Over the course of some 200 years the Merino sheep has formed the very backbone of South Africa's agricultural industry.

Fat-tailed sheep were first introduced into South Africa by European settlers who obtained initial breeding stock from the Hottentots through a bartering arrangement. In following year they imported more sheep from Holland and Bengal.

In the early 1700s the Governor of South Africa tried to create interest with the South African farmers in the production of fine wool.

Merino sheep were gradually introduced into South Africa in the early 1700's but no real progress was made in their establishment until 1785 when Colonel Gordon imported Merinos from Spain of the Escurial stock. These appear to have been bred with native sheep.

On his death a dispute arose between his widow and the Dutch government over ownership of the flock which led to it being sold to Captain Waterhouse who took them to Australia. Captain Waterhouse and Captain Kent had been sent to South Africa from Australia by John Macarthur with instructions to buy any fine woolled sheep available. They purchased 26 sheep with Macarthur receiving three rams and five ewes.

In 1789 the King of Spain sent the Dutch government two Merino rams and four ewes as a gift, but the sheep were sent to the Cape as it was thought the climate would be more suitable for them.

In 1818 the first pure-bred Merino breeding stud was established by Lord Charles Somerset at the government farm at Marmesbury. The aim was to help distribute rams among the farming community.

Cape wool was first exported in 1980 but it was not until the middle of the century, after many experiments with different strains including the Spanish Merino, the Saxon, the Rambouillet, plus some of the English breeds that the definite South African type of Merino was established

By 1830 the farming of the Merino sheep was well established in the Western and Southwestern parts of the Cape, while the next move for expansion and growth was to go eastward. With the 1820 settlers playing a big part in this.

In 1834 the Great Trek started and the great flocks of sheep headed eastwards. Within only a few years the Merino sheep covered the country.

By 1940 wool had become South Africa's most important export.

By 1846 there were over 3 million sheep in South Africa, of which half were Merinos, while other types such as the Saxony, the Rambouillet and the Vermont were not considered suitable for the South African conditions.

By 1900, with the Australian merino sheep being considered the most suitable type for the climate, South Africa was importing them at a constant pace, before the 1929 Commonwealth Government embargo on the export of Merinos.
About half of the total sheep population in South Africa lives in the semi-arid area which covers 85% of the country.

Today the South African is one of the major wool producing countries of the world producing high quality, apparel wools which are exported around the world.