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Merino Sheep

Nicole Cosgrove

Renowned for its fine well, the Merino is a breed of sheep that was first bred in Spain and is adapted to living in semi-arid conditions. The breed has been exported to and accepted into many countries around the world, and it is a popular breed with homesteaders as well as farmers.

They are medium size, are considered beautiful livestock, and are either polled or horned. Although the Merino is best known for its exceptional wool production, the breed is also popular for its meat. They do require regular maintenance: in particular, the Merino needs annual shearing to avoid a host of potential problems and illnesses.

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Quick Facts about Merino

Species Name: Ovis Aries
Family: Bovidae
Care Level: Moderate
Conditions: Semi-arid
Temperament: Meek
Color Form: White
Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
Size: Medium
Diet: Grass, plants, pellets, hay, water
Minimum Pasture Size: ½ Acre per sheep
Compatibility: Friendly with all

Merino Sheep Overview

a Merino Sheep
Image Credit: Pixabay

The Merino is a well-known breed of sheep, although most people only really know of its wool. It has very fine fibers, which means that it is very warm and offers greater protection than other sheep’s wool. To achieve the highest possible thermal protection from Merino wool items, it takes a lot of the wool, which means that farmers are expected to keep very large flocks of the animal.

The sheep heralds from Spain, but the modern Merino is actually more closely descended from the Merinos of Australia, where the breed has been perfected. It can flourish in most climates and conditions but perhaps does best in semi-arid, dry conditions.

The Merino has proven popular as a foundation stock for the formation and advancement of many other breeds. The breed is used because it produces a lot of super soft, comfortable wool. The sheep may also be raised for its meat, although this is considered a small-medium sized sheep, so it requires a large flock in either case. Breeds like the South African Meat Merino have been specially bred so that they have a larger build, making them more suitable for breeding geared toward meat production.

The adaptability and hardiness of the breed make it relatively easy to breed, although, like all sheep, it does require effort to ensure that your animals are well-fed, secure and that they are kept free from illness.

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How Much Do Merinos Cost?

A good quality Merino will cost about $100, but you may be able to buy them for less if you are buying 100 or more. You should expect to pay approximately $20 per year in upkeep, shearing, and feeding costs.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

The Merino has the typical attributes of all sheep. It is a herd animal and it needs other sheep, ideally ewes of the same breed, in order to thrive. This typically means that you will need a flock of at least five ewes. You can mix other animals, like alpacas and goats, but sheep need other sheep for company. Therefore, other animals should be considered in addition to the flock of sheep and not as a replacement.

Appearance & Varieties

merino sheeps in the field
Image Credit: Pixabay

The Merino sheep is a medium breed, with a body that is smaller than a typical meat breed. Through breeding, the Merino produces and grows its high-quality wool right through the year. This increases the amount of wool that each sheep will yield, but it also provides a hindrance and can be a real problem if you do not shear your Merinos.

In Australia, the breed is raised solely for its wool. Its wool is superfine, which means that it can make warmer but thinner clothing and other items, but it also means that it takes a lot more of the wool to make a single garment.

One feature that the Merino is known for is their skin folds. Typically, the larger the Merino, the more skin folds it has, and these are considered undesirable because they can cause discomfort and can harbor bacteria. Selective breeding has led to medium-sized goats with minimal skin folds, and problems such as wool blindness are rarely a problem. With that said, shearing is very important with this breed.

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How to Take Care of Merinos

Water

Your sheep will require access to a steady supply of fresh, clean water. They will drink approximately 2 gallons of water each day, more when it is hot. The water you provide needs to be clean and free from algae. It is more convenient to use an automatic waterer than to manually carry the water.

Pastures

Ensure that fields and pasture are properly fenced in. Sheep are surprisingly agile. They can climb over walls, jump over short fences, and will attempt to squeeze through the smallest gap. In some cases, if the sheep won’t fit through the gap, they can become stuck.

Predators

You will also have to find a way to protect against natural predators like foxes and wolves. You can do this with a flock guardian dog, or via other methods, but losing a sheep is upsetting. Losing several sheep in a seemingly unnecessary slaughter is heartbreaking.

Flock Management

If you want to increase the size of your flock, you will need rams, as well as ewes. Typically, you should keep a ratio of one ram for every 50 ewes, but this will depend on the age, virility, and experience of the rams in question.

Flock size is important to sheep. They are a flock animal and they form close bonds with one another. They can form friendships and will stick up for one another if they feel as though a friend is threatened.

Do Merinos Get Along with Other Pets?

Merinos, like other sheep, are gentle and caring animals. They will usually get along with any farm animal, can be kept with other animals like alpacas and goats, and they may even be accepting of humans and children. There are exceptions, however, and when introducing them to other animals, you need to consider the behavior of the other animal. It is also worth noting that rams always have the potential to be aggressive, especially if they feel their position is being threatened or undermined.

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What to Feed Your Merino

Sheep will usually eat pasture during the summer months. This is essentially just grass and clover from the fields in which they live. You should provide approximately one acre for every two Merinos, to ensure that they have enough space but also so that they have enough pasture on which to graze. You can also supplement the diet and you should provide salt blocks, as well as regular food and clean water.

merino sheep cuddling
Image Credit: Pixabay

Keeping Your Merino Healthy

There are several ways to keep a Merino healthy. As well as ensuring they have a good diet and access to clean water, clean their hooves out regularly, crutch their wool, and deworm regularly to ensure that they do not contract worms.

With the Merino breed, you will have to pay particular attention to shearing. This breed’s wool continues to grow right through the year, and it will never stop. If you do not shear annually, your Merino will suffer. The wool can get heavy, causing musculoskeletal conditions. It can become matted and knotted, attract flies, and cause other problems.

Breeding

Breeding the Merino sheep requires the same as breeding any sheep. A single ram can service up to 100 ewes, although it does depend on the experience, age, and even the weight of the ram. The gestation period of a sheep is 152 days, and you should ensure that you have everything set up and ready for the arrival of your lambs.

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Are Merino Sheep Suitable For You?

The Merino is a particular breed of sheep. It is popular for its production of high-quality fleece, although it can also be reared for its meat production. Caring for Merino sheep is like caring for any breed and it requires that you feed, maintain, and care for the sheep very well, especially if you want to breed them to increase the size of your flock. Happy sheep are more likely to breed successfully.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.