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Shedded sheep are sometimes called ‘Sharlea sheep’ because they were first kept in sheds at a Victorian property of that name. Shedded sheep are kept in group pens or in individual stalls within a large shed for up to five years. Wool from shedded sheep is premium ultra-fine wool and it makes up about 12% of the Australian wool market.
Other sheep may spend some time in sheds, often in individual pens. For example, they may be stud rams and ewes in breeding programs or sheep used in research projects.
Some ultra-fine wool comes from sheep on pasture, but the finest wool comes from shedded sheep. By housing sheep indoors it is possible to have more control over the selection, feeding, fibre length, fibre diameter, tensile strength and style of their wool. The ability to manipulate the nutrition of the shedded sheep means it is possible to produce wool that is several microns finer than it otherwise would be. Low-energy rations are used to produce fine diameter wool fibres. Further, wool damage and soiling is reduced by keeping sheep in individual small pens and rugging them.
Controlling nutrition is the most effective way to produce ultra-fine wool. However, it comes with problems:
The RSPCA believes housing can be justified for animal welfare reasons, for example protection against bad weather and predators. Housing for production only cannot be justified. Sheep are intensely social animals and being part of a flock is fundamental to their wellbeing. Therefore, shedding and individual penning is very stressful.
These are some of the welfare issues associated with shedded sheep:
Studies show that:
Behavioural problems seen in shedded sheep include:
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.