We thought it would be a really fun project to select a superfine black merino flock – specifically for growing black superfine merino wool as a luxury commodity.
In the superfine wool industry and wool producing merino sheep world, black sheep are ostracized. They must be shorn separately as if there wool gets mixed in with the white wool it ‘contaminates’ it and makes it ‘unsalable’. Black sheep are usually the first to be culled (killed) and have little to no value in the wool industry.
So we decided that we would attempt to change this and open the world to the possibility of change. Pete wanted to genetically select sheep for a blue black fleece. There are a range of colours in merino sheep including white white, yellow white, brown, badger – a combo of black, spots, brown and white, brown-black, black-black, and the possibility of blue-black, and many other colour combinations.
When Pete discovered a ram lamb with a black tongue he felt he was onto something and indeed he was (the black tongue is important as it is more likely that the animal carries dominant black wool genes). Any ewe with traces of black wool or the potential of carrying the black wool gene were also selected. This included small black spots on the face, badger or spotted sheep or any who had produced black lambs in the past.
Jim Watts who developed SRS sheep (more information can be found on Jim’s website: http://www.srsmerino.com ) has classed sheep with Pete for the last 20 years was keen on the project also. He said that the likelihood of a black wool progeny on the first cross was pretty much zero, so how excited were we when a little black wool ewe popped out. And then a little ram lamb in the second cross.
The little flock was growing.
So when we decided to disperse the flock we were concerned for the future of the selected black wool sheep as their future did not look very bright. But thank’s to Jim we were introduced to another couple of graziers who had had a similar idea to ourselves.
They own a small spinning mill and spin their own fibre and plan to spin black wool into yarn and cloth. They brought some of the black wool flock and so the project will continue.
We feel it is exciting that there are people with the desire to do things differently in the world and challenge the status quo. We are also excited that Blackie and his family will live out their lives in luxury and care with people who like sheep (we heard that one particular sheep where Blackie has moved to eats the occasional Jatz cracker for morning tea*, and turns it’s nose up at any other brand).
If you are interested in finding out more about the black wool sheep Hansie and Gary Armour are contactable at: http://www.milkymerino.com or at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org (They also spin milk into fibre, and Alpaca fibre as well as merino wool/wool at their mill).
* sheep LOVE salt.