There are lots of ways to help sheep, whether you eat meat or not. Sheep are very shy so tend to not come up to you in fields, unlike cows. But sheep are intelligent (they have the same IQ as cattle) and curious creatures who have been proven to recognise smiling faces. There are big welfare issues, including live transport and ritual slaughter.
There are over 1 billion sheep on earth (most live in Mongolia, New Zealand, Australia, China and Turkmenistan). Ewes are extremely good mothers who in a field of thousands of sheep, will recognise their lambs simply by the sound of their bleats. They can see 300 degrees to see predators without turning their heads, and even if grazing low down, can still see what’s going around them, thanks to their rectangular eyes.
- Don’t disturb sheep in fields, they are nervous creatures who can miscarry, if scared. Open Sanctuary suggests leaving sheep to walk away if you see them (back off slowly from rams as they may charge, if you turn your back). If you see one on its back call the farmer or go and right it yourself or it will die (sheep can’t get back up alone). This often happens if sheep are pregnant or when rain has soaked the wool (once upright, hold the sheep until the rain drains away).
- Keep dogs safe near livestock, to protect both creatures. See how to find good dog walks for tips on following the Countryside Code: in summer – keep dogs on short leads on open access land between 1 March and 31 July, and see The Ramblers Association for info on safe dog-walking near livestock. Obviously keep dogs on leads near sheep.
- If you eat lamb or mutton, look for brands that say ‘outdoor pasture, ‘grass-fed’ or ideally ‘certified organic’. Although we see sheep in fields, a small percentage (still hundreds of thousands) are factory-farmed. The same info applies for if you buy sheep milk or cheese.
- If concerned about any sheep or barnyard creature, report to RSPCA (this can be anonymous).
- Support your local sheep sanctuary. These include Sheep Sanctuary (Yorkshire), Fleece Haven (Devon), Sheep Ahoy (Kent) and The Farm Animal Sanctuary (Worcestershire). Thank Ewe!
- Buy tees, hoodies and beanies from clothing brands that help animals. These companies fund animal sanctuaries.
- Only give to humane charities. This is kinder and more effective. British Heart Foundation recently did an experiment that involved putting plastic bags over the heads of ewes and lambs, to suffocate.
- Buy instruments free from ‘cat gut’ (from sheep).
- If you are Muslim, One Arab Vegan has info on how you can still be vegan, Ramadan & Islamic vegan lifestyles). Find recipes in the book Vegan Recipes from the Middle East. Or try My Dad’s Not Mutton Mushroom Curry.
A Balanced View of Wool
There are issues in Australia for merino sheep wool. It’s true that most sheep need shearing to avoid heat exhaustion and disease. Not doing this is like putting on an extra overcoat each year, and sheep can die if rain soaks their heavy coats, and they fall over (you must right them and let rain drain away if you this happens). Not shearing sheep can also lead to ‘wool blindness’ that stops them seeing predators (also stops lambs finding teats, to feed).
But some sheep are sheared too early (so get hypothermia) and others are killed as they get older, when wool production slows (to make mutton or sent for live transport). Flystrike is a horrible disease, but some sheep have chunks of flesh removed without painkillers, known as ‘mulesing’. In Australia, native wildlife (including kangaroos and wallabies) are killed, as they eat the same plants as sheep. And shearing by volume means welfare standards are often not adhered to.
If you wear wool, buy from companies like The Vegetarian Wool Company that never sends sheep to the food chain. If you use them, Felted Sheepskins sell rugs made from sheep that are sheared to keep them cool, but no sheep is harmed in the process. Rapanui sells warm organic cotton jumpers. See where to find a sustainable winter coat and vegan knitting yarns and recycled wool.
Help to stop live exports
Sheep are one of the many animals that are exported live on ships (often on journeys that last days in heat – many suffocate or get trampled). This can occur to Europe or from Australia to the Middle East. And when they arrive, they are often killed, in countries with poor welfare laws. Compassion in World Farming has just launched a case against DEFRA, after the Scottish government hired a QC to keep live transport of calves for 135-hour trips to Europe (many people voted to leave to EU, on guarantee of banning live exports).
Green MEP Keith Taylor says that if Prime Minister Johnson does a trade deal with the World Trade Organisation, welfare laws will be even worse than the EU (for instance, it presently won’t allow the EU to ban the import of battery eggs, which is why consumers have power to stop it, as governments and trade organisations won’t). They and Eurogroup for Animals are trying to change the law, and encourage people never to eat veal (from live-exported calves who live in crates that are banned here). Sign the Stop the Trucks petition.
Don’t give leftovers from these recipes to pets, as some contain toxic foods to keep away from pets ((soy, garlic, onion, salt, avocado, mushrooms). Never feed cooked bones to pets, can cause choking.
- Vegan Greek-Style Roast Lamb
- Vegan ‘Rack of Lamb’
- Vegan Lamb Burger
- May Wah Vegan Mutton (or stewed mutton)
- Vegan Donor Kebab & Vegan Kebab
- Gaz’s Meaty Vegan Kebabs
Help For Sheep Farmers
- Painful footrot can often be prevented with clean transportation, foot-trimming and quarantining new sheep to flocks for 30 days. Purdue University has good info on prevention and Homeopathy at Wellie Level offers helpful courses for farmers. Sheepeasy is a hammock that makes sheep foot care quicker and more comfortable.
- See wildlife-friendly fencing alternatives. Although electric fences have low currents, one child died in 1991 after the child’s head touched the wire, after playing on wet grass. So don’t let pets play nearby either (due to their heads being the same height, like sheep dogs) or when it’s raining. You can buy a device to know if a mammal is trapped, which turns off the voltage, until the animal is free. Dry stone walling can keep sheep safe: Conservation Volunteers can build these for you or download Dry Stone Walling to build/repair walls yourself. Check that dry stone walls don’t grow the weed ragwort. Although home to a native caterpillar, it’s lethal to livestock and equines, and must be removed and disposed of, to DEFRA laws). World Horse Welfare has tips on prevention and dealing with it. You can remove ragwort in 4 easy steps with a ragfork (in bright colours, to see in the field).
- Rescued sheep need a lot of specialised care. They can live with goats but food is different (copper given to goats can harm sheep. And goats tend to head-butt for fun, which sensitive sheep will not like). Farm Sanctuary & Open Sanctuary have excellent factsheets.
- See how to help our small farmers for charities that can help, from welfare and finance to ideas like AgriTourism.
- Sheep Poo Paper is a fun Welsh company that sells stationery made from recycled paper and sheep poo, to earn income without harm to sheep: I Love Ewe (weddings) and Birthday Bleatings!
Sivalingam Vasanthakumar had been a sheep farmer for 47 years, since a child. Born in Sri Lanka, he was driving a flock of sheep to the abattoir, and had a change of heart. He instead drove them 200 miles from Devon to a Worcestershire sanctuary and went vegetarian. No ‘hippy’, he had butchered animals, but said he couldn’t take it anymore: pushing animals out of the trailer, where they were hiding (knowing their fate). He now lets cattle graze his land, and grows vegetables instead.
Farm Sanctuary (US) rescues abused animals. It began when a lamb was thrown on a stockpile of dead animals, covered in flies and maggots. The sheep was discovered collapsed in a stockyard, and rescued – 20 minutes later, she was eating and drinking. Hilda’s rescue started one of the world’s prominent farm welfare movements, and passed away peacefully in her sleep from old age, 11 years later. She is buried in the beautiful garden grove on the farm sanctuaries, her wonderful legacy imprinted forever.