The story behind Merino wool

I am very lucky to live on a high country Merino sheep station here in Tarras, New Zealand. This farm belongs to my husbands family and they have farmed here for over 100 years, which is a long time in NZ! Every year in the first week of September a big muster happens and the sheep are brought down off the hill and into the woolshed to get their yearly hair cut in time for the hot Central Otago summer. This wool is very carefully removed by highly skilled shearers, who have the very tricky task of removing the precious fibres without harming the wrinkly sheep.

Walking into the woolshed can be a little intimidating, with drum and bass blasting over the sound of the clippers, and a multitude of men and women working tirelessly, each with their own roll making the operation of shearing a sheep like a well oiled machine. This precious wool is sent to Merino New Zealand which is spun and made into Icebreaker clothing, which we all know and love. Merino wool is an incredible fibre; sustainable, warm when wet, cooling when you are too hot and keeps the stink off you. What better fibre to wear against your skin? My wardrobe is nearly 100% merino, from underwear, thermals, summer singlets, technical ski wear and awesome hoodies!

Shearers in The Point Woolshed

The process of farming your Icebreaker clothing is a big one. Starting with the farmer who looks after the sheep throughout its life, to the shearers who carefully remove the wool, its a wonder that merino clothing isn’t more expensive! I see first hand the hard work that goes into farming this sheep. Come shearing time the farmer pens up his sheep and they are shorn one by one, by hand, and then released back onto the hill in time for lambing. Every piece of the wool is collected by the handlers (rousies) and sorted into piles depending on the quality and grade by a wool classer. This is then pressed into a bale and shipped off to be made into yarn.

Merino sheep wait to be shorn


Merino sheep wait to be shorn.
‘Wolf in sheeps clothing’ – Sue the Hunterway doing her job in the pen
The rousies throw the fleece onto table to skirt the wool and pick off any rough bits
The wool may look dirty from the outside but when the fleece is shorn you see this magical white soft fibre underneath. Ain’t nature fabulous??
Sorting the dags…
My father-in-law Alastair checking his preciously farmed produce
The gloriously fine merino fibre – not scratchy and silky smooth for making clothing
The wool classed into the right bin – Sue protects it diligantly
The bails of wool ready to be spun into your Icebreaker!
The shearers moccasins – special handmade felt shoes so they don’t ruin the wool