This blog post follows on from sustainability. When we first opened our little shop in the naughty corner of Shrewsbury Market Hall, someone posted on our Facebook page that we shouldn’t be selling wool as it was cruel to sheep and that it was wrong. At that point we had been keeping sheep for about 9 years, in a very small way. We had started trying to be organic and avoiding pesticides. We rigorously checked for fly strike and treated as necessary with organic and natural products. It was hell. I’m sure that it can be done, I know it can be done. But our combination of very old rich pasture, heavy lowland sheep and many flies meant that out of sheer desperation and total heartache for the sheep, we resorted to the usual measures of controlling fly strike. We have always been the first to shear on our lane. The sheep sulk a bit because it is slightly chilly sometimes but it means we get very very little fly strike.
Sheep are amazing creatures. We have evolved side by side with them. They have provided us with a means of keeping warm, milk and meat in return for food, safety and shelter. Early sheep (and some of the North Atlantic Short-tailed group still do) moulted or rooed in the spring. Around the time we discovered how to make jolly good tools with excellent sharp edges in iron, sheep started needing to be sheared. Shearing was born. This to me means that we have a huge responsibility to look after our domesticated sheep. For many centuries the most valuable things about sheep were their fleece and their milk. Why kill an animal when it will literally grow money for you?
In Britain we have more breeds of sheep than any other country. They are uniquely suited to the area they were bred to live in. Move a seaweed eating Ronaldsay sheep to Wiltshire and it will die unless you supplement its diet with minerals mimicking seaweed. Move a hardy semi-feral Herwick to fenced in land and you will be hunting for it forever more as they will not be fenced in and maybe should be called Houdinis.
We were dependent on two things to keep us clothed until the 20th century. Wool from sheep and linen from flax. You only got to wear silk if you were ridiculously wealthy and cotton had a few issues (like slavery) and is really quite a modern import. Women wearing printed cotton in the 18th century had fluids thrown over them to spoil their clothing as a warning not to buy foreign imports and deprive British workers of trade. Most people know Britain’s wealth originated from the backs of sheep and Queen Elizabeth I had laws dictating that people wore British wool to keep the economy flourishing.
I entered into discussion with the person about the evils of the wool trade. She directed me to the Vegan Society’s website as I asked for alternatives. This website suggested using wire wool, wood wool or acrylic. I hope they have updated this page now. I don’t like acrylic. It is squeaky, smelly and usually looks terrible. It is also not very warm. Bearing in mind that this was before the whole sustainable thing came up and before the issue with micro and nano fibres had been published or come to my attention. I just really didn’t like the fact it was plastic and derived from petroleum or fossil fuels. I know people that make money from making wool, I don’t know anyone who makes acrylic. Using British wool keeps the money in our hands, the little people.