Australian Stud Merino Definition, Flock Status and Standards

Merino RamAs the peak body for stud Merino breeders in Australia, the Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders (AASMB) has a major charter to foster unity and advance the breeding of superior stud Merinos.  

To this effect, the AASMB is providing a definition and descriptive standards to broadly encompass the aspirations of all stud Merino breeders in Australia.  Under this system, studs emphasising purity of breeding have a flock status that caters to their needs.  

For studs using out-crossing to enhance the breed, a status exists that has no restrictions on compatible introductions and breed crosses, as long as progeny selected as stud animals conform to a satisfactory level of standards.  

Standards allow the Australian Merino to be differentiated from other breeds of sheep, and provide a system of eligibility for classification as an Australian Merino.

1. Definition

The Australian Merino is a wool breed of sheep with meat capabilities.

It is of Ovine species, horned or polled, with long, crimpy, white wool, developed in Australia from many types of Merinos and other sheep, and exhibiting variable degrees of meat carcase attributes.  

Australian Stud Merinos are those sheep retained for breeding purposes, principally breeding rams for sale.  Australian Stud Merinos are also those that are eligible for registration in the AASMB Flock Register.  To be eligible, flocks need to comply with one of the flock status requirements, and flocks or individual sheep need to conform to an acceptable level of standards.

2. Flock Status

Pure Status – Australian Stud Merino:

For flocks in Australia made up of pure Merinos or F4 minimum Merinos.

Introduced Status – Australian Stud Merino:

(i) For outcross flocks in Australia using F1, F2 or F3 compatible introductions, that conform to a satisfactory level of standards administered by the State Associations.

(ii) For overseas flocks or derived from overseas flocks

These categories can revert to Pure Status after some years of breeding towards the F4 composition, and presents the possibility of encompassing other compatible Merino breeds into the AASMB if the members so desire.

Instead of State Associations, as single bodies, conforming to Pure or Introduced Status, it is up to individual members of the various State Associations to specify on their Annual Returns which flock status they want to represent.  Disclosure of breed introductions in the Vendor’s and Purchaser’s Certificates will provide a transparent and accountable breed composition status for prospective clients.

3. Standards

To conform to the Australian Merino Standard, the following criteria need to be addressed.

These standards are presented as:

(i.) an aid for stud Merino Inspectors for registration purposes 

(ii.) to differentiate the Australian Merino from other breeds of sheep. 

a) Wool Quality

In essence, it is the wool features of the Merino that sets it apart from other breeds. In particular, the Australian Merino is unique in possessing a luxuriant skin producing an exceptional number of fine secondary wool fibres.

  1. Density – the fibres per square centimetre should be dense enough to attain good fleece weights and protection from weathering.
  2. Length – the staple length should be consistent with the type or strain of Merino selected.  Typically, annual growths of over 100mm for ‘strong wool Merinos’ and over 75mm for ‘fine wool Merinos’ should be aimed for.  Short wools are not characteristic of the Australian Merino and are therefore unacceptable.
  3. Character – well defined crimpy wool is essential for all types of Australian Merinos.  Aim for regular and pronounced crimp throughout the fleece.
  4. Softness – the wool staples should be soft to handle in terms of resistance to compression and fibre smoothness.
  5. Colour – pure, bright creamy-white wool is the ultimate standard for Australian Merinos.
  6. Evenness – all of the above fleece features should be evenly distributed over the entire body as much as possible.  Character, softness and colour should be uniform within and between staples.
  7. Condition – the physical state of the fleece is principally influenced by the effects of the skin secretions of wax and suint, in combination (sometimes referred to as nourishment).
         (i) Wax: wool fibres should have an adequate coating of wax for protection against weathering, sunlight and excessive rain.  Wax is also important for fibre lubrication and hence handle.  Insufficient wax with resultant dry wools and excessive wax with resultant low yielding candle like wools, should be avoided. 
         (ii) Suint: other than mobilising wax, suint is harmful in the Merino fleece.  High levels of suint that attract moisture, produce odour and cause colouration of wool fibres, should be avoided.
  8. Fleece peculiarities – sheep that exhibit shedding of wool, or grow hair in the fleece or have any coloured wool other than white cannot qualify as an Australian stud Merino. 

 b) Conformation and Structure

1. The Head:

  1. The muzzle should be broad and large with full open nostrils.  It should be pink and soft with the absence of coloured spots and tan markings.
  2. The face should be covered with short creamy coloured hair with the absence of frosty kempy fibres and be free from pigment.  It should be open and soft.
  3. The jaw should be deep and strong, with incisor teeth meeting a wide dental pad squarely.
  4. The ears should be velvety to handle and not paper thin.
  5. The horns should be wide with regular deeply corrugated spirals with the absence of coloured streaks.
  6. Polls should be dry and free from yolk.  Ideally, polls should have no scurs or scurs that are less than 25mm width at the base.

2. The Topline and Trunk

  1. The trunk.: The chest should be deep and broad.  The back should be straight and broad, supporting well sprung ribs and loins.
  2. The withers should be rounded and well filled without medial depressions or constrictions.
  3. The hindquarters should be rounded on top and broad, full and deep.  The twist should be full and deep. 

3. The Legs

  1. Hocks should be as wide as the hips and straight when viewed from behind, and with the correct angulation when viewed from the side.
  2. The front legs should be set wide apart depicting a roomy chest.
  3. The pasterns should be strong and straight, and the fetlocks should be upright.
  4. Hooves should be of good uniform shape and alignment.  They should be amber in colour with the absence of streaky or black marks.

4. Wool Covering

This is a matter of choice, depending on the trueness of type of the different basic strains (Fine, Medium or Strong), and the end use, whether wool only or wool plus meat. Regardless, the covering should be sufficient to support the notion that the Australian Merino is essentially a wool breed.  Extreme stripping of wool from the head, bellies and legs should be avoided.