Sheep Down Under

Sheep may not have gone willingly to Australia as they arrived there with the First Fleet. This Fleet consisted of eleven ships no larger than the Manly ferry in Sydney and they carried 1480 men, women and children.  The passengers were mainly British, but there were also convicts from Africa, America and France.  The sheep, doubtless, held placards aloft proclaiming their innocence, not wishing to be tarred with the same brush as common criminals.  It was three months before the ships arrived at Botany Bay on 24th January 1788.  These first seventy sheep were used as meat, but in 1797 the first sixteen merinos arrived from Cape Town, South Africa, at the insistence of Captain John Macarthur.  Thus began the Australian sheep industry. The merino was originally from Spain and before the late 1700s the Spanish would not allow any of these sheep to leave Spain, their wool being acknowledged as the finest in the world.

The first merinos in Australia only produced 1.5 kg of wool, but thanks to selective breeding each fleece can now provide over 8 kg.  Nearly 80% of all Australian sheep are pure merino, while the majority of the remainder are part merino.  Today there are three strains of merino in Australia:  Peppin, South Australian and fine-wool Saxon.  Wool is measured in microns and wool of 19 microns or less is considered suitable for the manufacture of fine wool clothing and suits.  Any wool higher than this is used for coarser goods, such as carpets.  Owing to drought and economic crises the sheep population in Australia has declined in recent years; as of 2017 it was 70.2 million, whereas in the 1980s there were 172 million head. Be of good cheer, however, because the sheep are still outnumbering the humans, who came in at a poor second with approximately 24.5 million in the same year.

If you were asked which country supplies the most wool, would you answer Australia or New Zealand?  If you said Australia, go to the top of the class as this country provides 25% of the world’s wool.  In fact New Zealand only comes fourth, after China and the United States, in that order; but our Kiwi cousins should not be downhearted as sheep in NZ outnumbered people by 12:1 a few years ago.

At Sheepland we are so impressed by Aussie wool that we sell our massive Sheepland XL Aussie Shearling, which can be used on your bed or placed on the floor to prevent your fundament from freezing in this bitterly cold weather.

Although in New Zealand the export of wool is now secondary to that of lamb for the table, in 2007, New Zealand declared the 15th February as National Lamb Day, in order to celebrate the country’s sheep-based heritage.

Just in case you are bored, you may wish to know that if you unravel the wool from one merino, it will reach from London to San Francisco.  (There again, you may have better things to ponder….)

Released On 28th Mar 2018