"Because of the Merino, Australia, in less than one hundred years, passed frombeing a disposal ground for English convicts, to one of the most important members of the British Commonwealth."
The Wool Trade, Past and Present - K.G. Ponting

Merino sheep were first brought to Australia from the Cape Colony, and then from a number of other countries where the famed "Spanish sheep" (as the were widely known) had gained prominence by the early years of the nineteenth century - notably England, Saxony (S E Germany), France and America.

Away from their native Spain the Merino changed due to differing climate conditions and selection pressures applied by breeders in the different countries. Thus the sheep from Saxony were noted for the magnificence of their fleece, being extremely fine and white in appearance, while the French had concentrated on carcass development with less attention to wool quality. Such differences are to be seen today in the Australian Merino, which is not a single homogenous breed but a number of "strains" of sheep all of which, regardless of their origins, are uniquely Australian. In the development of the great Australian sheep flocks, Merinos of all types were introduced, and through selection and crossbreeding, and with particular attention to the impact of the environment on both animal and fleece, the Australian Merinos that we now know were developed.

The four basic strains are: Peppin, Saxon, South Australian, Spanish

So important is this strain that sheep men throughout Australia often classify their sheep as being either Peppin, or non-Peppin. The "Waganella" sheep stud was established by the Peppin brothers near Deniliquin, in the Riverina, in 1861. Though it is not possible to say exactly what path they followed in developing the Merino strain that now bears their name, it seems clear that Merinos of both Spanish and French origin were introduced. The influence of single French "Rambouillet" ram, called Emperor, is now widely acknowledged as one of the most important events in the development of the Peppin stud, and makes this ram the outstanding sire in the history of the nation's wool history.

As many as 70 percent of today's Australian Merinos are said to be directly descended from the Peppin-developed sheep.

The Peppin Merino of today is prized for its ability to thrive in drier inland regions, where its large frame and long legs make it an efficient forager. Its heavy fleece falls in the mid-range of Merino wool qualities and is protected from the excesses of the environment by a comparatively high content of natural wool grease, which can be seen as a creamy colour in the wool.

The Peppin Merino is particularly prevalent in the sheep flocks of Queensland, on the slopes and plains of NSW, through the north of Victoria and the mixed farming areas of South Australia and Western Australia.

So adaptable is the strain, however, that it can also be found in significant numbers in the higher rainfall areas of Victoria, Tasmania and NSW.

The Merino sheep introduced into Australia soon after settlement were able to produce fleeces of 1( - 2 kg. each year. By way of contrast, a Peppin Merino stud ram of today may produce up to 20 kg. or more of wool, and it is not unusual for commercial animals of this breed to produce up to 10 kg. of wool each year.

Saxon Merinos
Saxon Merino sheep are found exclusively in the higher rainfall country of southern Australia, especially in the highlands of Tasmania, the cooler and wetter regions of Victoria and tablelands of New South Wales. Just as these climactic and pastoral conditions contrast with those where the South Australian Merino is found, so too in almost every respect do the sheep.

Physically the smallest of the Merino types, cutting the lowest weight in wool (4-5kg.), the Saxon Merino is without peer in the quality of wool produced. Specifically, this wool is extremely bright and white in colour, soft to handle and fine (i.e. narrow) in diameter. These features make this wool prized by the textile industry for the highest quality and most expensive cloths it can produce.

Superfine Saxon Merino wool normally commands distinct price premium in the market.

South Australian Merino
While the Peppin sheep were developed for the temperate climate of the slopes and plains and particularly for the Riverina, South Australian Merinos were specifically bred to thrive and provide an economic return from wool in the arid pastoral conditions found in much of that State.

Rainfall in these districts is mostly in the vicinity of 250mm per year or less, and plants such as the saltbush (Attriplex spp.) make up a large part of the natural vegetation.

The South Australian is physically the largest of the strains of Merino sheep in this country. They are generally longer, taller and heavier of body than the Peppin types, and tend to have less loose skin, in the form of skin wrinkles, than other strains.

The wool from these sheep is at the coarsest (i.e. thickest in fibre diameter) end of the range of Merino wool types. It also tends to carry a higher proportion of natural grease, which has been specifically sought by breeders to provide protection to the fibre under the most adverse grazing conditions.

Apart from South Australia, this strain of Merino is found in significant numbers in the pastoral regions of Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

Spanish Merino
Though relatively few in number there is a distinct strain of the Australian Merino which is directly descended from Merino sheep of "Spanish" blood imported into the colony.

After the drier inland had been opened up and the Spanish blood sheep moved away from the coast, significant advances in body size and wool weights were achieved. Today, these sheep achieve body weights and fleece weights of the same magnitude as the Peppin strain, and are mostly found in the same climactic zones.

The "Border/Merino" Crossbred
In terms of sheer weight of numbers, the second most populous breed of sheep in this country comprises the ewe progeny from Border Leicester rams mated to Merino ewes.

The "Border/Merino" ewes produced in this way offer the greatest overall performance when breeding meat type sheep, with well proportioned carcass, high fertility, robust constitution and good milk production (important in promoting rapid growth in their lambs).

Another feature of the "Border/Merino" is its fleece of fine crossbred wool which, although not as heavy or valuable as for pure Merino, is still an important contributor to overall financial returns from these sheep.

To Produce prime quality table meats "Border/Merino" ewes are mated to "Downs" breed rams (e.g. Poll Dorset or Southdown), the lambs from this mating being ideal in carcass shape and having the ability to grow to market weights very rapidly.

Of the lambs slaughtered for meat in Australia, the vast majority of these would have been bred in the above manner.