07 November 2007

Mulesing and Circumcision

I was reading up on mulesing on Wikipedia today because I keep hearing about it in the knitting and animal rights worlds. There was an interesting thread on ravelry, so I decided to do a little research (emphasis on a little).

My first thought was that it sounds absolutely horrible. Then again, so can circumcision and it sounded a little bit like circumcision.
The non-wooled skin which is around the anus (and vulva in ewes) is pulled tight as the cut heals and results in a smooth area that does not get fouled by fæces or urine.

When managed according to the standards, policies and procedures developed by the CSIRO, lambs are normally mulesed a few weeks after birth. The operation takes one to two minutes. Standard practice is to do this operation simultaneously with other procedures such as ear marking, tail docking, and vaccination. Because the procedure removes skin, not any underlying flesh or structure, there is little blood loss from the cut other than a minor oozing on the edges of the cut skin.
but I hadn't seen it paralleled to circumcision anywhere, yet. I wondered if that was incredibly ignorant of me.

I wrote a paper in college that began as an FGM paper, but by the time I researched and edited, and re-researched and re-edited, it had turned into a paper about male circumcision: the unknown horrors. In all of the cases I have been familiar with, circumcision didn't leave a physical impact or, to my knowledge, an emotional one, but I have to admit that my sample size is small. Very small. Is it really a matter of hygeine? Or is it about cosmetics, or Victorian views on masturbation? Can it traumatize the baby? Is it worth it? The research I did raised more questions than it answered, and I could only address so many in the paper -- I wasn't answering them, anyway, I was so confused.

I guess my question was, am I crazy for comparing mulesing to circumcision, and going further, is either one inhumane enough to call for the eradication of the practice?

It seems that there is a resounding assertion that museling is just plain wrong. However, after doing a quick Google search on circumcision and museling, I found that I just haven't been reading closely enough, because a lot of people seem to draw on the parallel.

I haven't come to a conclusion on either topic at the moment. More research than I genuinely care to do right now would be required, but I think both are interesting.

I also wanted to post this comment found at treehugger.com:
I believe Ethan [a previous poster] is comparing muesling to his own circumcision... I wonder if [he] realizes that lambs are born far more physically advanced than humans - that is to say baby sheep are at par developmentally with beginning school aged children (I know that sheep don't do the whole spoken language thing, so spare me. I mean that they walk, explore, have the capacity to learn, etc. - something which took Ethan a year or three to warm up to). So, Ethan, if your first day of school commenced with being circumcised sans anaesthesia, would you still have graduated?

All of the above aside, here's a bit of background not covered by the wiki link:
1.) Sheep's posteriors have been covered with wool for thousands of years.
2.) Feces and urine have probably been getting stuck there for just as long.
3.) Flies have been around for even longer than that.
4.) Two world wars in the first half of the last century, and the amassing of armies to fight them, created an unprecedented demand for wool for uniforms. This demand led to a new manner of raising livestock, and the acceptance of the practice of mulesing.

The issue isn't so much flystrike, it's that the animals are now raised in conditions which cause it. All you have to do is keep their bums clean! With one ranch-hand per hundred sheep this was not a problem, but with one per a thousand you have a bunch of dirty animals... If you take out the animal equation, mulesing is to wool what pesticides and preservatives are to food. Do you only buy organic vegetables? Then do the same with your next sweater and support companies like SmartWool.
Maybe no more educational than everything else I've read today, but I thought it was interesting.

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