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Sheep

Animals in Need

Sheep

Sheep are intelligent animals who are capable of problem solving. They are nearly as clever as pigs and are smarter than dogs.

In addition to excellent hearing and a great sense of smell, sheep feel many emotions. Like us, they prefer relaxed or happy faces to sad or angry ones.

Sheep are highly social and like to be part of a group. The leader of the flock is usually an elderly female, because she has experience loving and caring for younger sheep.

Sheep are a national icon in New Zealand and it’s easy to see why. The more we learn about sheep, the more we appreciate them, as smart, social and caring animals.

Lambs at risk

Lambs are as playful as human children.  They love to leap, butt heads, run around with their friends and wag their tails like puppies.

Their tiny bodies are vulnerable to harsh weather, which is why it’s so cruel that lambing season has been changed to winter to maximise profits. Every year thousands of lambs are at risk of death if there is a cold snap.

Another example of farmers putting profits ahead of animal welfare is that farmers try to ensure that each sheep gives birth to more than one lamb at a time, despite the fact that lambs have a lower chance of survival if they are one of a pair of twins or, especially if they are one of triplets.

Sheep farmed for dairy and meat

There are more than 30,000 sheep in New Zealand that are kept to produce dairy products. Sheep milk is a growing industry in New Zealand, and the wool of these sheep is also used.

Sadly, like cows, sheep farmed for milk have their babies taken away from them so their milk can be sold to humans. Like cows, sheep can suffer from painful udder infections and lameness.

Sheep are also farmed for their meat. Sheep, like all farmed animals, only live a small proportion of their natural lifespan. In September 2019, 22 million sheep were killed for meat, the majority being lambs who were killed at less than a year old.

Shearing and shelter

Modern breeds of sheep grow heavy fleeces and are shorn regularly. Sheering is a double edge sword. On the one hand, it reduces the risk of flystrike, a painful infection. On the other, because of how commercial shearers are encouraged to work (as quickly as possible), the sheep may be roughly handled and cut by the shearing handpieces. For sensitive and emotionally intelligent animals like sheep, rough handling and injuries from shearing can be traumatic.

Sheep may be shorn in winter, which leaves them vulnerable to the cold, especially as it is rare for them to have access to shelter in bad weather. By contrast, in hot weather, many sheep are left without access to shade.

Live Export

Animals, including sheep, are sent overseas alive for breeding, even though live export for slaughter has been banned in New Zealand since 2003.

Sheep face horrific journeys, crammed on ships for weeks, or even months at a time.

When no longer profitable, these sheep and their lambs are slaughtered, most likely by methods so cruel they would be illegal in New Zealand.

How you can help sheep

Keeping warm without wool is easy. There are lots of other natural fabrics to choose from. You could try clothing made from bamboo or cotton fabric, which are highly durable, soft and sustainable and will keep you warm and cosy.

Also, skip the wool when purchasing items for your home, like blankets, carpets or sofas. There are a lot of alternatives that are just as durable.

There are also lots of great alternatives to sheep meat, milk and cheese. Try our Plant-Based Challenge to learn more.

Eat with kindness

Try Meat-Free May

Sign up for the Plant-Based challenge! Eating a plant-based diet is the most important thing you can do to help animals. It's a simple switch, but it makes a big difference. We bet you’ll find it tastier and easier than you ever imagined!

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As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every dollar goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals.