The Difference Between Normal Sheep and Merino Sheep

Sheep are important animals. They are grown for their wool as well as for meat. Different breeds are used for different purposes. In South Africa, a popular breed is the Merino. These sheep can also be bred in various climates.

The Merino is known as the oldest sheep breed in the world and it is one of the highest prized sheep breeds on the planet. What makes Merino sheep so valuable? What makes them different from other breeds? Let us explain.

These sheep were first bred in Southwestern Iberia. Merino sheep were then brought into South Africa in 1789 by way of Spanish Merinos. By the time the mid-1800s came along the sheep were distributed all throughout South Africa. By 1891, thus sheep breed also made its way to Vermont in the United States.

The South African merinos are a blend of Spanish, Rambouillet, Saxony, Australian and American merinos. These sheep are mostly found in areas where the natural climate is semi-arid to sub-humid. They have also adapted to high rainfall grasslands.

They are foragers by nature and peaceful in disposition. They have excellent herding instincts. There are ten different recognized breeds of Merino sheep. Characteristics of each vary slightly from one breed to the next.

Merino sheep are highly adaptable and produce wool of very fine quality that brings a better price on the market than wool from regular breeds. The wool market is a lucrative one with Merino wool as one of the most expensive.

The Wool


One of the main differences between Merino sheep and most other sheep breeds comes down to the wool that they produce. Wool that is shorn from most breeds is coarse and has a scratchy quality. Merino sheep, on the other hand, produce a soft fine wool that is desired on the wool market.

These sheep are unicolored. Merinos in many areas of the world are bred for their wool. The South African Merino is mostly used for its wool. Each sheep can give 5.5 kg in fleece weight per year. Ewes can give 7.15 kg per year. The Merino wool generally measures 22-23 microns without kemp fibres.

They must be shorn at least once a year because their wool does not stop growing. In fact, if their wool is not shorn on a regular basis, it can overgrow and cause health problems in the animal such as heat-stress, difficulty in movement and even blindness.

These animals are heavy. Males are a mature weight of 100kg. Mature females are normally 60 kg. There are an estimated 15 million Merino sheep in South Africa today.

Meat Production


Merinos are different than other sheep breeds in most areas including the meat they produce. The Merino carcass is generally smaller than that of regular sheep because they are not bred for meat quantity but for their wool production.

However, the South African Meat Merino (SAMM) has been bred for both wool and meat production in mind. These sheep are well balanced for both markets. This factor alone makes them a lucrative product. They are larger animals than regular Merinos which gives them a longer loin portion in the meat industry.

Merino sheep are known to be very fertile. This makes them faster breeders than other sheep. Merinos are known to have twins or even quadruplets. This makes them wonderful for the meat market to reach supply and demand.

Though sheep meat quality is not largely affected by particular breed, Merinos are known for their mutton which is delicious and high desired.

Merino meat needs to be sold fresher than other lamb or mutton on the market because Merino meat does not have the length of shelf life as other lamb meats.

This is due to the fact that Merino meat comes from mature sheep rather than the younger lambs provided by other breeds. Adult Merinos are used for meat production rather than the younger animals because they are also used for wool production.

Merino sheep are beautiful to watch and highly prized animals for their superb wool and fantastic meat. This sheep breed replaced nearly all British breeds in the difficult regions of South Africa. These sheep are hearty producers in all significant ways.

They are a true marvel to the varying climates of our country and are proving themselves to be at the top of the manufacturing chain helping to produce larger and faster quantities of wool and meat for society.