The 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 (SAMM), American Rambouillet and German Merinofleischschaf have been bred to balance wool production and carcass quality.
Merino need to be shorn at least once a year because their wool does not stop growing. If the coat is allowed to grow, it can cause heat stress, mobility issues, and blindness.
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. 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. 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.
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.
The three 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.
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