Unique Merino fea­tured at wool show

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - The Australian Sheep & Wool Show 2014 - By DAVID RIZ­ZOLI

THE fea­ture breed of the 2014 Aus­tralian Sheep Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Sheep & Wool Show at Bendigo is the ma­jor wool pro­duc­ing sheep in the world, the Aus­tralian Merino.

This sheep is fas­ci­nat­ing in that it is not a sin­gle ho­moge­nous breed, but a num­ber of strains of sheep which are uniquely Aus­tralian.

The var­i­ous types are a re­sult of the vast range of cli­mates and con­di­tions across those ar­eas of the con­ti­nent where sheep are found to­day.

The first sheep to come to Aus­tralia (20 in num­ber) ar­rived with the First Fleet in 1788, but within a year only one re­mained, the rest hav­ing been eaten by starv­ing set­tlers.

In 1792, fol­low­ing im­por­ta­tions from Cal­cutta and the Cape of Good Hope, there were 105 sheep in the colony, but be­cause of al­most famine con­di­tions in the colony these had be­come so de­pleted that a Cap­tain Water­house was dis­patched to the Cape of Good Hope for fresh sup­plies.

His­tory tells us that in 1790 the King of Spain pre­sented some Span­ish Merino sheep to the Dutch govern­ment.

Some of these were sent to the Cape Colony where the Bri­tish Com­man­dant, Colonel Gor­don, took an in­ter­est in them and ac­quired a small flock.

In 1797, Cap­tain Water­house again went to the Cape Colony and pur­chased, in con­junc­tion with a Cap­tain Kent, 26 Span­ish Meri­nos from Colonel Gor­don’s widow.

Dur­ing the voy­age most of Kent’s sheep died but Water­house was more for­tu­nate, los­ing only a few. On their ar­rival in New South Wales, Cap­tain John Macarthur of­fered Water­house the out­ra­geous sum of 15 pounds per head for the sur­viv­ing an­i­mals but, for rea­sons best known to him, Water­house re­fused the of­fer.

Dur­ing the next few years Water­house’s flock in­creased and Macarthur man­aged to ob­tain some of these, how­ever, these were ab­sorbed into other breeds at Cam­den Farm.

Years passed and Water­house, who had kept his flock pure, sold small num­bers to Rev­erend Sa­muel Mars­den, Cap­tain Kent and Cap­tain Row­ley.

On his de­par­ture from the colony in 1810, Water­house sold the re­main­der of his sheep to Macarthur, who spent the next few years im­prov­ing his flock with pur­chases from the Royal Flock at Kew, Eng­land.

And so be­gan the jour­ney to­wards the Merino sheep as we know it to­day -

a jour­ney that be­gan with 29 sheep in 1788 reach­ing 100,000,000 (in­clud­ing other breeds) by 1890.

To­day there are four dis­tinct types of Merino that have evolved ac­cord­ing to the cli­mate and con­di­tions un­der which they are run.

The im­por­tance of this strain can­not be em­pha­sised enough.

More of­ten than not, Merino breed­ers clas­sify their sheep as Pep­pin or non-Pep­pin.

The strain was es­tab­lished when the Pep­pin broth­ers es­tab­lished the ‘Wan­ganella’ sheep stud in the Rive­rina near De­niliquin in 1861.

To­day, as many as 70 per cent of Merino studs in Aus­tralia are said to be di­rectly de­scended from the orig­i­nal Pep­pin sheep.

The South Aus­tralian strain was de­vel­oped, as dis­tinct from the Pep­pin, specif­i­cally to thrive and give an eco­nomic re­turn in the arid pas­toral con­di­tions of that state, par­tic­u­larly those ar­eas where rain­fall can be in the vicin­ity of 250 mil­lime­tres or less and the main nat­u­ral for­age is salt­bush.

The wool is gen­er­ally at the stronger end of Merino wool types.

The Saxon strain was in­tro­duced to Tas­ma­nia by Mrs W. For­longe, Ke­nil­worth, Camp­bell Town, Tas­ma­nia with sheep pur­chased from Sax­ony (Europe).

These sheep are found al­most ex­clu­sively in the higher rain­fall ar­eas of south­ern Aus­tralia es­pe­cially in Tas­ma­nia, but also in the higher rain­fall ar­eas of Vic­to­ria and NSW.

The Saxon is phys­i­cally smaller than the other Merino strains, with a lower wool cut (three to six kilo­grams) but still pro­duces a qual­ity, 14 to 17.5 mi­cron, bright, white fleece with­out peer in the wool in­dus­try.

These sheep are rel­a­tively few in num­ber, but their dis­tinct strain can be traced di­rectly back to the Merino sheep of Span­ish blood im­ported into the early colony.

The strains de­vel­oped mainly away from the coastal ar­eas and through se­lec­tive breed­ing now achieve body weights and fleece cuts sim­i­lar to those of the Pep­pin.

A mod­ern day su­perfine/fine wool sheep has been de­vel­oped by cross­ing the Span­ish Merino with the Saxon to give ex­tra body size and wool cut with a more de­fined crimp from the Span­ish and finer mi­cron and com­plete body cov­er­age from the Saxon.

Merino wool cov­ers a vast range of mi­crons.

Some breed­ers can pro­duce bales of 13.5 mi­cron, even down to 12.5 mi­cron.

Such wools are very suit­able for blend­ing with other nat­u­ral fi­bres such as silk or cash­mere to man­u­fac­ture fabrics for the exclusive fash­ion sec­tor of the fash­ion mar­ket.

MAG­NIF­I­CENT MERINO: Luke Ball from Roke­wood with the Wur­rook Merino Stud’s Supreme Merino Ex­hibit at last year’s Bal­larat Sheep Show.

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