Why Do We Carry Wool Dryer Balls Made in the USA?
Our wool dryer balls that are made in the USA come from sweet sheep raised in Connecticut, USA. They are one of our biggest sellers, and for good reason. If you aren't yet familiar with the benefits of switching to wool dryer balls in your laundry routine, feel free to take a look at our article, Why Wool Dryer Balls Made in the USA, should replace your dryer sheets & fabric softener.
It wasn't enough for us to simply carry Wool Dryer Balls however. There are animals involved, and we need to ensure their health and wellness is being taken into consideration. Here at 4 The Greater Good, we make it our business to look into the ingredients in our products, the ethics behind them, and the people who make them. We want you to think of 4 The Greater Good as your personal research team, so you can focus on other things.
In order for Wool Dryer Balls to be 4 The Greater Good Approved, they need to be:
1) Ethically raising & caring for the sheep where the wool comes from.
2) Using ethical shearing practices & procedures (more on that below.)
3) Minimal carbon footprint for shipping. Where are the sheep that are being raised for this wool?
4) Plastic free packaging.
In an effort to achieve these high standards, we found a little farm in our neighboring state of Connecticut, USA who was doing things the right way. We asked many questions & learned even more about what "The Right Way" means & looks like when it comes to raising sheep for wool & milk.
So when one of our customers wanted more details behind wool, and the ethics involved with shearing the sheep, and how the sheep are treated at the very farm we support by carrying their wool dryer balls, we couldn’t wait to dig in!
This blog post is our effort to share what we learned in our research for ethical sheep raising, and wool shearing practices with all of you!
A huge shout out to Leah, our sheep farmer and head of Herd Supply Co. in Connecticut for answering all of our questions and her transparency behind the details on raising sheep, shearing the wool, and all the things we need to know. You all wanted details, and she definitely delivered. Also, all photos in this article are courtesy of Herd Supply Co, so we could share with our customers, behind the scenes footage. Thanks Leah!
What You Need to Know About Wool to get started…
Wool has been around for over 10,000 years. In fact, according to this article, “wool is what allowed mankind to venture far beyond the warm climate of Mesopotamia.” How cool is that? However, did you know that sheep have been bred to stop shedding. So many breeds of sheep are now so domesticated that they need to be sheared for their own health. While many of us are grateful the wool that sheep provide to us, and the many benefits of using wool in various products; it's important to us that we ask about the conditions that these animals are living in, and how they are treated. No commercial farming methods, or harmful practices to obtain the wool please.
Did you know that sheep can magically turn carbon into fiber by drinking water and eating grass? (Check out Hidden Powers of Sheep by Craftsmanship.net to learn more.) This is a powerful and great return for an interconnected system. Wool uses 70% less water than cotton to produce 100 sweaters (woolmark.com) and thanks to Leah for sharing this little known fact with us! Wool can be worn multiple times before it needs to be washed, decreasing the amount of water needed to wash wool. Furthermore, and this is what captured our hearts..... water is used to scour/ sterilize the wool for your clothing, wool dryer balls, etc.
Why Carry Wool Dryer Balls Made in the USA vs. less expensive wool dryer balls?
This is our absolute favorite question! One that we didn't even fully understand the benefits of when we started this research journey. Our team at 4 The Greater Good thought, let's carry wool dryer balls made in the USA because the carbon footprint will be lighter because there aren't as many miles to travel. While this remains true & we are very proud of this, as Leah from Herd Supply shared with us.... the benefits go much, much further than that!
Why Does a Wool Dryer Ball Made in USA cost more?
We are so glad you asked! Why does a wool dryer ball made in the USA cost more when it is processed locally, than the set you can get online for less money? The answer can be found in more than just labor costs, but also due to processing? Why does the processing cost more in North America? North American scouring mills (wool cleaning processing) need to clean the water after cleaning the wool. By using scouring mills that comply with American and Canadian water standards, you can rest assured that no toxic effluent will make its way into our valued waterways. Although cheaper, wool products made in other parts of the world may be cleaning the wool without the same care for the environment. Weaker environmental regulations result in higher likelihood of mills discarding water - to the point where mill towns have had to close to get blue-green algae blooms under control. Leah recommends reading a book titled, Raw Material by Stephanie Wilkes to learn more about how it is more costly to process wool in the USA because of laws that are put in place to protect our waterways.
What We Love About Wool (when the sheep are raised and sheared ethically)
We love that wool is a renewable resource and it is animal fiber, so it is 100% natural and completely compostable. We also know that there are unethical practices that are very common regarding the treatment of sheep, so when we found out about wool dryer balls, we wanted to know who was doing the raising of the sheep, and how those sheep are treated. For those of you who want to know about the unethical ways of raising sheep, please do a google search; we don’t want to get into the details here but we did learn what types of questions to ask to be sure our wool dryer balls are made from wool of humanely raised sheep who are sheared with the welfare of the sheep in mind.
What Are The Living Conditions that Sheep Raised For Wool Face at Herd Supply? (4 The Greater Good’s approved wool dryer ball farm)
The sheep that provide the wool for the wool dryer balls we carry here at 4 The Greater Good are raised on a farm in Connecticut. These sheep are provided access to open pasture, and are seasonally brought into the barn at night to protect them from coyotes and fisher cats that live in the woods on both sides of the farm.
The team at Herd Supply also recently brought a new family member into the flock at their farm, a beautiful Mule named Jazz. She is a rescue from Louisiana. This beautiful mule helps to protect the sheep from the coyotes and fisher cats too. She is a new addition in 2020 but both she and the flock seem to be very happy living together!
We have seen photographs of the living conditions here, and look forward to visiting this farm ourselves one day to meet these sweet animals in person.
The sheep at Herd Supply are sheared with their health and wellness in mind by professionals with electric shears and the entire process takes less than 2 minutes per sheep. The farmers here ensure that the sheep are in the barn the day before they are to be sheared to ensure they are fully dry when the shearing process takes place the next day. They are also sure not to feed the sheep prior to the shearing, as much like when you or I need to have surgery, an empty stomach is best.
A Few Other Questions We Asked Leah:
Do You Castrate the Sheep? The farmers here do not castrate the sheep.
Do You Notch the Ears of the Sheep? They also do not notch the ears of the sheep. They do however, tag the sheep. This is because, Leah’s understanding is that there is a rule in place for all sheep raisers that they must tag the sheep per USDA guidelines to track neurological diseases like Scrapie (Mad Cow would be the equivalent for cows.)
Do You Dock the Tails of the Sheep? Yes, we dock the tails of the girls for a couple of reasons. One is that diarrhea will rot their tail tissue and maggots will cause severe injury or death. This partially ensures a long, healthy life, and we keep our sheep for many years. We do sell the boys (one ram per herd) but they are gone before docking the tail would need to be considered.
What Are The Living Conditions That Sheep Raised for Wool Could Face at other farms, NOT APPROVED by 4 The Greater Good?
Basically, what are we looking to avoid when considering a wool dryer ball provider.
At other farms, or when purchasing wool from outside of the USA, we are mainly concerned about the living conditions of the sheep, along with the treatment of the sheep when they are sheared, and how they are sheared. As with many commercial farming companies, ethical treatment of the animals does not always come first, and many times, even talking about the way these beautiful creatures are treated is not something many are comfortable with. That being said, we’ll just say that how sheep are sheared, matters. The living conditions, and sanitation of the land the sheep live on, matters. We believe in the ethical treatment of all living beings, so where our wool is coming from, matters to us.
Why Do Sheep Need to be Sheared? Believe it or not, shearing a sheep is done for far more than just financial gain. In fact, sheep have become such domesticated animals they no longer shed, and their coat’s can become so thick that it can cause the sheep to hold in too much heat. In the summer, sheep with thick coats can easily overheat, and this can even be fatal for the sheep. Not to mention, that similar to our dog and cat furry friends, insect pests can cause problems for sheep’s skin, and a thick coat of wool would keep infestations from being seen.
Failure to regularly shear sheep can also lead to matting & tangling of the wool, if left, over time this can even lead to constriction of blood flow to limbs, and could prevent them from moving properly.
If you would like more information on how often, and why sheep need to be sheared, take a look at this great article from Wool Shearing - Why Do Sheep Need to be Sheared? -Farm House Guide.
Is Shearing Traumatic to the Sheep? Throughout most of this article we are rephrasing Leah’s answers but she nails this section so here you go word for word!
“We hire experienced shearers, so I do not believe the process is traumatic for the sheep. Much like you or I going in for surgery, sheep should not eat for the day of their shearing to keep food/water away from their stomach where they will be touched. Additionally, they need to be dry. I believe it could be traumatic if they were eating or wet, but we bring them in the barn overnight so we don't have to worry about this. The whole process takes about 2 minutes per sheep.
The shearers we hire all use electric clippers, but I know of one shearer in the Berkshires who uses old school clippers. His name is Kevin Ford and I think there is a documentary coming out about him – I will let you know if I hear anymore about that!
A really good book on this (in my opinion) is called Raw Material: Working with Wool in the West. The shearer gets into more details about proper ways to shear and help prepare sheep for shearing day.” Leah, Herd Supply Co.
The Ultimate Question: How Ethical are Wool Dryer Balls? This is a personal question, and there is no one answer. Much like the debate of beeswax, and whether or not animals should be left alone as the beautiful sentient beings they are, is up to the individual. We do want to be clear, that Herd Supply does not keep all of the lambs that are born every year, (only one ram per herd), so while some of the lambs end up as pets (like the two who live a few doors down from the farm and act as lawnmowers), some of them, she would imagine are processed.
This being said, and as clearly as possible; we have decided that if people are informed about the process of raising the sheep, and feel that wool dryer balls coming from ethically raised sheep is a choice they are comfortable with, then we will research to find the most ethically raised sheep possible. We then carry wool dryer balls from the most responsible & ethically raised sheep, and we purchase these wool dryer balls directly from the farmers who raise them. Thank you Leah, for providing us with a product we can feel good about and a brand we are proud to support!
Another Reason We Are Proud to Carry Wool Dryer Balls Made in the USA from Herd Supply...
4 The Greater Good is based in the USA (New York) so when we found a sheep farm in our neighboring state of Connecticut who was ethically raising sheep, there is less of a carbon footprint for us to carry their products. No need for us to order wool dryer balls from New Zealand to bring them to our customers, when our neighbors at Herd Supply are doing it right and we can even meet the animals that provide us with this beautiful wool.
A Giant Thank you to Leah and her team at Herd Supply for providing us with the information in this article, and even many of the sources it contains. We are grateful for your transparence so our customers can make more informed purchases with their hard earned dollars while supporting brands and companies who choose ethical practices 4 The Greater Good!