The Merino is one of the most historically relevant and economically influential breeds of sheep, much prized for its wool. The breed was originated and improved in Extremadura, in southwestern Spain, around the 12th century; it was instrumental in the economic development of 15th and 16th century Spain, which held a monopoly on its trade, and since the end of the 18th century it was further refined in New Zealand and Australia, giving rise to the modern Merino. Merinos are regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool of any sheep.
Merino wool is fine and soft. Most Merino sheep wool is generally less than 24 micron. Merino has become the standard in the textile industry as the world rediscovers the superiority of wool to synthetic fibers.
Merino sheep are very good milkers and provide a high fat content milk. The breed has not been selectively bred for milk however and generally underperforms when compared to breeds that have been selectively bred for milk.
Contrary to popular belief, Merino sheep are not raised soley for wool. Some Merino types have been selectively bred for meat production. These types have wool with a micron count more suited for applications like rug making.