I’m a shepherd. A sheep farmer. And love to send Snapchats to my friends of all the fun and cool things happening on the farm. A lot of my friends are city folks, and the other day one of my girlfriends in Las Vegas asked me if sheep were killed or mistreated to make UGGS.
Sheepskin boots are a byproduct of the meat sheep industry, just like leather is a byproduct of the beef industry … however I don’t believe her question was a silly one. The average person is three to five generations removed from the farm, and a majority of people really don’t understand how their food (or boots in this case) are produced. There is a ton of misinformation out there about farming, usually coming from places like anti-animal agriculture groups that make a lot of money off of soliciting donations to scare people away from eating meat. PETA, I’m looking at you.
PETA did this campaign a couple years back that tried telling people the wool industry was cruel. It backfired, and many folks fought back saying it is in fact cruel to not shear sheep. Shearing sheep has many benefits to husbandry, whether it regulates their body temperature, prevents disease, or helps lambs nurse easier without all that wool in the way. It doesn’t hurt them and is just like a haircut.
The above image was put together by a sheep farmer who fought back against this campaign. The Australian musician Jonathan Weinhofen, who’s holding the lamb on the right, admitted that this was a plastic replica — it wasn’t even a real sheep! Go figure. PETA hasn’t exactly been known to be the most reputable organization out there.
When these anti-sheepskin and wool messages were swirling the internet, the famous UGG brand boots got caught in the crossfire. Vegan activists were trying to tell people that sheep are “skinned alive” or killed for their hides, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! There was a somewhat viral article claiming this on Yahoo!, but it was retracted and taken down. You can read UGGs statement on their very humane sourcing standards partnered with the responsible wool standard here.
Livestock in general are taken very good care of. Farmers understand that the better we take care of our animals, the better they take care of us. Animals cannot be sold to the food supply chain if they’re sick or injured, they wouldn’t pass inspection, and every single animal that goes for food is inspected. Also, wool cannot be sold if bloody or damaged, which is money out of our pockets. After sheep or lambs are humanely harvested for food, there are NUMEROUS byproducts that we get from sheep.
So what about these videos? Well, PETA and other activist groups usually have a different story to tell than what is reality. Some of their videos are staged, some are from other countries, some are misleading that pull at your heartstrings for donation purposes. Sometimes workers are paid off by activists or old footage is recycled and they try to pin it to a different company or brand. In the case of sheep videos to UGG, the video footage can never be pinned down or traced, probably because it was recycled, not true, and didn’t even come from one of the farms UGG sources from. With a trained eye, videos can be easily debunked.
Farming is a business, and no business can grow if they produce a bad product or get a bad reputation. In the very rare instance an animal is legitimately harmed, it infuriates us in the animal ag sector, and we hope the terrible people who do bad things are rightfully prosecuted. But that doesn’t mean an entire industry should be painted with a broad, negative brush due to one person’s inexcusable actions. But that is what groups such as PETA want you to believe. But if they really care about animals, why do they continue to let the cameras roll? If I caught someone harming my animals, I would instantly drop my camera to stop the abuse. Wouldn’t you? That’s how PETA produces catchy videos to push a money-making agenda. Not cool. And not accurate.
The bottom line is, no, animals are not harmed to make UGGs. Everything dies eventually, including you, me, the sheep, the cats and dogs. It just so happens that when the lamb is sacrificed, it gives us numerous products that we can use every day. We need to treat animals like kings and queens for all they can do for us. Farmers understand this and their care is always a top priority on any farm.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.