The thing about Merino Wool
Last christmas I received a nice gift from a good friend from New Zealand. She send me one Short and Long sleeve shirt from Icebreaker. Up to this point I was in a conflict about wether to buy merino wool or not.
On a consumer point of view, I really like merino wool. I have worn the long sleeve shirt on all my hikes this year and on my travels. It is a great product if you compare it with the synthetic shirts that smell even before you leave the house.
Merino wool has some properties compared to other wool or types of fabric:
- It is excellent at regulation body temperature.
- It has the ability to wick sweat away from the skin.
- It absorbs water like cotton but unlike it, wool retains warmth when wet. It helps to avoid hypothermia.
- It contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties.
- It is one of the softest type of wool available.
- It has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools.
With all this great properties one wonders, why not just buy it and get on with it?
But if you followed the goings of merino wool in the last few years especially, then you know there are a lot controversy about the animal welfare.
The main point here is the use of muslesing. You can go here if you want to see how it looks like, but it’s really not nice.
The common method used is:
While the lamb is under restraint (typically in a marking cradle), the wrinkled skin in the animal’s breech (rump area) is cut away from the perianal region down to the top of the hindlimbs. Originally, the procedure was typically performed with modified wool-trimming metal shears, but now there are similar metal shears designed specifically for mulesing. In addition, the tail is docked and the remaining stump is sometimes skinned. The cuts are executed to avoid affecting underlying muscle tissue.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries states in the Standard Operating Procedures that, “While the operation causes some pain, no pre or post operative pain relief measures are used”.Antiseptics, anaesthesia and painkillers are not required by Australian law during or after the procedure but are often applied, as the procedure is known to be painful to the animal. Products have been approved for pain relief during the procedure, including Tri-Solfen. The minor use permit for Tri-Solfen makes the product available for use by both veterinarians and sheep industry employees, such as mulesing contractors and graziers.
quote from Wikipage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulesing
Supporter of mulesing are mainly Australia, where serve and fatal flystrike is common. In 2004 PETA run a campaign, threatening U.S. Manufactures with TV advertisements showing their support on mulesing. Some retailers in the U.S. And Europe stopped stocking Australian Merino wool products.
Ongoing research for an alternative more human method have been underway for some time, but most are not as economic as museling.
Here a few alternatives:
Breeding offers the only long-term solution. The genetic traits that can be bred out of sheep to reduce flystrike have been found. They are: wrinkles; a bare area around the breech and tail; resistance to worms; susceptibility to diarrhoea; and the amount of wax and moisture in the fleece. Results of breeding trials over many years are positive and the work is being scaled up.
Clips give a result like mulesing, but without an open wound and with significantly less pain. They prevent blood flow to the skin that would be removed by mulesing. This skin and the clips fall off within a couple of weeks leaving a bare area around the lamb’s breech and tail. Trials with clips are progressing well. Some producers report they feel confident they could stop mulesing and use clips to control flystrike.
With all that I now own merino shirts, the wool is from New Zealand and with the Icebreaker BAA-Code you can track some of the farms the wool of your shirt is coming from, which is nice but 100% sure you can never be. I will see with time how long a shirt will last and then go from there.
This topic it’s not something you want think about, it is the dark side of the outdoor business.
But if you start to think about it the list just gets longer and longer. For example the goose down in sleeping bags and Jackets.
The same thing goes for goose down, or the fabric for all-weather jackets that are water resistance and breathable. The list could go on and on.
These are things to consider when buying but most of the time we don’t.
Do you think about these things when you buy a new product?