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How to choose the best sheepskin

British sheepskin has always been of world-class quality. Despite massive changes in the industry, we still lead on quality. Featured image by Ayse Rifat

Most sheepskin in the UK is destroyed as a waste product of the meat industry, very few go through the tanning process (read more here). Buying British sheepskin makes a lot of sense. The climate in the UK is perfect for the development of a thick fleece with fiber in at least two layers; a very soft inner down beneath a longer thicker outer coat. It is the inner down that provides that soft snuggly feeling you want to plunge your hands into.

Ethics matter, the life of the sheep is relevant. None of our sheepskin come from sheep that were killed to make our sheepskin. Dartmoor sheepskins come from animals that have lived a wild life on Dartmoor. Our sheepskins are a byproduct of the meat industry.

Hardy breeds develop thick hides and strong fleece out in the open, they also eat lots and are quite large. The only sheep that are bigger are generally from America, where regulation of growth hormones is less strict than in the UK.

Raised outside, without fences

A minority of British sheepskin will come from animals raised indoors – we do not supply these sheepskins. The reason that these sheep are kept inside is to prevent the animals damaging their skin on the barbed wire commonly used to control animals for meat production. Ironically, the most likely animals to be given this more expensive treatment will be those with extra valuable sheepskin, rare breeds in other words. This is not to say that all rare breed sheepskins come from animal husbandry of this kind, but a single tear in a hide will render it unfit for tanning.

We have no problems with barbed wire on Dartmoor as the sheep can roam freely across thousands of acres of wild beauty. So little of the sheep that we eat are turned into sheepskin (just 0.4%) that the quality is exceptionally high. No one in the UK goes through a value-adding process on sub standard starting material.

Turkey and Australia produce a lot of sheepskins, often of high quality, but do check that you are getting a single skin rather than pieces stitched together. You may wish to spend your money more locally, supporting British farmers as you do so. With prices from £59 delivered, Buying British need not cost more.

Reduce waste and petrochemical consumption

Environmentally speaking we should be using all the sheepskins instead of disposing of them as hazardous waste. Add to this our love of faux fur, made from petrochemicals and lacking in the qualities of real fur. Fake fur has a place in saving animals lives, there is no doubt about that, but destroying fur from an already slaughtered animal only to replace it with an artificial recreation is illogical. Buying faux fur is a perfect way to help animals that are raised solely for their fur. Want a mink coat? Get faux fur. Want sheepskin? Buy British sheepskin.

What to look for when buying sheepskin

How to choose the best sheepskin: Look for; thick hide, no thin patches or holes. Symmetrical shape. Different layers of fleece, inner fluffy, and outer thicker with greater variety of pigment. No bald patches. Uniform density of fiber across hide. Attractive patterning. If buying for a baby get a shearling sheepskin with the longer hairs shaved close (just request this in the order notes at the checkout if ordering from Dartmoor Sheepskins). If buying for endurance use (as a motorbike seat cover, or to help with someone who is bed bound) choose from our standard or “seconds” products. For all other purposes, pick the one you fall in love with. Got any questions or preferences? Contact Us.

British Sheepskin
Grade A
From £
79
  • Dartmoor Sheepskin
  • Flawless Quality
  • Free UK Delivery
speckled dartmoor sheepskin
The utmost quality British Sheepskin

British Sheepskin Seconds
Grade B
£
59
  • Dartmoor Sheepskin
  • Hard-To-Spot Fault
  • Free UK Delivery
Your guests won’t notice a minor blemish and the chances are, neither will you

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Are Sheepskins Ethical?

sheepskin laid on log

Are sheep slaughtered to make sheepskins?

Are sheepskins OK for the environment?

A sheepskin is a sheep’s skin and has come from an animal that has been slaughtered.

Most sheepskins are from animals that have been slaughtered for meat. Less than 1 in 200 sheepskins are tanned (0.045%), the rest are disposed of as hazardous waste.

We eat well over 5 million sheep each year in the UK, yet we tan just 60,000 sheepskins. Instead of using this high quality biodegradable resource, we replace it with man made fibers (derived from oil).

Every second of every day a lorry load of plastic clothes is burned, or added to landfill. Every year, millions of sheepskins do the same. Friends of the Earth commissioned a study which found microfibers even in our own selves.

Our sheepskins will last for many years, even if given the most basic level of care. At the end of its long and useful life a sheepskin has the good grace to rot into the earth. It returns.

“In 2005 [we ate] 14.1million lambs (+ 2.2million ewes and rams) Only 60,000 UK skins p.a. are processed by the remaining UK tanning sector, less than 0.45% of the total”2015 Sheep Industry Report

Almost all British sheep live outdoors and receive the highest levels of animal welfare. Sheep raised on Dartmoor, for example, will see few fences in their entire lives.

Go back less than two decades and wool was the primary reason for sheep farming in Britain. Wool comes from living animals that have been shaved before the weather gets too hot. In 2001 the ratio changed in favour of meat – we currently keep (a lot) more sheep to eat. This is the source of our sheepskins.

The art of creating soft, lasting hides has been passed down through generations. It’s a craft skill in an industry that slumped from an anti-fur sentiment. People concerned about animal welfare have legitimate concerns.

We cannot address the needs of people who cannot live with such an overt animal product in their life. If that’s you, we hope there’s no hard feelings. We hope you’ll see this as our own small attempt to offset the insanity of the man made microfiber problem.

Washing machines and wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to trap the minute plastic fibres that our clothes shed during washing. Many of these fibres sneak into our waterways and ultimately the oceans. And lots are caught up in sludge at the treatment plants – which is then sprayed over our soils as fertiliser.

Friends of the Earth

Our textile industries responded to the public demand to ditch fur. After Jeff Banks championed sheepskin on The Clothes Show on BBC 1 in the 80’s, Vivienne Westwood countered with a demand that fashion labels and consumers ditch fur. In a time of peak consumerism (and cheap oil) this was an obvious ethical choice. The trouble is we still wanted ‘fur’.

People cleverer than this writer have created faux fur, which approximates that of animal origin but is made instead from plastic, derived from oil. Some of it is pretty good and feels authentic. Most doesn’t come close. None of it has the exothermic properties of wool. None of it degrades very quickly. All of it is damaging to life on earth.

We urge you to look again at this otherwise waste product, a result of the meat industry, a quality product that will last for years and years, and then rot away harmlessly.

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