The Merino is an economically influential breed of sheep prized for its wool. The breed is originally from central Spain (Castille), and its wool was highly valued already in the Middle Ages. Today, Merinos are still regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool of any sheep. Poll Merinos have no horns (or very small stubs, known as scurs), and horned Merino rams have long, spiral horns which grow close to the head.
The Merino is an excellent forager and very adaptable. It is bred predominantly for its wool, and its carcase size is generally smaller than that of sheep bred for meat. South African Meat Merino (SAMM), American Rambouillet and German Merinofleischschaf have been bred to balance wool production and carcase quality.
Merino wool is finely crimped and soft. Staples are commonly 65–100 mm (2.6–3.9 in) long. A Saxon Merino produces 3–6 kg (6.6–13 lb) of greasy wool a year, while a good quality Peppin Merino ram produces up to 18 kg (40 lb). Merino wool is generally less than 24 micron (µm) in diameter. Basic Merino types include: strong (broad) wool 23–24.5 µm, medium wool is 19.6–22.9 µm, fine 18.6–19.5 µm, superfine 15–18.5 µm and ultra fine 11.5–15 µm. Ultra fine wool is suitable for blending with other fibers such as silk and cashmere. New Zealand produces lightweight knits made from Merino wool and possum fur.