Updated: Oct 15
DISCLAIMER: I am sharing with the world wide web what I have learned, used and what are my preferences when creating with wool. I, in no way condone nor abhor the use of man-made material for textiles and in this case what some may deem as animal cruelty.
Kangaroos, koalas and dingos were my references to native animals of Australia. Little did I know approximately 80% of all Australian livestock are merino sheep, with numerous strains from my much loved Hidalga breed. Having a very strict and limited export of the animal and its shorn fleece, I have yet to work with some of the wools. Although spun and dyed Aussie yarn is sold on websites, I would much rather wait until I visit my friend Mandi, a talented ingenious homesteader, in Australia. I want to experience the full process from caring and shearing the sheep to carding and spinning Australian Merino. Hopefully in the not so distant future.
Australian Merino Wool Rabbit Hole...
In 2015 my interest in Australian Sheep emerged after reading an article about a ram saved from his overgrown 40 kilo crippling fleece whose rescuers christened "Chris"in New South Wales. Little did I know Australia is one of the major merino producing countries in the world when researching and looking into investing in additional livestock for my farm.
Wool producing sheep, on average, grow between 5 to 7 kilos of fleece annually. Breeders know all too well sheep must be shorn before the heat of the summer months to prevent overheating, diseases and possible deaths of the animals.
Chris was a wool producing hornless ram either abandoned or strayed. His shorn fleece weighed over 40 kilos, approximately 90 pounds, that weighed down on his small frame. He may not have been shorn for about six years. It was said Chris´ fleece was the equivalent of wearing 40 adult sized wool sweaters all at once.
I have been fascinated by the story and the description of The Australian ovis breeds- its characteristics, the quality of the wool and the breeding practices in the country. Many good breeding practices, others- a necessary evil.
There are many strains of merino in Australia, each hybrid adapting to its environs. The most notable and desired are:
South Australian bred in very dry regions graze mostly on saltbush. Are much larger than other domestic sheep. A large stud can average 18 kilos of fleece.
Saxon Merino are raised in the cooler highlands of Victoria. Currently one of the most expensive fleeces in the country. Fine, pure white and produced in small amounts, averaging 3 kilos of fleece per sheep.
Australian Spanish Merino is a cross between a Hidalga and a Saxon. The wool weight increases and the crimp of the fiber create long locks.
Peppin Merino, also called the "Emperor", are direct descendants of the Hidalga Merino and the French Rambouillet. They thrive in drier inland Australia and have unusual high content of lanolin, also called "wool grease", that helps its development of the soft, light coloured fleece. They are adaptable to surroundings and extreme climate changes. A large ram can produce up to 18 kilos of fleece.
Other Australian Merino crossbreeds to mention are Coopworth, Corriedale, which I have worked with and love, Polworth, Perendale, Poll Dorset, Gromark, Cormo and South Suffolk.
Controversy vs. Need...
Australia has extreme weather variances; droughts, monsoons , cyclones, it has subtropical regions and sub polar oceanic climates mostly due to its isolated geographical location.
The colonial expansion in Australia occurred in the 19th century, sheep were imported in masses and their survival and protection in Australia made it necessary to practice mulesing on the animals to prevent parasitic infections- flystrike that leads to an agonising death for the animal. Mulesing is the removal of the strips of skin in its breech creating a scar tissue to prevent wool from growing and preventing infestations where feces and urine would normally attract the fly and maggots. It is also practiced when caught in the early stages of flystrike if the animal has not had the procedure. Merino sheep not being native to Australia are vulnerable to exposure of certain insects and parasites, if it were not practiced millions of sheep would die annually.
An extreme animal rights group fought long and hard with threats and discrediting the farmers, not offering a discussion of possible alternatives nor solutions to stop the practice of mulesing in early 2004. In 2018 it was banned in New Zealand, however it is a necessity in Australia. Done by an accredited professional and measured analgesic doses for the animal to not be in pain, it ensures the animals survival in a country where they were imported to and now is Australia's $4billion industry.
China is currently purchasing over 80% of all the merino fleece from Australia, making it a very difficult fiber to get hold of, especially the Saxon Fleece, not to mention how expensive it is to buy from direct sources. China has a strong hold on contractual agreements with rises in annual quotas of Australian merino fleece.
©2020-2022 NYC Artist In The Woods. All Rights Reserved.