Most wool growers try very hard to keep black wool out of their flocks. 

Key points:

  • Black sheep have traditionally been bred out of merino flocks, with fibre contamination an issue for the industry
  • Three women are bucking the trend, breeding black merinos and processing the wool in Australia
  • Black and coloured wool does not need to be dyed, allowing it to retain its natural credentials

But some farmers have been bucking that trend and are purposely breeding black merino sheep.

Black or coloured wool does not need to be dyed and with demand growing for all-natural products, the one-time outcasts of the flock have become hot property.

Sophie and Tom Holt run nearly 30,000 sheep at Coonong Station in the Riverina. 

Ms Holt started a separate black merino flock and has been processing their wool in Australia, running a wool retail business with her two friends Maggie Lahore and Kimmy Falls. 

Ms Lahore was a station hand at Coonong and now works remotely in the business from her home in Argentina, while Ms Falls runs a livestock transport company in the Riverina with her husband.

Sophie Holt and Kimmy Falls black Merinos

Business partners Sophie Holt and Kimmy Falls with a black merino fleece.(ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

“We’re three working mothers and three good friends, who had an idea to process coloured and white wool domestically,” Ms Holt said. 

Early on, they were told it could not be done with much of Australia’s wool processed overseas. 

But they have since found processors to work with, their black wool products are running out the door, with blankets selling for more than $500. 

A woman holding a baby wears a brown woollen poncho.

Maggie Lahore with her son, Toribio, in one of their coloured woollen ponchos. (Supplied: Ethical Outback Wool)

Building a reputation on the show circuit

President of the Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders Association NSW Melissa Henry enters her black sheep in shows around the state. 

She was used to her sheep being a novelty, with most farmers more likely to try to hide their black sheep — not show them off. 

“Sometimes we get a few strange looks, generally I would say people are very welcoming of us and they’re always very interested, they come over and look at our sheep,” Ms Henry said.

Melissa Henry in pink stands in front of a yard of black and coloured sheep.

Melissa Henry with her flock of black and coloured sheep.(ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

Black wool interest from India

Moses and Sons wool broker Marty Moses said white wool had always been more popular because it could be dyed any colour.

But he said there was an overseas interest in black merino wool. 

“There’s still a demand from places like India, where religious beliefs preclude people from dying the natural fibre,” Mr Moses said. 

Meanwhile, there is a growing market for natural, coloured wool at home.

A black coloured lamb looks at the camera in among other coloured sheep

Black sheep must be run separately to avoid “fibre contamination”.(ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

Black, white sheep usually run separately

Mr Moses said it was crucial for black and white flocks to be run separately due to the potential of black fibres getting into the white wool. 

“It’s hugely important that we don’t contaminate our white wool flock. Not that there’s anything wrong with black wool, but it’s a different market and we need to keep them separate,” he said.

At Coonong, they run their black sheep separate from the rest of the flock, shearing them after all the white sheep have been through and making sure they do not share any fence lines.

But because the coloured wool gene is genetic, it is possible for a white sheep to be born in a black flock — suddenly finding that they are the odd one out.

Black sheep have plenty of wool — and it’s hot property
Source 1


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