Saxon Merino Sheep
A Continuing Heritage
Saxon Merino sheep are as celebrated today for their wool as they were long ago.
Lambs at the farm after a Summer rain
Our sheep continue the Saxon tradition by producing one of the finest wools in America. History is in your hands when you work with yarn made from Catskill Merino Saxon wool.
The Australian Saxon Merino Rams and Wool
In the 17th & 18th centuries, all merino sheep belonged to King Ferdinand of Spain or to his royal relations throughout Europe; they were considered treasures because they produced finer wool than any other breed of sheep. The Spanish merinos exported to Ferdinand's cousin, Prince Xavier the Elector of Saxony, were selected and bred in that northern climate to produce the most exquisite and finest merino wool of the time, henceforth called Saxon Merino wool.
With the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) Europe's royal families were weakened and merino breeding stock was dispersed. Some merinos were exported to America and some to Australia thereby geographically separating the gene pool.
"Don" a Spanish Merino Ram (ca. 1790)
The American merino breeder had a growing domestic market to sell his lamb; he selected his merino for lamb production over wool production. His merino became larger and more prolific while its wool diminished in both quality and quantity. There was no economic reason to select for better wool because the market did not reward him for doing so. While the Australian merino breeder, not having a large domestic market for lamb, selected his sheep to produce quality wool as it could be stored and shipped by sail to Europe where he got a good price. The finer the wool, the better the price; a pioneer breeder, John Macarthur, imported fine wool merinos from Saxony in 1812. They flourished there; the Saxon became one of the five main bloodlines of Australian merino sheep. Saxon Merino sheep still produce the finest wool in the world.
Many Australians consider their merino sheep to be a “national treasure.” Until 1986, export of all merino genetics was banned; then, at the insistence of stud merino breeders, the government permitted the export of a limited number rams but continued to ban the export of merino ewes.
In July of 1990 I went to Australia to buy rams; I visited Australia's major Saxon merino studs with my Australian agent, Patrick Esse. We traveled from Yass and Goulburn in New South Wales to Hamilton in Victoria stopping at Merriville, Bullamalita, Glenleigh, Hillcreston, Grathlyn and Sierra Park to preview the rams that would be available for export. I made notes on structure and followed Pat's advice on the wool. We spent a fortnight comparing the rams to decide which ones to bid on when we got to Melbourne and the export sale.
We were looking for Saxon rams who were large and smooth bodied with wool having an Average Fiber Diameter (AFD) of 17-18 microns whose fleece was uniform, front to rear, and top to bottom. We wanted a brilliant white wool that yielded 70% or better with excellent handle and character. I bid on and bought five world-class Saxon merino rams at the Melbourne export sale.
Sierra Park SP2 (b. 1987)
SP2 was the "Overall Reserve Champion Superfine Ram" at Melbourne, 1990. 17.1 micron and 75% yield. Sire: Sir William 7th. The Sierra Park stud is the foremost breeder of Saxon Merinos in Australia. This ram was the most celebrated fine-wool ram exported from Australia in the 20th Century. Pictured above are Eugene Wyatt, SP2 and Patrick Esse.
Bullamalita 76 (b. 1988)
The American Merino Ewes and Lamb
Three months later, when the rams were flown to the States, I began breeding them in New York to the American merino ewes that I acquired from healthy range flocks in Nevada.
The American ewes were larger, had better carcass characteristics and were more prolific than the Australian ewes. By crossing these genetic lines we produced sheep, over the years, that had both the excellence of the Australian Saxon Merino in wool and the efficiency of the American range merino in lamb.