Organic sheep husbandry requires a special attitude towards animals and the work required in raising them. Organic farmers have set their priorities on appropriate conditions for animals and healthy husbandry procedures rather than on maximum profits. They are willing to work harder in order to give their animals better lives and obtain better quality wool. What this means in detail:
The choice of breed is the first significant difference. Depending on their production goals, conventional farmers usually raise high-performance special breeds or cross- breeds. In contrast, only those animals raised on organic farms are permitted in certified organic farming. If possible, robust and endangered livestock breeds are selected in order to encourage breed diversity.
In terms of animal husbandry, conventional sheep farming requires nothing more than compliance with the husbandry regulations laid down in animal protection laws. Organic farming, on the other hand, has special husbandry regulations in effect to ensure the animals’ well-being. Examples of species-appropriate animal husbandry conditions include lower population densities, larger stalls and a ban on tethered housing. Organic sheep are also allowed to keep their horns and tails. They are shorn individually, causing much less stress to the animals than the automated systems used in conventional shearing operations.
In conventional sheep husbandry, the animals are given regular pesticide baths to prevent parasites. The shepherds, processing workers and naturally the sheep as well are exposed to chemical pesticides as a result of this treatment. Agents used include phosphates and pyrethroids, both of which are neurotoxins. Residue from these anti- parasitic treatments can still be found in the wool. Animals kept in mass conditions are subject to especially severe parasitic infections. Organic farmers choose instead to maintain small, robust herds on sufficiently large pastures in order to reduce parasites.
In addition to the ecological and social aspects of the textile industry, animal protection is a further consideration in sheep farming. In Australia, for example, Merinos are brutally cut in the anal area – without anaesthesia or subsequent wound treatment – in order to protect them from blowfly strike. Animal rights activists are of course up in arms. The procedure can only be performed in organically raised sheep in exceptional cases when no other methods have proven effective.