My Secret Life As A Wool Handler

By Don Gaines

“I was in shock as I watched a worker twist a sheep’s neck over and over again until it broke.”

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’m a computer guy who spends hours at a time staring at a screen. I didn’t know a whole lot about sheep. If I thought about them at all, I thought they were kind of cool, in a “shepherd tending his flock” sort of way. But I no longer enjoy that blissful ignorance – because what I discovered while working as a PETA eyewitness in sheep-shearing sheds was that sheep are suffering – greatly – just so that their stolen wool can be made into coats, sweaters, and scarves.

My time as an eyewitness was no short stint: I ended up working in six shearing sheds in Australia and on 14 sheep ranches in the US. It never crossed my mind that I’d be recording workers punching sheep in the face, deliberately poking them in the eye, stomping on them, and hitting them with electric clippers. I was in shock as I watched a worker twist a sheep’s neck over and over again until it broke. The image haunts me to this day.

Sheep Suffer as Shearers Race to Finish

Many people don’t realize – I certainly didn’t – that shearers are paid by volume, so they have to work quickly. Every pound of wool is money to them, so most work at top speeds – and sheep get thrown around, bullied, and badly hurt in the process. I quietly filmed sheep struggling and bleating while strips of their flesh and the edges of their ears were carelessly cut off. I repeatedly saw shearers cutting sheep’s “belly vein” during shearing. This leads to profuse bleeding, and it’s an industry standard operating procedure simply to sew up the often gaping and no doubt hideously painful wound on the spot. No pain relief – just crude stitching with a needle and thread while the blood pours out. If the sheep panicked and struggled or put up any resistance whatsoever, the workers kicked them, stomped on them, or slammed them against the floor or walls. I saw lambs being picked up by one front leg and slammed to the floor while the shearer stood on their ribs. They were absolutely petrified, but they were never shown any patience or kindness.

Tails ‘Get in the Way’

To make lambs easier to shear, their tails are typically docked by placing a rubber ring around the base so tightly that the blood stops flowing and the tail tissue dies and eventually rots off. One day, some lambs who hadn’t lost their tails yet came through the shearing shed. An impatient shearer used his electric clippers to saw through the tails of three screaming animals while they were fully conscious. No one in the room so much as batted an eye – it was business as usual. I witnessed this violence at 20 sheep operations on two continents. PETA Asia eyewitnesses documented the very same kinds of abuse in Argentina and Chile.

Take Action Now

Please, never buy or wear wool – and tell everyone why you don’t. Share PETA’s wool videos (available at on all your social media accounts. People need to know what wool is really all about.

This article originally appears in our magazine, PETA Global. To begin your subscription, become a PETA member today!