Knowledge Base:


The Knowledge Base is designed provide additional insight into Australian supply capacity and the issues around obtaining verified and fully traceable Australian merino. 

This page mostly contains short summaries which in most cases link to more detail.

Australian Production

Key points:

Australia is the dominant producer of merino wool supplying approximately 80% of the total volume used in garment manufacturing.

Annual production is around 300 million kgs greasy weight or 200 million kgs clean weight.

World production has been in decline for many years and this trend is continuing.

Australia produces more non-mulesed wool than the total merino production of the main other merino producing countries ie New Zealand, Uruguay and South Africa.

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Non-Mulesed Supply

Key Points:

There are approximately 26,000 wool growers in Australia.

Of these, approximately 3,100 produce non-mulesed wool or have ceased the practice of mulesing.

Australia produces 8,400 tons (clean weight) of non-mulesed merino fleece wool.

This is equivalent to approximately:

75% of South African total merino production

125% of Argentinian total merino production

100% of New Zealand total merino production

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Lead Times

Key Points:

The supply chain in the wool industry is long. This is because merino wool is predominantly grown in the southern hemisphere but processed in the northern hemisphere.

Lead Times:

The processing lead times can likewise be long because there are many stages from the shearing of sheep on individual farms to consolidation, shipping, washing, combing, treatments, spinning, knitting/weaving and garment construction.

Verification of supplying farms for land management and animal welfare adds another dimension which can only be catered for reliably through good planning.

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Cost of Certification

Key Points:

The cost of certification is very small as a proportion of the cost of yarn.

The chart below identifies certification as 1.2% assuming a yarn cost of US $33.00 kg.

The link below will provide more details and a breakup of the costs in percentage terms.

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Differences to the RWS

Key Points:

Australia is a very large country and the production conditions can vary considerably when compare to other merino producing countries.

The cost of certification to the RWS can be very high both under the both the Farm Group Model and as an individual farmer seeking certification.

Travel costs for audits are considerable.

NewMerino® has developed a more efficient methodology for the assessment of farms against a set of standards without impacting the integrity or veracity of the standards. This methodology is audited and verified by Control Union, an independent, internationally operated certification body.

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Freeze Branding of Sheep

As an alternative to surgical mulesing

Extract from the RSPCA Knowledge base:

Note: Freeze branding was previously known as Steining

Steining involves the application of liquid nitrogen directly to a lamb’s skin around the tail and breech area. This causes the skin to die and drop off to leave an area of stretched, scar tissue similar to the effect of mulesing.

The procedure uses a device that tightly clamps excess skin on the lamb’s breech and then applies liquid nitrogen to this clamped skin until it is fully frozen. The clamp is then removed and treated skin eventually falls off. Studies of an earlier model of the applicator found that the method is painful and had no benefits in terms of reduced pain over mulesing regardless of whether pain relief was provided [1]. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the current application technology causes any less pain or distress to sheep. Irrespective of adaptations of the method itself, the application of liquid nitrogen directly to the skin, will cause pain to the lamb.


Four Paws Guide Book

In December 2019, Four Paws International produce a Guide Book to assist retail brands transition away from using mulesed wool.

The book is 28 pages so we have included the two pages where there is a table setting out the features of the various integrity systems.

It should be noted that NewMerino® rates very highly.

CLICK to see the summary pages of the Guide Book

From Farm to Yarn

A New Era

In the days when wool was just wool, was a traded commodity and blended to compete on price, the focus was just that – price.

Today wool is appreciated as a high-performance natural fibre recognised for its unique characteristics to produce specialised garments designed for targeted market segments.

This has been made possible through the breeding, genetic development and selection of merino sheep as well as new technologies to measure the raw fibre for the elements which directly affect the performance and comfort of the finished product.

Objective measurement enables processing batches to be blended to achieve a predicted performance making merino a fibre of choice.

Add to this the demand by consumers for an assurance that ethical and sustainable farming practices have been used requires the employment of a new supply system.


Wool Categories

All wool from a sheep is useful, however it is not all useful for manufacturing the same products and therefore does not have the same value.

When a sheep is shorn, the wool is classed into a number of categories dependent what area of the sheep it has come from.


Features of Merino Fibre

The selection and breeding of sheep combined with the development of testing and processing technology has made huge advances over the last 50 years.

The result is a new generation of merino fibre which is far superior to the highly variable qualities of ‘wool’ of a generation or so ago.

The superb qualities of merino are described below and were taken from the Campaign for Wool web site.


Is Wool Bio-degradable?

YES it is

At the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, releasing valuable nutrients into the ground. When a natural wool fibre is disposed of in soil, it takes a very short time to break down, whereas most synthetics are extremely slow to degrade.

Link to Woolmark page
Link to PDF

Pain Management at Lamb Marking

To our knowledge at this time (October 2020) these is only one product available to provide pre-operative pain relief.

This is a castration and tail docking system called Numnuts. It uses an anaesthetic called NumOctaine® applied using a specially designed applicator which also applies a rubber ring.

To minimise stress for lambs it is best used in conjunction with a 24 hour or 36 hour analgesic like Buccalgesic® /  Metacam® / Reliven®

Full details along with case studies are available on their website

Link to Veterinary Research Paper

Towards a Non-Mulesed Future

AUSTRALIAN wool growers who successfully ceased mulesing have been recruited by major animal welfare groups in the battle to ban the practice on the nation’s sheep properties.

A new report — ‘Towards a Non-Mulesed Future’ – with data from 97 growers, has found that most (77.5 percent) transitioned to plain-bodied Merinos within five years and 42.7pc within two years.

Most growers surveyed for the report said moving to plain-bodied Merinos is not costly, increased lamb production, lowered body strike, and generated wool price premiums and a higher return on investment.

The report by Brisbane consultancy BG Economics and funded by Humane Society International and FOUR PAWS seems to contrast with Australian Wool Innovation-funded research that found it might take 11 to 20 years to reduce the incidence of flystrike in flocks to less than one strike per 100 ewes per year.

Humane Society International and FOUR PAWS believe that the viability of the genetic solution to mulesing is now clear and there’s never been a better time for industry to switch gears and create a roadmap to end mulesing.


Supply Chain – First Principals

Extracts taken from a paper written in 2001 by SC Champion and AP Fearne

Summary:    Lines 14-19:

This paper examines the differential characteristics of commodities and products and their respective marketing systems.

“It identifies the circumstances under which wool and/or its derivatives might be classified either as a commodity or a product and argues that in today’s dynamic consumer markets where intangible factors are increasingly important purchase drivers, consumer value may be lost through the use of inappropriate marketing”.

Conclusion:   Line: 384-386

Given wool’s position as a natural fibre, its high price relatively to its competitors and its potential vulnerability to fashion, their appears to be a case for further development of the intangible product characteristics of the wool fibre in an effort to better meet consumer demand.

Marketing systems are required which effectively transmit both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ product attributes and do so with the aim of meeting the needs of the consumer.

The table at right provides an excellent comparison of the two approaches.

Opinion                              Click table above to enlarge

It is interesting to re-read this paper and note how little has changed in the wool industry in the last 20 years.

It is however, more relevant than ever in the context of the mulesing issue and the well-established demand for provenance and transparency in the textile industry.

To make good use of this paper I have included the writer’s introductory summary and their conclusions at left along with their comparison table above.         

Peter Vandeleur August 2020