel a potato. even better, bake them in their skins. i fully accept that to use good arable land just to feed beef cattle to make cheap burgers is ridiculous, but there are many areas where crops won’t grow, but sheep will thrive on the poor grass. Anyone who tried to raise wheat on the slopes of Skiddaw in the Lake District would have something to beef about. or should that be ‘broccoli’ ?
ALAN COX, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria.