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Visit to a farm in New Zealand: this is where Merino wool comes from

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Portraitfoto von Jessica
Marketing, Zurich Office
© Fotos

Iris, our buyer, travelled all the way to New Zealand. Her trip took her to a farm that produces Merino wool, run entirely by women. The farm is among those supplying wool to the Icebreaker and Mons Royale brands. In this blog, Iris explains what certified Merino wool is and how much wool is produced from one sheep.

So Iris, what is it like on a farm like this?
It looks like something out of a film! Endless lush green areas everywhere, an idyllic hilly landscape dotted with small rivers. The farm has actually been used in Hollywood productions, and Tom Cruise has stayed here. It has a farmhouse, but no stables because the sheep live outdoors all year round and are only brought in once a year to be sheared.

How big is the farm?
The privately owned family-run farm covers about 18,000 hectares. So it’s just a bit bigger than the Appenzell Innerrhoden canton. It has around 5,000 Merino sheep, including 1,000 lambs. By New Zealand standards though, the farm is small. An average farm has about 10,000 to 15,000 sheep. The farm is one of the suppliers for the Icebreaker and Mons Royale brands.

So, who actually lives on the farm?
The farm is run entirely by women. The mother – also called Iris – is gradually taking a back seat and her daughter Kate is taking over the reins. Iris lost her husband early on and has defied the odds by managing to keep the business going. The nice thing here is that all the farms help each other out. Kate always knew that she would come back after university. Alongside the temporary helpers, the dogs are a key part of the team: in total, six dogs work outside. And when I say work, I really mean that – they are highly trained members of the farm’s workforce and not pets. Kate and Iris have complete trust in their pack.

  • A river and field lead into the depths of a valley.

    View over the vast expanse of the farm.

    Photo © Iris Bürkli
  • Two women standing in front of a map hung on the wall.

    Kate (right) shows Iris her land on the map.

    Photo © Iris Bürkli
  • A group of six people standing in front of a sheep pasture.

    Iris (third from left) visiting the farm belonging to Kate (second from right).

    Photo © Iris Bürkli

How is Merino wool produced?
The sheep basically spend the whole year grazing on their own out in the huge pastures. Kate and Iris visit the animals on a regular basis. That way they can help any sick or injured sheep and ensure that they have enough food when it snows. The only time the family rounds up the sheep is in September, springtime in New Zealand, for shearing. What used to take almost two weeks using horses is now done in just a few days with helicopters. 

How do you shear sheep?
It’s a real craft, because this farm still shears Merino wool the traditional way, using hand shears. The benefit of this is that the rest of the coat stays on the sheep a bit longer. This means the sheep don’t freeze in the months when the weather gets colder. Shearing only takes a few minutes per sheep.

How much wool does one sheep produce?
Three to four kilos of wool per sheep per year. Machine shorn, it would be up to six kilos. Merino is used to produce clothing such as socks, thermal underwear and knit caps, among other things. It takes about three kilos of wool to make ten T-shirts from pure Merino wool. In other words, the yield of an entire sheep. I hadn’t realised up to then how many sheep are needed for production.

Photo © Ruedi Thomi

Iris, buyer at Transa

Iris has been working at Transa for over five years and is responsible for buying underwear and accessories, such as gloves. She liaises closely with the brands and attends trade fairs to keep tabs on the latest trends. She also feels it’s important to regularly look behind the scenes: she visits production companies and farms that supply the raw materials for the product.

What’s the difference between certified Merino wool and non-certified wool?
Transa only sells Merino products made using certified wool. This means that mulesing plays no part in making the Merino wool. The animals are also raised so that they don’t experience hunger, fear, discomfort or pain, allowing them to behave normally. Kate’s farm is certified to the ZQ standard.

What impressed you most during your visit?
As a buyer, I often only get to hold the end product. It was fascinating to be able to feel unprocessed, greasy wool between my fingers. For me, it is important and part of our responsibility to know where the materials come from. I have also visited production sites, as I did recently in Lithuania. On the farm in New Zealand, I met very warm people who feel deeply connected to their animals and their country. Every time Kate’s eyes looked out over the landscape, you could feel how passionate she was about it all. That always touched me.

Certified Merino wool: The ZQ Standard explained

Transa only carries certified wool products. ZQ Merino is a wool standard (awarded by the non-profit organisation New Zealand Merino Company (NZM)) that guarantees animal welfare, environmental compatibility, fibre quality, traceability and social responsibility. The ZQRX Index goes even further: Farms are assessed and certified using a holistic approach: the focus is on regenerative land use, protection of native species and natural waterways and the promotion of local communities.

  • #Winter hiking

  • #Snowshoeing

  • #Ski tours

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