In 1956 a few progressive farmers in the Kroonstad area of the Free State imported the first Merino Landsheep animals into South Africa from Germany. The German Landsheep breed has existed since the 13th or 14th century. With the importation of Merinos from Spain and Rambouillet from France in the 18th century, the dual-purpose character of this breed was established. Since then, it has been purely bred into the breed’s present geno- and phenotypic properties.
A total of 6 rams and 60 ewes were brought into the country at the time. The breed adapted exceptionally well to the climatic and pastoral conditions in South Africa, because they are prepared to search for food and to graze the available vegetation. The Merino Landsheep is equally at home in the poorest natural mid mountain grazing region or the best agricultural areas where cultivated pastures abound in the semi-arid Karoo or the high rainfall areas. Merino Landsheep flocks are found scattered throughout the sheep-producing areas of the Mpumalanga, Gauteng, North-West and the Free State provinces. They are also found, although to a lesser extent, in the Northern and Eastern Cape Provinces.
The Merino Landsheep is a medium to large sheep with an oval to long polled head with a typical fringe, wide and slightly drooping ears. The chest is wide and slightly protruding. The back is long and broad. It has an oval rib section with long deep flanks. The hindquarter is long and wide in the pelvic region, with well-developed inner and outer thighs. Pleats are unacceptable.
BUILD, MEAT AND WOOL
With its exceptional length and depth and long strong legs, the Merino Landsheep produces a heavy carcass at an early age. It is a sheep with a large but firm frame, good walking ability, and good grazing capacity, well adapted under both extensive conditions with a high fertility rate, good reproduction, high milk production and good wool. On its large frame the Merino Landsheep produces medium strong white wool of Merino characteristics with a length of 75 mm plus at 12 months. Wool production averages 6 – 7 kg of fat wool per ram and 4 – 5 kg per ewe, with a clean yield of 50 – 75%. The belly wool is well developed.
The Merino Landsheep is known to produce three lamb crops every two years. The breed produces small lambs for easy births, making it ideal for cross-breeding programmes. The ewes produce sufficient milk for twins or even triplets. Lamb carcasses of 20 to 25 kg are achieved at 100 to 150 days. Merino Landsheep lambs maintain a sustained growth rate thus ensuring marketing at a higher age and hence financial rewards. First lambing takes place at an age of 12 – 15 months. A lambing percentage of 150% or more is regularly achieved. However, what is really of importance is that Merino Landsheep can be managed to lamb naturally three times in two years. Taking this feature into consideration, the average annual reproduction over the two-year period comes to more than 200%.
As a result of the present economic and climatic conditions in South Africa, only a highly productive animal will be able to maintain its identity and continue to grow in numbers. The Merino Landsheep breed, with its excellent dual-purpose qualities is remarkably suited to both meat and wool production. Merino Landsheep shears like a wool-producing sheep and slaughters better
than most meat-producing sheep. As a breed, it is relatively young to South Africa and on the threshold of dynamic growth. It is not overly sensitive to illness or disease and, in fact, has excellent resistance qualities. Animals need no more than normal care and respond favourably to local conditions.
Because the Merino Landsheep is known for its larger frame, its ability to produce a carcass with relatively little fat evenly spread over the carcass, the breed is one of the more popular breeds in a fat lamb production system. In all the above mentioned, the Merino Landsheep is right up there with the best as seen when growth and feed conversion ratio are tested between several breeds. With Phase C growth tests, it has been scientifically proven that the Merino Landsheep has all the necessary qualities to cross-breed successfully with almost any other sheep breed.
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