Happy Year of the Sheep! (Domestic or wild, it’s no party)

Animals Australia Unleashed-click image

Animals Australia Unleashed-click image

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

The Chinese lunar new year arrived recently, and regardless of whether you’re in the sheep or the goat camp, for the purpose of this post I wish you a Happy Year of the Sheep! Of course, there’s nothing happy about live export, perhaps only the worst fate to befall any given sheep on Planet Earth. Shame on Australia!

But wait a minute, Yanks–let’s don’t get too smug. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Farm Animals are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) only when used in biomedical research, testing, teaching and exhibition. Farm animals used for food and fiber or for food and fiber research are not regulated under the AWA” (source). This puts a sheep between a rock and a hard place–protected by welfare standards in biomedical research labs, but not in factory farms. Hmmm. Which hell would you choose?!?  

But let’s not get our knickers in a twist over a hypothetical choice–wait–those aren’t wool knickers, are they? Because wool is another thing that cuts a sheep’s celebration short (not to mention her hind-end) in this age of industrial farming. (See “What’s Wrong with Wool?”) But even back in the day–when farms weren’t factories–it’s a sure bet that Baa Baa Black Sheep ended up on the dinner table once her shearing days had waned. (Aside: In the animated video, note how poof! the animal disappears and becomes the end product itself! Speciesism indoctrination starts early…and never lets up.)

Sheep and goats, second only to dogs in originally cozying up to humans, were domesticated some 10,000 years ago in Central Asia–sheep most likely from the wild mouflon (photo), an animal resembling the North American bighorn. While wild sheep aren’t intensively exploited the way their domesticated brothers and sisters are, they don’t get off scot-free; they are intensively managed. Disease–often transmitted by domestic sheep–is one downfall; hunters’ bullets are another.

You’ve probably noticed humans’ propensity to play god with animals’ lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than here in Montana. Sometimes it’s just a numbers game–x number of individuals are culled (killed) with no regard to family group, the larger social structure, or genetic loss (a perfect example is Yellowstone’s native, wild bison–hundreds have been killed so far in 2015). Other times they’re picked up (see photo of bighorn transplant) and moved like so many widgets–extracted from one place and plugged into another–perhaps shuffled between hunting districts. In other cases, entirely new populations are established; Montana’s “2010 sheep management plan calls for the development of five new huntable populations in the state.” And why not, when “(t)he auction for Montana’s bighorn sheep tag brought in more than $400,000 last year and more than $300,000 this year” (source). (Aside: If you’ve ever wondered about the seemingly incestuous relationship between state management agencies and hunters–roughly 5% of the population–and their advocacy groups, as well as the management that passes for “conservation,” read the section on hunting in this book!) 

Shuffling the wild widgets; MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks photo

Shuffling the wild widgets; MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks photo

Wild sheep are susceptible to disease–right now they’re dying off just north of Yellowstone, where, incidentally, a couple ranchers raise domestic sheep. Even more distressing is a proposal by the state management agency to snuff out an entire herd and “start over.”  Originally a transplanted herd, they’ve suffered disease outbreaks and die-offs over the past 20+ years, resulting in low lamb survival and leaving the herd “stunted” (so managers say) with 50 members, though “(p)redators, competition and poor habitat also share the blame” (source). Attempts to augment the herd have been unsuccessful. So what does this mean in management-speak? Depopulating. “Wildlife officials are now considering depopulating the herd primarily using hunters to make way for a reintroduction…” Yes, 50 unique, sentient lives could be discarded simply because they aren’t reproducing effectively enough to accommodate management-for-hunting objectives. 

Speaking of hunting deaths, the local paper delivered a couple of gushing, full-page ammunition store ads over the past few months–the first one wishing happy birthday to a 19-year-old who had completed her Super 10 Slam by killing an immense moose.  A month later another full-page ad appeared–this one congratulating the same, insatiable young killer for achieving three-fourths of her Sheep Slam.

Sheep Slam. Live transport. Wool. Rack of lamb. Research subject. Mulesing. Trophy mount. Depopulating. LanolinMutton. Mutton bustingDocking and castrating. Even in the lunar year dedicated to them, sheep don’t have much to celebrate. Of the millions who suffer, only a lucky few will find sanctuary and tail-wagging happiness, but as the Talmud instructs, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Learn more:

  • Live export: The facts (video)
  • Live export disaster in Pakistan, 2012 (video)
  • “The welfare of Australian livestock transported by sea,” Veterinary Journal
  • Australia’s factory farmed “ultra-fine” wool: text & video (who knew?!?)
  • Bighorn pneumonia, video (1:37 minutes)
  • Bighorn sheep hunting in Montana, video (Watch as one guy strokes the dead ram’s horn and says, “Thank you, buddy.”)


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