PETA entities have released six exposés of facilities in Australia’s wool industry. Abuse was documented at all the 40-plus farms and shearing sheds visited around the country.
2014 – New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria
In 2014, PETA entities exposed what sheep endured in the shearing sheds of the world’s top wool exporter, Australia.
It was the first investigation of its kind, and the footage rocked the public image of the industry. Workers beat, stamped on, kicked, mutilated, and threw sheep around as they sheared them.
Shearers were caught on camera punching sheep in the face and jabbing them in the head with sharp metal clippers and even a hammer. The attacks often left the animals bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth.
A total of 19 shearing sheds were visited by investigators, who documented that 70 workers employed by nine shearing contractors abused sheep in New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria.
Sheep were deprived of food and water before being sheared, in part so they would feel weak and put up minimal resistance. As one shearer explained, “Imagine if someone attacked you after … you’d been starved for 24 hours – you wouldn’t have much of a fight.”
When the sheep – prey animals who are terrified of being pinned down – did panic and start to struggle, the shearers stamped and stood on their heads and necks. Workers threw scared sheep around and slammed their heads and bodies against wooden floors. The fast, violent work – encouraged by the industry’s insistence on paying by volume instead of by the hour – led to severe cuts on sheep’s bodies.
Workers didn’t give sheep any painkillers before pushing needles through their flesh to try to sew up gaping, bloody wounds. The investigators never saw any veterinarian provide injured sheep with care.
Injured and unprofitable sheep were shot to death in full view of other sheep and even butchered.
In the aftermath of the release of the video, the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia said it was “appalled” by the footage. It said there was no excuse for cruelty to animals. In an article published some years later by the ABC, some shearers said they felt betrayed by management because of its response.
In August 2016, officials in Victoria charged six shearers with 70 counts of cruelty to animals, the first-ever charges anywhere in the world against wool-industry workers for abusing sheep. In December 2016, the first defendant pleaded guilty and was banned from shearing or being in charge of farmed animals for two years. In February and March 2017, four more shearers pleaded guilty to over 60 counts of cruelty. All were banned from shearing or being in charge of sheep for up to two years and fined up to $3,500. The sixth shearer was convicted of cruelty to animals in May 2017. He was banned from shearing or being in charge of sheep for six months and fined $2,000.
2015 – Coober Pedy, South Australia
In 2015, after the wool industry condemned the cruelty found in Australian shearing sheds the previous year, an observer worked at a large sheep farm near Coober Pedy in South Australia. What was caught on camera showed no improvement in an industry supposedly appalled by cruelty.
Workers were violent and rough, hurling sheep several feet off the shearing platform, slamming them to the floor and kicking them. One shearer stamped on a sheep’s face a dozen times before tearing off one of the animal’s horns.
Another worker, after kicking a sheep in the face several times, said to the petrified animal, “You lay down again, you cunt, I’ll kill you.” The observer saw that same worker jam his finger into the anuses of two sheep to drive them up a ramp to the shearing stand.
As had been documented the year before, the shearers’ rough handling and carelessness left sheep with gaping wounds. One sheep’s leg was turned into an oozing, bloody mess by a shearer who inflicted a wound nearly a foot long that appeared to cut to the bone. To the eyewitness’s knowledge, this sheep was never provided with any veterinary care.
One supervisor slammed a lamb against the wooden floor and then threw the young animal into a paddock to die. A shearer laughed as the dying lamb kicked and convulsed in the dirt.
After a sheep had what was thought to be a heart attack while being sheared and died soon afterward, the animal’s remains were fed to the supervisor’s dogs. Another sheep was held to the ground, stabbed in the throat while fully conscious, butchered, and served to the crew. When one worker tossed the sheep’s pelt – with the head still attached – onto the fire, another worker joked, “That was my robe, cunt.”
The eyewitness also documented mulesing, a gruesome mutilation in which workers cut off skin and flesh from lambs’ hindquarters with shears in a crude attempt to address problems caused by breeding them to produce excessive amounts of wool. The procedure continues to be widely performed on lambs on Australian sheep farms. A supervisor and a worker mulesed up to 80 lambs and sheep each day. The eyewitness didn’t see any painkillers administered to the sheep.
2017 – New South Wales and Victoria
Once again, an investigator went into four sheds in New South Wales and Victoria and found cruelty in every single facility.
Shearers violently punched sheep in the face and beat and jabbed them in the head with sharp metal shears, leaving them bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Shearers stamped on sheep and stood on their heads and necks. They threw them around and slammed their heads and bodies against the wooden floors.
When workers were finished shearing, they disposed of the sheep by shoving them into chutes like garbage bags. The eyewitness saw one worker lift up a sheep by one leg, stamp on her head, strike her with his knee, and then throw her into a chute.
Again, there was no pain relief for sheep injured during the shearing process and no veterinary care.
Late 2017 – South Australia and Victoria
Later in 2017, an eyewitness again went inside 16 shearing sheds, this time in South Australia and Victoria, to see if any of the talk of reform from the industry was true. It wasn’t. Nothing had changed.
Workers still struck sheep in the face with sharp metal clippers, including in the eyes. They still cut them and stitched up their gaping wounds without any pain relief. And they still threw them out of the sheds.
Sheep were punched, their heads slammed into the floor, and their necks stood on as they were pinned down for shearing.
The footage was handed over to officials. After a two-year investigation in Victoria, a shearer appeared in court in February 2020 and pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals. Officials in South Australia also opened a criminal investigation into the cruelty documented there. The footage was released by PETA Australia after authorities had finished their work in Victoria.
2018 – New South Wales and Victoria
In 2018, an eyewitness worked on a sheep farm in Victoria and found the farm manager and workers mutilating terrified lambs in assembly line fashion.
Workers punched holes in lambs’ ears and cut and burned off their tails with a hot knife, causing them to writhe in agony as flames shot up from their flesh.
According to a former Victorian government veterinarian, “Severing tails is … an extremely painful procedure: these sheep would have felt the pain of having their spinal cord, skin, and soft tissue severed.”
Severing tails is standard procedure across the global wool industry.
Workers also mulesed the lambs.
Lambs are prey animals who normally suffer in silence rather than drawing attention to themselves and attracting further harm, but these animals were treated so badly that they cried out in agony and fear.
All the procedures took place in full view of the lambs’ mothers, who frantically called out to them and tried to get as close to them as possible.
Workers then dropped the lambs to the ground or on a blood-spattered mat, where many landed hard on their wounds. They cried out as they ran in search of their mothers amid the flock.
The mulesing process had been documented in the past (see the 2015 investigation), with much handwringing and pledges to do better from the industry, but three years on, nothing had changed. And still, nothing has, as most lambs in Australia are still subjected to it.
The manager slit the throats of fully conscious sheep with a knife and then broke their necks. One sheep kicked for nearly a minute after the manager began cutting her throat. He said that some kick for a “bloody couple of minutes”.
According to one veterinarian who reviewed the footage, this sheep exhibited clear signs of extreme distress and pain for nearly a minute while the manager continued twisting her head and neck and slashing her throat. A sheep and a lamb nearby saw it all.
The investigator then went to New South Wales, where they saw shearers repeatedly strike sheep in the face with sharp metal clippers and in the stomach with their bent knee. Sheep who were severely cut were stitched up roughly on the filthy shearing floor with no pain relief.
One farmer put a tight ring around a sheep’s scrotum – which is extremely painful – without anaesthetics so that his testicles would shrivel up and fall off weeks later. When other animals’ testicles didn’t fall off as expected, shearers simply cut them off with their clippers. Again, no pain relief was given at all.
2020 – Victoria
In 2020, an investigator documented conditions for sheep in Victoria – once again revealing that cruel practices are common in the wool industry.
Shearers kicked sheep in the abdomen and back, punched them in the face, and even stood on a sheep’s neck as she flailed in fear.
Workers talked about other shearers who had broken a lamb’s leg, cut up sheep, and gouged them in the eyes. A shearer allegedly bit a sheep’s ear off in anger.
Rushed, aggressive shearing left sheep cut up and bleeding. The investigator saw shearers cut long strips of skin off sheep. One sheep wasn’t given any painkillers when a shearer attempted to stitch up her gaping wound with a needle that appeared to be blunt.
Another sheep was probably in labour when a shearer cut her on her vaginal prolapse – which was the size of a melon – with his sharp metal clippers. When he was done with her, he used her own wool to wipe her blood up off the floor. The worker said that the “strain” of being shorn contributed to the prolapse. The investigator took the sheep to a veterinarian, who determined that she was struggling to deliver a stillborn lamb and that her uterus was severely torn. She was euthanised to end her suffering.
Victorian officials once again opened up an investigation.