The Merino breed of sheep produces the finest quality wool, The species evolved centuries back and was known to the Phoenicians, who traded in fleeces, and the Greeks, who made it widespread in the Mediterranean area.
Merino sheep were introduced into Spain by the Moors in the 8th century. It was a hand over gloves perfect fit for the environment, and the local people cherished the animals. The wool from the sheep attracted the attention of the Spanish aristocracy. As the sheep represented perennial income, the Spanish Royals took possession of all the flocks and made it unlawful for the sheep to be sold. Between the fourteenth century, King Alfonso of Spain initiated the first laws for the animals and by end of the 18th century, any attempt to export sheep faced the death penalty.
Christopher Columbus on his second voyage for the Indies in 1493, took a cargo of precious Merino fleeces for trading. Pairs of Merino sheep came to be known as the “gift of kings” and were used to seal alliances and agreements in Europe. The Saxons were the first to rear the sheep intensively and develop different breeds, with the aim of improving the wool quality.
The breed became more widespread internationally once there were no such set of draconian laws. In 1773, on occasion of his second voyage to New Zealand, Captain James Cook took a pair of Merino sheep with him. In 1797, the breed arrived in Australia, with both New Zealand and Australia offering a rich ideal conditions for the breeds to thrive. The ongoing efforts of farmers in Australia and New Zealand has led to the production and export of merino wool of the highest quality, and drove the economies of these two nations.