Merino sheep

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Merino sheep

The Merino is one of the most historically relevant and economically influential breeds of sheep, very prized for its wool. The breed was originated and improved in Extremadura, in southwestern Spain, around the 12th century; it was instrumental in the economic development of 15th and 16th century Spain, which held a monopoly on its trade, and since the end of the 18th century it was further refined in New Zealand and Australia, giving rise to the modern Merino.

  • Breed Size: Medium
  • Weight: Ewes weight around 55-80 kg, and mature ram’s weight can vary from 80 to 105 kg
  • Horns: Yes or polled
  • Climate Tolerance: Native climates
  • Color: White
  • Rarity: Common
  • Country/Place of Origin: Spain


There seems to be some disagreement as to the origins of this fascinating breed. It seems the Merino sheep began in Spain. The Moors brought this breed’s ancestors with them in the 8th century. By the 12th century, the flocks were beginning to breed in significant numbers.

They were bred with European sheep and the Merino breed officially began. Spain kept the monopoly on these beautiful sheep for hundreds of years. This made their wool highly sought after and made the Spaniards a hefty profit in the woollen trade.


The 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.[citation needed] although there were reports of the breed in the 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.[citation needed] 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 Flanders and England being a source of income for Castile in the Late Middle Ages.


  • Merino wool comes from a specific breed of sheep, which originated in Spain around the 12th century. Merino sheep are very adaptable to their surroundings, and are particularly good at surviving in very cold and harsh climates.
  • There are over 900 breeds of sheep in the world, one of the most popular is the Merino – it is favored for its soft fine wool which is used for clothing and blankets.
  • The wool coat on Merino sheep will never stop growing. They need to be sheared at least once a year to prevent the poor sheep from getting all hot and bothered in the summer.
  • Unlike regular wool, merino wool is very soft and won’t irritate the skin. This is because it has smaller fibers and scales, compared to regular wool.


The Merino is an excellent forager and very adaptable. It is bred predominantly for its wool,[3] and its carcass size is generally smaller than that of sheep bred for meat. South African Meat Merino (SAMM), American Rambouillet and German Merinofleischschaf[4] 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 sheep images

Image by Leonhard Durst from Pixabay

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