Merino is a breed of sheep, the largest number of which is concentrated in Australia. Outwardly, they practically do not differ from other breeds of sheep. The main difference lies in the quality of wool, which in merino wool consists of one and a half dozen fibers and is incredibly soft. The wool of this breed of sheep is the most popular in various countries around the world.
Origin of the species and description
Sheep belong to chordates, are classified as mammals, artiodactyl order, bovid family, sheep genus, merino species. This breed of sheep is one of the most ancient of all currently existing. Its history goes back many centuries. The first descriptions of this breed date back to about 2 thousand years ago. The historical homeland of the ancient ancestors of modern representatives of this breed is the territory of North Africa and Asia Minor.
During the capture of new lands by the Arabs, sheep were transported to the territory of the Iberian Peninsula. It was here that the local population began to breed them in order to obtain high-quality wool. In the period of 12-16 centuries, Spain was the main region of mass breeding of animals, their domestication. It was this country that was the main supplier of soft and very high-quality sheep wool.
An interesting fact: It was during the period from the 12th to the 16th centuries that sheep of this breed were bred exclusively in Spain. They were strictly forbidden to export to other countries. Failure to comply with this requirement was the reason for the imposition of criminal penalties up to the death penalty.
In 1723, the Spanish authorities at the legislative level lifted the ban on the export of merinos outside their country. After that, the animals were brought to the territory of Sweden, and then to modern France. In 1788, these animals came to Australia. Each of the regions where these sheep were domesticated and bred in large numbers tried to improve the breed, improve the quality of the meat or the characteristics of the wool. As a result, a large number of subspecies appeared. To date, merino is a breed that combines several dozen different subspecies of sheep. However, they all have common external features.
Appearance and Features
The animal has a really quite unusual appearance. It bears little resemblance to the familiar domestic sheep. In appearance, the animals look like small, strong and short-legged animals. The entire body of the animal is covered with thick, long hair. It is located as if in waves, or even folds. Sometimes because of the wool it is even difficult to see the muzzle of the animal. The body weight of one adult female is 40-50 kilograms, one adult male & # 8212; 90-110 kilograms. In individuals of this breed, like in all others, sexual dimorphism is expressed. This is manifested not only in the mass and size of the body. Males have long, powerful horns that are spirally shaped. The coat color can be varied and depends on the subspecies.
What coat color can representatives of this type of sheep have:
- white with a yellow tint;
- white with a dark gray tint;
- brownish tint.
Animal hair continues to grow throughout life. The average length of wool that is recommended to be cut is 9-10 centimeters.
Depending on the subspecies in appearance, merinos are divided into three main categories:
- fine. They do not differ in too large body sizes. There are practically no wrinkles on their body;
- medium. They have an average build and have 2-3 folds on the body;
- strong. They are distinguished by the most massive, large and stocky physique.
Where does the merino live?
Australia is considered to be the historical homeland of the Merino. However, animals were quickly domesticated and distributed almost throughout the globe. The largest farms engaged in sheep breeding on an industrial scale are located in the Volga region, the Urals, Siberia, and the central regions of the Russian Federation.
For breeding sheep at home, care should be taken to create favorable conditions for the animals. They definitely need a barn. It must be dry and warm. Make sure there are no drafts. Due to the fact that animals are terribly afraid of closed spaces, the height of the ceilings must be at least two meters. The area of the barn is determined at the rate of 1.5-2 square meters per individual. In the summer, the shed should not be stuffy, in winter it should not be cold.
It is best if the shed has a vestibule. It should be easy to ventilate. The most comfortable temperature for keeping animals is from 6 to 13 degrees. A corral should adjoin the barn, the area of u200bu200bwhich will be approximately twice the area of u200bu200bthe barn itself. Drinkers and feeders must be available. Access to water is required at all times.
What do merinos eat?
Merinos are herbivores. In the warm season, the main source of food is fresh green grass, which animals eat during grazing. Breeders of this species should take care that they can spend a sufficient amount of time on pastures with lush green grass. After fattening on pastures, water should be provided to the animals to quench their thirst. On average, one adult requires 15-20 liters of water per day. The animal breeder must take into account the fact that it is worth taking them out to pasture when the grass dries well. Otherwise, the animals may get wet and catch a cold. If there is a sweltering heat in the summer, and the temperature rises high, it is necessary to drive the animals into the stall so that at lunchtime they can hide from the intense heat. After five hours, you can again send animals to pasture. With the onset of cold weather, it is worth taking care of a full and varied diet.
What serves as a food base for merino:
- compound feed;
- pea flour;
Merino breeders should pay special attention to hay making. It is best harvested in flat areas, and not in forests or swamps. Hay harvested in the forest or in swamps does not have a sufficient amount of nutrients. It will be practically useless for sheep. In order for the animal not to get sick and to have excellent wool quality, it is necessary to add vitamins and minerals to the diet in the form of special additives or ready-made feed mixtures. In summer, in addition to fresh herbs, it is recommended to add chalk, potatoes and rock salt to the diet. In the cold season, it is recommended to feed the animals about 2-4 times a day. Merinos are very fond of nibbling carrots and fresh juicy apples.
Now you know what to feed the merino. Let's see what conditions are necessary for successful sheep breeding.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Merinos are herd animals that live in society. In their natural habitat, they also live as part of a group. The number of such groups in nature reaches from 15 to 30 individuals. It is in such conditions that animals feel protected. Zoologists have found that if one individual is separated from the whole group, she will receive incredible stress, which will manifest itself in her lack of appetite, decreased motor activity, etc.
Before becoming a breeder of animals at home, it is worth studying the features of their character. The main features of this type of animal are stubbornness, timidity and even some stupidity. Sheep of this breed, which are kept in artificial conditions, can gather in huge groups and simply follow each other, which creates great difficulties when they are on the pasture.
Zoologists say that sheep of this breed are extremely shy and have many phobias. They are very afraid of loud sounds, screams, knocks. They have a fear of the dark and confined spaces. When danger is sensed, a whole herd of sheep can take to their heels at a fairly high speed. In a large group, there is most often a leader. This is a male of the largest size. To avoid unauthorized scattering of sheep in different directions, it is recommended to manage the most significant and dominant sheep. Merinos are considered quite hardy animals and are able to travel long distances.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Merinos are very prolific animals. The period of puberty in females occurs at the age of one year. Under natural conditions, the mating season falls on the spring season. At home, the breeder of sheep independently decides at what period to bring male and female individuals together. The most favorable period is the end of winter and the first days of spring.
In this situation, newborn lambs are not threatened with cold. Merino females do not always approve of the males that the breeder offers them. If at the first meeting the female did not pass the coating, animals of different sexes are brought together again after a few weeks. If the attempt was unsuccessful, it is useless to mix them.
In the event that it is still possible to bring the sheep together, pregnancy occurs. It lasts an average of 21-22 weeks. During this period, a pregnant female needs special care and a balanced diet. One adult sexually mature female can give birth at a time from one to three small lambs. 20 minutes after birth, the babies who were born already require mother's milk and suck it with pleasure. They quickly grow stronger and gain strength. Lambs feed on mother's milk during the first 2-3 months.
After that, they begin to slowly eat plant foods that adults eat. By about a year, they are already ready to lead a separate, independent lifestyle and, upon reaching puberty, are completely separated from their parents. Young individuals are ready for mating and the birth of offspring, as well as the older generation. The average life expectancy is about 7 years. Some subspecies live an average of 12-15 years.
Natural enemies of the merino
When living in natural conditions, Merinos have quite a few enemies. Giant combed crocodiles, which attack animals during the watering period, pose a great danger to animals. In addition to crocodiles, wild Dingo dogs that live in Australia, as well as foxes and wild cats, often hunt sheep.
It is also worth noting that animals are quite sensitive and susceptible to certain diseases. For example, they can easily die from the stress of millet because they have strayed from the herd. They stop eating, move little, as a result of which they die from exhaustion. Animals are very sensitive to dampness. In such conditions, they often get sick with pneumonia. Sheep begin to cough, practically stop eating, they have difficulty breathing and their body temperature rises. If the disease is not diagnosed in a timely manner and treatment is not started, the animal will die. It is also necessary to take care of the hooves of animals, periodically clean them to prevent the appearance of hoof rot.
Every Merino breeder must understand that it is imperative to provide animals with water procedures, during which they can clean their hair and get rid of parasites. Often, during grazing, animals can eat poisonous, inedible plants for them. In this case, the animal may die after just a few hours. Another reason for the death of sheep is improper care, unbalanced, irrational nutrition. These factors lead to beriberi, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
Population and species status
To date, merinos are widely distributed as pets in various parts of the world. They are characterized by high fecundity and early puberty. People do not have a negative impact on population size. On the contrary, they form farms in various parts of the globe and breed these animals on an industrial scale there. In many regions they are bred in order to obtain high quality wool. It is this type of wool that is the most expensive in the whole world.
Interesting fact: The largest and most expensive purchase of merino wool was made in 2006 by one of the fashion houses. Then, about 100 kilograms of wool were purchased for 420,000 USD
Decor elements, clothing, and carpets are made from this amazing wool. By nature, the wool of these animals has excellent qualities: it helps to keep warm in winter and protects against overheating in summer. It is considered hypoallergenic and hygroscopic raw material. The advantage is that from one kilogram of merino wool you can get three times more raw materials than from goat wool. Also a valuable property is the ability to remove moisture, due to which the animal remains dry in conditions of high humidity, dampness or during rain. In the same way, a person who wears clothes made of this wool will be protected from moisture.
Merino is an amazing breed of sheep, whose wool is highly valued around the world. They are unpretentious to the conditions of detention and undemanding in nutrition. Each adult gives from 7 to 15 kilograms of wool annually.