By Mimi Bekhechi

I’VE recently taken up Munro bagging. I can’t wait for the weekend to get out into the hills of Scotland – that fills me with joy. But one thing that makes my heart sink is the number of newborn lambs I see, knowing, as I do, what awaits them.

Hundreds of thousands of these lambs will die before they’re even eight weeks old. In the UK, 15% of lambs don’t survive infancy – it’s considered normal in the industry for at least 4% of young lambs to die every spring, primarily of lameness caused by untreated bacterial infection. But the survivors could hardly be considered lucky. They’re subjected to routine mutilations, such as being forced to wear a tight band around their scrotum so their testicles will shrivel up and fall off, without so much as an aspirin, to amputation of their tails with a burning-hot knife.

Lambs and ewes, like most mothers and babies, form extremely tight bonds, so you can imagine the trauma they experience when they’re separated. The terrified youngsters are loaded onto lorries and taken to auctions then eventually to abattoirs, sometimes very far away, where they’re strung up and slaughtered. Six million lambs a year are slaughtered in the UK.

Many lambs who are not slaughtered for meat are exploited for their wool. Cruelty was found at every single one of the 24 Scottish farms visited by a Peta eyewitness, which isn’t surprising when you consider shearers are paid by volume, not by the hour, meaning they work at breakneck speed. Sheep were often left with gaping wounds, which were crudely sewn up with a needle and thread. One sheep who was suffering from mastitis – a painful infection of the udder – couldn’t even stand up. A worker blithely dismissed her misery, saying she would be shot. For sheep whose wool quality declines, there’s no retirement plan. Once they’re no longer deemed profitable, they’re packed onto lorries bound for slaughter. These are not the exceptions; they are the rule. Since 2014, Peta has released video exposés of 116 wool-industry facilities on four continents, and all have revealed horrific cruelty.

Last weekend, I visited Tribe Animal Sanctuary in the Clyde Valley and had the pleasure of meeting many sheep and a gorgeous lamb named McAllan, who almost certainly would’ve been one of the statistics, had they not taken him in. It’s so obvious that these animals all have unique personalities, likes, dislikes, and character quirks – no different to the dogs and cats we share our hearts and homes with. It’s only ignorance or prejudice that allows us to treat one as family and the other as food or fashion.

The next time you see those sweet lambs in the field, think about the fact that we have their fate in our hands. If you couldn’t bring yourself to slit a lamb’s throat, please don’t pay someone else to. It costs us nothing to make kind choices.

Mimi Bekhechi is vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). She is based in Scotland.