Spain, the origin of the breed, was once considered the finest producer of merino wool, and for a time export of the animals was prohibited and punishable by death.
Merinos are regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool of any sheep. There are several different strains of merino sheep, bred primarily for their wool, each with slightly different characteristics.
Merinos were were brought to Vermont about 1809 where they thrived and transformed the landscape. By 1840 there were more than 1,000,000 sheep in the state. Textile mills sprang up all over New England. The price of wool dropped in the late 1840′s due to the reduction of tariffs and competition with the Western states. Sheep-raising in Vermont collapsed resulting in the killing of perhaps 2/3 of the state’s sheep.
Although the majority of merino sheep are white or off-white in color, colored merinos provided a range of beautiful, natural color. The wool of the merino sheep is often considered exceptionally fine, strong and soft. Typically, merino wool is crimped and has a diameter of 20-22 microns. Staple length averages 3 1/2 inches. The wool wicks away moisture, provides warmth even when wet, and due to it’s high lanolin content, has anti-bacterial properties.