The following Sunday (20th) will be my last workshop of the year - a Christmas workshop at MAKE, Allen Mill, Northumberland.
My final outing of the year will be to Alston Craft Fair, 3rd and 4th of December. The list of exhibitors looks excellent, as ever.
Otherwise I'm busy in my workshop, preparing for an exhibition early next year, getting on with commissions (some of which are very long overdue and some so unusual that I simply couldn't say no to them), generally trying to catch up with a huge backlog, and also trying to assist with making sure we have a bathroom by Christmas.
I'll be taking a break from my sheep column for Felt Matters following the December issue, which is rather sad, but I really need to make more time for my paid work. The December article includes a section on ethical issues in sheep farming, and here is a snippet of what you'll find there. Some of you may be listening in horror to the plans for factory farming cattle in the Archers (some of you will have better things to do than listen to the Archers!), but do you know that a large number of Merino sheep are factory farmed, in pretty much the same way as battery hens?
These sheep are kept for wool, indoors in pens (many in individual pens), permanently wearing nylon coats to avoid soiling of the wool. The sheep never see the outside and are fed limited rations, a degree of malnutrition producing finer wool. These sheep are known as 'shedded' sheep or 'Sharlea' sheep. They are unable to indulge in any natural behaviour such as flocking, grazing, cudding and frequently display signs of distress. This is what the Australian RSPCA has to say:
The RSPCA is opposed to farming practices which cause suffering or distress to animals, or which restrict their movements or natural behaviour. Shedding sheep for fine-wool production does all of these, with the obvious potential for poor animal welfare.
Shedded Merino sheep images courtesy of Animals Australia
Obviously not all Merino wool is produced in this way. This is the premium fine wool, wool of less than 16 microns in diameter, usually referred to as ultrafine merino. Think about these animals when you buy anything woollen (fibres or products) and don't feel embarrassed about questioning the salespeople. If they can't answer your questions about this and other welfare issues (for example Mulesing) of the sheep supplying the wool for whatever you're buying they should be willing and able to find out. If in doubt, just don't buy it.