Is Wool Sustainable? Sustainability Behind Wool and Wool Farming, Ethically-Made Wool Dryer Balls, Benefits of Domestic Farming to the Environment
There are plenty of conversations going against wool farming that the ethics and sustainable benefits behind it for the environment are overshadowed. Learn about the history of wool and how our shearers harvest it ethically in the production of our Wool Dryer Balls.
The History of Wool
The domestication of livestock was a crucial step in human history and began approximately 11,000 years before present. Sheep were one of the first two livestock species to be domesticated.
Initially, sheep were raised mainly for meat but, during the fourth and fifth millennium BCE the desire for secondary products such as wool emerged .
Due to this history, reintroducing them to the wild is impossible.
You can't just "release them to their natural environment" because they don't really have one.
Wild sheep naturally shed their winter coat in the spring, but domesticated sheep have been bred over generations to have an unnaturally thick coat which never stops growing.
Therefore, without shearing, sheep would become suffocatingly hot and have their movement restricted.
Excessive wool also predisposes sheep to infection and parasites.
This means that without being sheared the sheep are suffering.
The Viral Wool Video and The Other Side of the Topic
You have likely seen the video that went viral across the internet of a sheep being cut and mistreated while being sheared for its wool.
The unfortunate reality is that yes this does happen, but what is the other side? Are all wool sheep treated like this or can it be done ethically?
PETA is correct in noting that sheep often resist being shorn and must be restrained. However, it can be thought of like grooming an uncooperative pet or child as they don’t love it. It is one of those necessary inconveniences.
It is also true that minor nicks and cuts happen, but the inhumane sheering shown in those viral videos is not common practice and are signs of untrained or careless shearers .
A trained shearer will likely leave nothing more than a minor wound no worse than a shaving cut.
Okay, so it is necessary and can be done ethically, but:
How is Wool Sustainable?
Wool is 100% biodegradable therefore it leaves no trace when one decides they no longer have a use for it, or the item becomes unusable.
In today’s world where trash is taking over, the need for compostable products is growing.
How Sustainable is Wool Farming?
Domestic farm animals (including sheep) are key to soil health which in turn contributes to planet health.
Soil is the basis for plant growth, it promotes biodiversity both above and below the ground, provides clean water, and by acting as a carbon store it plays a vital role in combating climate change.
Healthy soil is essential to our ecosystem and plays a vital role in determining how healthy, or unhealthy we are.
Particularly, regenerative farming has an impact on soil and eutrophication.
Animals in these regenerative farming systems can reduce and even eliminate the need for fertilisers and pesticides.
With the implementation of rotational grazing techniques, it ensures that grass is trimmed regularly, allowing it to regrow, store more carbon in its roots, and support biodiversity in and above the soil .
Having animals graze on these fertilizer and pesticide free crops greatly reduces the amount of feed needed for them.
It also reduces the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in their fecal matter.
Eutrophication is a process where overgrown and decomposed algae consumes so much oxygen that it depletes the supply available to marine life .
Algae grows with the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways. Too much of it can have serious negative effects.
Animals who eat plants grown by fertilizers tend to have feces containing those excess nutrients.
Unsustainable farming procedures practiced for over the last few hundred years (e.g. tilling) led to degraded and unhealthy soil that struggles to hold water. Therefore, when it rains the animal feces with this extra nitrogen and phosphorus ends up in our waterways - resulting in eutrophication.
In summary, when done right, sheep have the potential to reduce global warming, reduce the death of our water bodies, and reduce the amount of trash we produce.
Wool balls have been around for a long time!
Wool balls moving inside the dryer helps to separate laundry items allowing the air and heat to circulate more efficiently and thus items dry faster reducing energy demand.
The wool used for Net Zero Co wool dryer balls is fair trade and traceable. It is sourced from wool farmers that hold a high standard for animal welfare.
Our sheep are not mulesed1 and are sheared by highly trained shearers.
Our farmers are constantly increasing their animal welfare standards to ensure they always adhere to the latest research and best practice.
While our sheep are not currently part of the regenerative farm movement, they are free to graze on unfarmed fields that are not sprayed with fertilizers or pesticides which still contributes to carbon sequestration .
The wool retrieved is hand-weaved by Napanee artisans and is GoodWeave certified. It is then brought to us and shipped to you.
Our wool balls have proven to stand the test for 1000 loads (though they can probably last longer).
When you decide you no longer want them, they can be composted in your backyard, biodegrading in as little as three to four months.
The equation is easy: Only happy healthy sheep live longer, grow high-quality wool, and produce healthy offspring that can thrive on our challenging planet.
- Mulesing: Mulesing is a painful procedure that involves cutting crescent-shaped flaps of skin from around a lamb’s breech and tail using sharp shears designed specifically for this purpose. The resulting wound, when healed, creates an area of bare, stretched scar tissue. Because the scarred skin has no folds or wrinkles to hold moisture and feces, it is less likely to attract blowflies .
- ASAS Board. (2014, July 14). There is no such thing as humane wool when it is left on the sheep: Why sheep shearing is absolutely necessary for sheep welfare. https://www.asas.org/taking-stock/blog-post/taking-stock/2014/07/14/there-is-no-such-thing-as-humane-wool-when-it-is-left-on-the-sheep-why-sheep-shearing-is-absolutely-necessary-for-sheep-welfare.
- Chessa, B., Pereira, F., Arnaud, F., Amorim, A., Goyache, F., Mainland, I., … Palmarini, M. (2009). Revealing the History of Sheep Domestication Using Retrovirus Integrations. Science, 324(5926), 532–536. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1170587
- Díaz, R. J., Rosenberg, R., Rabalais, N. N., & Levin, L. A. (2009). Dead zone dilemma. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(12), 1767–1768. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.09.030
- RSPCA. (2018, November 9). What is the RSPCA’s view on mulesing and flystrike prevention in sheep? RSPCA Knowledgebase. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-is-the-rspcas-view-on-mulesing-and-flystrike-prevention-in-sheep/.
- Stanley, P. L., Rowntree, J. E., Beede, D. K., DeLonge, M. S., & Hamm, M. W. (2018). Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems. Agricultural Systems, 162, 249–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.003.
- Woolmark. (2017, May 1). Soil and your wardrobe. WoolMark. https://www.woolmark.com/environment/regenerative-agriculture/.