Merino Sheep

About Merino SheepAbout Merino Sheep

Merino Sheep are one of the most popular breeds of sheep worldwide. Merino Sheep are raised predominately for wool production. Their wool is prized for being very soft and comfortable against the skin. Merino Sheep originated in Spain, but the modern Merino was domesticated in Australia.

Merino Sheep are excellent foragers and very adaptable. Merino Sheep need to be shorn at least once a year because their wool does not stop growing. If their coat is allowed to grow, it can cause heat stress, mobility issues, and blindness.

There are multiple sub-species of Merin

Poll Merino - this is a comparatively new addition to the breed of merino sheep. It is bred for the ease of handling and lack of horns on the rams.

Fonthill Merino - this subbreed of sheep was created by crossing an American bred merino with a Saxon strain that is known for its fine wool.

Boorla Merino - this strain of merino sheep has a long breeding season and is extremely fertile.

Merino Sheep were developed in the 13th and 14th centuries by Spanish breeders who crossbred English sheep with local breeds. Spain became noted for its fine wool (spinning count between 60s and 64s) and built up a fine wool monopoly between the 12th and 16th centuries, with wool commerce to Flanders and England being a source of income for Castile in the Late Middle Ages. Most of the flocks were owned by nobility or the church.

Over time Merino Sheep spread to royal herds in many countries such as Germany, England, France, and even as far as South Africa.

In 1796, John Macarthur bought his first merino sheep from a flock of Spanish merino sheep reared in South Africa. Other farmers in the region also bought merino sheep in 1796, but they cross-bred their merinos with other breeds, which resulted in coarse wool of a low quality.

Macarthur deliberately did not cross-breed his merinos and he and his wife, Elizabeth, worked hard to establish their flock. This hard work soon began to pay off for the Macarthurs and by 1803, their flock numbered over 4,000 almost-pure merinos. In subsequent years they bought merinos from flocks in various locations which meant that the bloodline of the flock – and therefore the health of their sheep and the quality of their wool – was strengthened and improved over time. In 1807, the Macarthurs sent their first bale of wool to England.

John Macarthur returned to England. In 1801 he was sent to London to be court-martialed (as he was still an officer with the Corps) for involving himself in a duel. He was not only able to get the charges against him dropped, but also secured approval from Lord Camden to establish a large sheep-run south of Sydney, which he named Camden Park on his return in 1805.  

During this time Elizabeth ran the farm. Although she had many laborers and servants, she was deeply involved in its running and managed all aspects of its day-to-day operation.

In 1802 Merino sheep were introduced to Vermont, USA. This ultimately resulted in a boom-bust cycle for wool, which reached a price of 57 cents/pound in 1835. By 1837, 1,000,000 sheep were in the state. The price of wool dropped to 25 cents/pound in the late 1840s. The state could not withstand more efficient competition from the Western states, and sheep-raising in Vermont collapsed.

However at the same time wool demand increased in Australia and the Macarthurs' high quality wool was bought at a premium price upon its arrival in England and the family quickly became the wealthiest in New South Wales.

John Macarthur died at Camden Park in 1834 and his wife, Elizabeth, died in 1850 in Sydney. The Macarthurs descendants continued to farm merinos and continued to live at Camden Park. The merino sheep still thrives in Australia; since 1796 their numbers have continued to swell and average well over 100 million.

In the 1880s, Vermont rams were imported into Australia from the U.S.; since many Australian stud men believed these sheep would improve wool cuts, their use spread rapidly. Unfortunately, the fleece weight was high, but the clean yield low, the greater grease content increased the risk of fly strike, they had lower uneven wool quality, and lower lambing percentages. Their introduction had a devastating effect on many famous fine-wool studs.

Today Merinos are found worldwide and are major wool Sheep breed in many countries.

Modern technology has made it possible to sort and select only the finest merino fibers. Merino wool has a microscopic diameter - about one-third to one-tenth the thickness of human hair. The smaller the diameter, the finer, softer and less scratchy the fabric will be.

Lustrous merino wool produces fabric that can be worn next to the skin without discomfort, is soft and always provides an exceptional hand and distinctive style. In the dress-goods and knitting trades, the term ‘Merino’ implies an article made from the very best soft wool. Extra fine Merino is super-premium wool used in the highest quality knits.

Merino Sheep Associations

Natural Colored Wool Growers Association Natural Colored Wool Growers Association -