Merino is an economically influential breed of sheep prized for
its wool. The breed originated in Southwestern Iberia (Extremadura,
Spain), but the modern
Merino was domesticated in
New Zealand and
Australia. Today, Merinos are still regarded as having some of the
finest and softest wool of any sheep. Poll Merinos have no horns (or
very small stubs, known as scurs), and horned
Merino rams have long,
spiral horns which grow close to the head.
5 United States Merinos
6 Australian Merinos
6.1 Early history
6.2 John and Elizabeth Macarthur
6.3 Eliza and John Furlong
6.4 John Murray
6.5 The Peppin brothers
6.7 Current situation
6.7.1 High price records
Animal welfare developments
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Two suggested origins for the Spanish word merino are:
It may be an adaptation to the sheep of the name of a Leonese official
inspector (merino) over a merindad, who may have also inspected sheep
pastures. This word is from the medieval Latin maiorinus, a steward or
head official of a village, from maior, meaning "greater".
It also may be from the name of an Imazighen tribe, the Marini (or in
Castilian, Benimerines), who intervened in the Iberian peninsula
during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Merino wool fibre (top) compared to a human hair (bottom),
imaged using scanning electron microscopy
Merino ewe judging
Merino is an excellent forager and very adaptable. It is bred
predominantly for its wool, and its carcass size is generally
smaller than that of sheep bred for meat. South African Meat Merino
Rambouillet and German Merinofleischschaf have
been bred to balance wool production and carcass quality.
Merino have been domesticated and bred in ways that would not allow
them to survive well without regular shearing by their owners. They
must be shorn at least once a year because their wool does not stop
growing. If this is neglected, the overabundance of wool can cause
heat stress, mobility issues, and even blindness.
Merino wool is fine and soft. Staples are commonly 65–100 mm
(2.6–3.9 in) long. A Saxon
Merino produces 3–6 kg
(6.6–13.2 lb) of greasy wool a year, while a good quality
Peppin Merino ram produces up to 18 kg (40 lb).
is generally less than 24 micron (µm) in diameter. Basic
include: strong (broad) wool (23–24.5 µm), medium wool
(19.6–22.9 µm), fine (18.6–19.5 µm), superfine
(15–18.5 µm) and ultra fine (11.5–15 µm). Ultra
fine wool is suitable for blending with other fibers such as silk and
New Zealand produces lightweight knits made from
and possum fur.
The term merino is widely used in the textile industries, but it
cannot be taken to mean the fabric in question is actually 100% merino
wool from a
Merino strain bred specifically for its wool. The wool of
Merino sheep, whether reared in Spain or elsewhere, is known as
"merino wool". However, not all merino sheep produce wool suitable for
clothing, and especially for clothing worn next to the skin. This
depends on the particular strain of the breed.
Merino sheep bred for
meat do not produce a fleece with a fine enough staple for this
One of the earliest depictions of a Merino. "El Buen Pastor" (The Good
Shepherd) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650
Phoenicians introduced sheep from
Asia Minor into
North Africa and
the foundation flocks of the merino in Spain might have been
introduced as late as the 12th century by the Marinids, a tribe of
Berbers. although there were reports of the breed in
Iberian peninsula before the arrival of the Marinids; perhaps
these came from the Merinos or tax collectors of the Kingdom of León,
who charged the tenth in wool, beef jerky and cheese.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Spanish breeders introduced English
breeds which they bred with local breeds to develop the merino; this
influence was openly documented by Spanish writers at the time.
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
England being a source
of income for Castile in the Late Middle Ages.
Most of the flocks were owned by nobility or the church; the sheep
grazed the Spanish southern plains in winter and the northern
highlands in summer. The
Mesta was an organisation of privileged sheep
owners who developed the breed and controlled the migrations along
cañadas reales suitable for grazing.
Merino strains that founded the world's
Merino flocks are
the Royal Escurial flocks, the Negretti and the Paula. Among Merino
bloodlines stemming from
Vermont in the USA, three historical studs
were highly important: Infantado, Montarcos and Aguires.
Merino ram, 1905 Sydney
Before the 18th century, the export of Merinos from Spain was a crime
punishable by death. In the 18th century, small exportation of Merinos
from Spain and local sheep were used as the foundation of Merino
flocks in other countries. In 1723, some were exported to Sweden, but
the first major consignment of Escurials was sent by Charles III of
Spain to his cousin, Prince Xavier the Elector of Saxony, in 1765.
Further exportation of Escurials to
Saxony occurred in 1774, to
Hungary in 1775 and to Prussia in 1786. Later in 1786, Louis XVI of
France received 366 sheep selected from 10 different cañadas; these
founded the stud at the Royal Farm at Rambouillet. The Rambouillet
stud enjoyed some undisclosed genetic development with some English
long-wool genes contributing to the size and wool-type of the French
sheep. Through one ram in particular named Emperor – imported to
Australia in 1860 by the Peppin brothers of Wanganella, New South
Wales – the
Rambouillet stud had an enormous influence on the
development of the Australian Merino.
Sir Joseph Banks
Sir Joseph Banks procured two rams and four ewes in 1787 by way of
Portugal, and in 1792 purchased 40 Negrettis for King George III to
found the royal flock at Kew. In 1808, 2000 Paulas were imported.
Merino ram that has been branded on his horn
The King of Spain also gave some Escurials to the Dutch government in
1790; these thrived in the
Dutch Cape Colony
Dutch Cape Colony (South Africa). In 1788,
John MacArthur, from the
Clan Arthur (or MacArthur Clan) introduced
Merinos to Australia from South Africa.
From 1765, the Germans in
Saxony crossed the Spanish
Merino with the
Saxon sheep to develop a dense, fine type of
count between 70s and 80s) adapted to its new environment. From 1778,
the Saxon breeding center was operated in the Vorwerk Rennersdorf. It
was administered from 1796 by Johann Gottfried Nake, who developed
scientific crossing methods to further improve the Saxon Merino. By
1802, the region had four million Saxon
Merino sheep, and was becoming
the centre for stud
Merino breeding, and German wool was considered to
be the finest in the world.
In 1802, Colonel David Humphreys, United States Ambassador to Spain,
Vermont strain into North America with an importation
of 21 rams and 70 ewes from Portugal and a further importation of 100
Infantado Merinos in 1808. The British embargo on wool and wool
clothing exports to the U.S. before the 1812 British/U.S. war led to a
Merino Craze", with William Jarvis of the Diplomatic Corps importing
at least 3,500 sheep between 1809 and 1811 through Portugal.
Napoleonic wars (1793–1813) almost destroyed the Spanish Merino
industry. The old cabañas were dispersed or slaughtered. From 1810
Merino scene shifted to Germany, the United States and
Saxony lifted the export ban on living Merinos after the
Napoleonic wars. Highly decorated Saxon sheep breeder Nake from
Rennersdorf had established a private sheep farm in Kleindrebnitz in
1811, but ironically after the success of his sheep export to
Australia and Russia, failed with his own undertaking.
United States Merinos
Merino sheep were introduced to
Vermont in 1802. 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 states, and
About 70 native sheep, suitable only for mutton, survived the journey
to Australia with the First Fleet, which arrived in late January 1788.
A few months later, the flock had dwindled to just 28 ewes and one
In 1797, Governor King, Colonel Patterson, Captain Waterhouse and Kent
purchased sheep in Cape Town from the widow of Colonel Gordon,
commander of the Dutch garrison. When Waterhouse landed in Sydney, he
sold his sheep to Captain John MacArthur,
Samuel Marsden and Captain
John and Elizabeth Macarthur
By 1810, Australia had 33,818 sheep. John MacArthur (who had been
sent back from Australia to
England following a duel with Colonel
Patterson) brought seven rams and one ewe from the first dispersal
sale of King George III stud in 1804. The next year, MacArthur and the
sheep returned to Australia, Macarthur to reunite with his wife
Elizabeth, who had been developing their flock in his absence.
Macarthur is considered the father of the Australian
in the long term, however, his sheep had very little influence on the
development of the Australian Merino.
Macarthur pioneered the introduction of Saxon Merinos with importation
from the Electoral flock in 1812. The first Australian wool boom
occurred in 1813, when the
Great Dividing Range
Great Dividing Range was crossed. During
the 1820s, interest in
Merino sheep increased. MacArthur showed and
sold 39 rams in October 1820, grossing £510/16/5. In 1823, at the
first sheep show held in Australia, a gold medal was awarded to W.
Riley ('Raby') for importing the most Saxons; W. Riley also imported
cashmere goats into Australia.
Imported Vermont-type sheep, Australia
Eliza and John Furlong
Two of Eliza Furlong's (sometimes spelt Forlong or Forlonge) children
had died from consumption, and she was determined to protect her
surviving two sons by living in a warm climate and finding them
outdoor occupations. Her husband John, a Scottish businessman, had
noticed wool from the Electorate of
Saxony sold for much higher prices
than wools from NSW. The family decided on sheep farming in Australia
for their new business. In 1826, Eliza walked over 1,500 miles
(2,400 km) through villages in
Saxony and Prussia, selecting fine
Merino sheep. Her sons, Andrew and William, studied sheep
breeding and wool classing. The selected 100 sheep were driven
(herded) to Hamburg and shipped to Hull. Thence, Eliza and her two
sons walked them to Scotland for shipment to Australia. In Scotland,
the new Australia Company, which was established in Britain, bought
the first shipment, so Eliza repeated the journey twice more. Each
time, she gathered a flock for her sons. The sons were sent to NSW,
but were persuaded to stop in
Tasmania with the sheep, where Eliza and
her husband joined them.
The Melbourne Age in 1908 described Eliza Furlong as someone who had
'notably stimulated and largely helped to mould the prosperity of an
entire state and her name deserved to live for all time in our
history' (reprinted Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser January 27,
Main article: John Murray (sheep breeder)
There were nearly 2 million sheep in Australia by 1830, and by 1836,
Australia had won the wool trade war with Germany, mainly because of
Germany's preoccupation with fineness. German manufacturers commenced
importing Australian wool in 1845. In 1841, at Mount Crawford in
South Australia, Murray established a flock of Camden-blood ewes mated
to Tasmanian rams. To broaden the wool and give the animals some size,
it is thought some
English Leicester blood was introduced. The
resultant sheep were the foundation of many South Australian strong
wool studs. His brother
Alexander Borthwick Murray
Alexander Borthwick Murray was also a highly
successful breeder of
The Peppin brothers
See also: Peppin Merino
The Peppin brothers took a different approach to producing a hardier,
longer-stapled, broader wool sheep. After purchasing Wanganella
Station in the Riverina, they selected 200 station-bred ewes that
thrived under local conditions and purchased 100 South Australian ewes
bred at Cannally that were sired by an imported
Rambouillet ram. The
Peppin brothers mainly used Saxon and
Rambouillet rams, importing four
Rambouillet rams in 1860. One of these, Emperor, cut an
11.4 lb (5.1 kg clean) wool clip. They ran some Lincoln
ewes, but their introduction into the flock is undocumented. In 1865,
George Merriman founded the fine wool
Merino Ravensworth Stud, part of
which is the Merryville Stud at Yass, New South Wales.
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.
Merino ewes and lambs, Walcha, NSW
In 1889, while Australian studs were being devastated by the imported
Vermont rams, several U.S.
Merino breeders formed the Rambouillet
Association to prevent the destruction of the
Rambouillet line in the
U.S. Today, an estimated 50% of the sheep on the U.S. western ranges
The federation drought (1901–1903) reduced the number of Australian
sheep from 72 to 53 million and ended the
Vermont era. The Peppin and
Murray blood strain became dominant in the pastoral and wheat zones of
In Australia today, a few Saxon and other fine-wool, German bloodline,
Merino studs exist in the high rainfall areas. In the pastoral and
agriculture country, Peppins and Collinsville (21 to 24 micron) are
In the drier areas, one finds the Collinsville (21 to 24 micron)
strains. The development of the
Merino is entering a new phase:
objective fleece measurement and BLUP is now being used to identify
Artificial insemination and embryo transfer are
being used to accelerate the spread of their genes. The result is a
wide outcrossing between all major strains.
High price records
The world record price for a ram was A$450,000 for JC&S Lustre 53,
which sold at the 1988
Merino ram sale at Adelaide, South
Australia. In 2008, an Australian
Merino ewe was sold for A$14,000
Sheep Show and auction held at Dubbo, New South Wales.
England Tablelands superfine
Merino in snow
Merino Field Days, which display local studs, wool,
and sheep, are held during January in even numbered years in and
Walcha, New South Wales
Walcha, New South Wales district. The Annual Wool
Fashion Awards, which showcase the use of
Merino wool by fashion
designers, are hosted by the city of Armidale,
New South Wales
New South Wales in
March each year.
Animal welfare developments
In Australia, mulesing of
Merino sheep is a common practice to reduce
the incidence of flystrike. It has been attacked by animal rights and
animal welfare activists, with
PETA running a campaign against the
practice in 2004. The
PETA campaign targeted U.S. consumers by using
graphic billboards in New York City.
PETA threatened U.S.
manufacturers with television advertisements showing their companies'
support of mulesing. Fashion retailers including Abercrombie &
Gap Inc and
Nordstrom and George (UK) stopped stocking
Merino wool products.
The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to the
New Zealand Ministry of
Agriculture Code of recommendations and minimum standards for the
welfare of Sheep, considers mulesing a "special technique" which is
performed on some
Merino sheep at a small number of farms in New
In 2008, mulesing once again became a topical issue in Sweden, with a
documentary on mulesing shown on Swedish television. This was
followed by allegations of bribery and intimidation by Australian
government and wool industry officials; the allegations were
disputed by the wool industry. Several European clothing
retailers, including H&M, stopped stocking products made with
Merino wool from Australia.
New strains of Merinos that do not require mulesing are being promoted
in South Australia.
'Thin-skinned' sheep from western Victoria are also being promoted as
Merino being shorn, Lismore, Victoria
Arkhar-Merino, a crossbreed with wild Urials
Booroola Merino, prolific
Peppin Merino, dominant Australian
Merino wool". Oviedo, Florida: NuMei. Retrieved 27 November
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^ Stock and Land Retrieved on 2008-9-8
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Merino Field Days Retrieved 2010-1-9
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Wool Fashion Awards Retrieved 2010-1-9
^ "Abercrombie & Fitch Pledges Not to Use Australian
Mulesing and Live Exports End". PETA.org. Retrieved
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Sheep Archived June 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Merino.
Wikisource has the text of the 1921
Collier's Encyclopedia article
Oklahoma State University -
Merino reference page
The American Delaine &
Merino Record Association
Sheep Breeders Association
The Australian Association of Stud
New Zealand Me