Merino: A noble history

A regal breed, the knowledge of which is gifted between generations as it once was between kings.

Merino is a breed of sheep famous for its fine, soft wool (usually referred to as fibre) and its ability to thrive in New Zealand's 'high country'.

The merino is thought to be the oldest sheep breed in the world, having evolved from several wild species.

  • Way back
    The ancient Phoenicians, from what is now north-west Syria, originally used the merino for trading. The process of barter spread merino throughout the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, Greece, and North Africa. The ancient Greeks then introduced the breed to Italy.
  • 8th century
    The Moors brought the merino to Spain.
  • 14th & 15th centuries
    Spanish royal family, nobility and clergy took possession of all merino sheep.
  • 18th century
    Merino dispersed around the world when the King of Spain gifted sheep to the Elector of Saxony (Germany), the King of France, George III of England, and the Dutch government.
  • 1773
    Captain James Cook brought two merino to New Zealand from South Africa on his second voyage to New Zealand. Suffice to say, his Noah's Ark attempt to establish a breed from two sheep alone did not succeed.
  • 1814
    The Rev. Samuel Marsden brought merino from his Australian property. By 1835 he was exporting merino fibre back to Sydney for sale.
  • 20th century
    Merino population in New Zealand peaks at 14 million (over 8 times the number there are today).
  • 1996
    Merino growers took their future into their own hands and fought to establish a brand and markets for their fibre as the 'Merino New Zealand' industry-good organisation.
  • 1996
    The first retail brands sign contracts for New Zealand Merino branded fibre.
  • 2001
    Merino New Zealand became fully commercial and known as The New Zealand Merino Company Limited, transacting 85% of the nation's clip.
  • 2005
    Government backs Transformation of the New Zealand Sheep Industry by entering a Primary Growth Partnership with NZM.
  • 2005
    ZQ Merino launched at Outdoor Retailer tradeshow, Salt Lake City.
  • 2011
    MGIL purchased PGGW shares in NZM. As a follow on to that transaction, in 2012 four of the Management became shareholders in the business. The Company is now 83% grower owned and 17% Management owned.
  • 2012
    SILERE alpine origin merino launched and on New Zealand's finest menus.
  • 2013
    KURA New Zealand Alpine Leather launched.