New Zealand has always been famous for our sheep, and merinos are a big part of our history. They were the first breed brought to New Zealand in large numbers in the 1840s – mostly imported from Australia, but also from Germany, France, Britain and the USA.
While most sheep breeds provide both meat and wool, the merino is very much a wool-first breed. Their wool is fine and soft – and generally considered to be the best in the world.
The merino is sometimes considered an ‘ugly duckling’ of a sheep breeds due to its unusual wrinkled appearance. That said, the merino rams’ iconic curled horns are ‘pretty’ enough to make it a favourite subject for many rural artists.
The Hurunui Hills logo includes both the wrinkles and the horns!
The most famous New Zealand merino was ‘Shrek’.
In 2004 he gained international notoriety after dodging his annual shear for six whole years.
When found, his fleece weighed over 27kg (60lbs). The average merino fleece is just 4.5kg (10lbs).
Shrek became a national icon, and was even invited to meet the Prime Minister!
As New Zealand farmers shifted to a focus on meat-producing sheep in the late 19th century, the merino largely fell out of fashion here. The fine wool was also not suitable for industrial processing machines at the time – another reason the breed began to lose favour.
However a small number of farmers, including the Bamfords at Hurunui Hills, still prize the majestic merino above all others.
We hope you do to.