The Merino breed is one of the most numerous species in Spain and counts approximately 4.5 million specimens. On the other hand, the Black Merino sheep is a native breed of sheep in danger of extinction due to its low census. Currently, there are about 7,000 sheep located in five autonomous communities. The autonomous community that conserves 85% of this type of sheep is Extremadura.

The black sheep has become an opportunity for several farmers as it has many advantages such as it is easier to feed, its meat is of high quality and for that reason it has more acceptance in the market and obtains more subsidies than other sheep species.

What are black Merino sheep?

They are medium proportioned sheep with a straight profile. The horns, if present, are stronger in males, triangular and their surface is striated with transverse grooves. Females, on the other hand, rarely have horns, and if they do, they are more rudimentary.

The most characteristic element of a Merino sheep is the fleece that serves to differentiate it from other sheep and covers most of it. This fleece is closed, composed of square strands with special characteristics of fineness, curl, elasticity and extension. Their average weight can be between 50 and 70 kg, while other sheep weigh between 75 and 100 kg.

Its wool has insulating properties and a soft, warm texture, making it optimal for protection from the generally cold winter temperatures.

The black Merina sheep is intended to offer a product that has been cared for since its origin. Therefore, the first flock was introduced in the Cornalvo Natural Park, had 300 sheep and were brought from Portugal, where there were still some herds of this species, in August 2013. 

This type of sheep is found in Extremadura, Andalusia and Castilla y Leon.

Production characteristics and farming systems

The production of wool from this type of sheep is not as highly valued as that of the white Merino sheep, because it does not allow the penetration of different types of dyes, its use is limited to certain products and the livestock is handled differently. 

Currently, like the Merina sheep, the ewes are fed with natural feed and are slaughtered at an age of around 70 to 80 days and weigh between 22 to 28 kg because they provide tender, pink meat, with little fat and high meat quality.

Its fleece characteristics are the same as the white variety, but the hardiness of this species is even greater.

Nowadays, they are only exploited in pastures, as their practice has been generally reduced due to labor and management problems and for economic reasons. Flock sizes are estimated to average between 10 to 200 ewes.

Particularities of the black Merino sheep

The black Merino sheep specializes in wool production in both Portugal and Spain. This wool is applied in coats, blankets and carpets. Although, secondarily, they produce meat.

Its visibility has been strengthened thanks to several factors such as:

  • Being a more rustic variety that can withstand different climates and adverse conditions. Also, since there are so few specimens, their morphology is not as selected.
  • To have a higher subsidy in order to preserve this type of sheep as it is in danger of extinction. Although many ranchers keep this species for fun or because it is so different.
  • In general, its meat is highly valued in the market since it resembles that of kid goats.
  • It uses all the resources of the farms, for this reason, it is more economical to feed it and it is highly valued among farmers due to the crisis that is affecting this sector and the increase in the price of feed due to its scarcity.

Some of the characteristics of the black Merino sheep are:

  • The wool of this type of sheep is much softer than traditional wool. It also has a finer fiber and smaller scales to better conform to the skin.
  • Does not cause unpleasant odors. For this reason, a garment made of this wool can be worn for several days without having been washed. It is an antibacterial wool, in other words, its scales reject bacteria and it contains lanolin which has antibacterial properties.
  • It is very warm due to its very fine fleece. This fabric has many fibers that retain body heat by creating small air pockets.
  • They are very breathable due to the size of the fibers. Because they are so thin, they allow them to better transfer the wet steam.