Tuesday, October 3

The unexpected interest in the Australian merino that is raised in Extremadura

He counted Miro Rodríguez. If the Australians sell the wool from their sheep for ten dollars per kilo and in Spain it rarely exceeds the euro, what would have to be done to have the wool from there?

After all, he concluded, they come from the merino stock, the same one that grazes in La Serena.

Two options I had. Bring live males from the other side of the world to cross them with their females or inseminate them. He ruled out the first because the quarantine of live animals made the operation very expensive.

So he opted for plan B. Bringing a bottle of Australian male semen and embryos frozen in liquid nitrogen on a plane from Sidney to Barajas to cover a hundred females at the Entrerríos farm.

Australian contacts got it by chance. A friend of León had a relationship with the Australian consul in Spain, who in turn put them in touch with local ranchers from whom they could buy. They obtained the permits for the importation of genetic material and found a veterinary company specialized in inseminating ewes.

The initial brake that they lost in meat with the crossing has already been diluted

They aspire to enter a market that pays more than ten dollars a kilo of wool some years

But the pandemic came and everything froze. He was postponed because there were no planes to load on. As soon as the 2020 confinement was lifted, the bottle arrived in Madrid. Not without the work of the Customs veterinarian, who, as this merchandise had never been imported, refused to sign the authorization to remove it from the airport. Two hours later, after showing all the permits and import documentation several times, he signed and the bottle went home.

In June they finally managed to cover more than a hundred sheep. And 152 days later, the farrowing began. Like clockwork.

It has not been easy, acknowledge Miro Rodríguez and Rita Álvarez. But now, they proudly show off their herd of Australian males that graze in Fuente de los Romeros, their farm between Entrerríos and La Coronada.

Some are already for sale. 1,500 euros per head.

Rita and Miro Rodríguez with the fleece they keep from the first shearing. /


You don’t have to be an expert in sheep genetics to guess that it is a cross rarely seen on the peninsula. It has a thick, long and clean wool.

And without losing meat, which was the fear of the ranchers and the brake that many saw at the crossroads. Sheep with better wool are worthless if they later produce short lambs that do not enter the markets. That was Miro’s concern. He spent money that he doesn’t want to reveal on importing semen and embryos to later come up with a merino that didn’t suit La Serena or that lost weight.

Now that he is already breeding the second batch of oceanicas, he believes that he is on the right track. The sheep have been put in time and form and have covered more than ten centimeters of long, uniform and resistant wool.

The important thing, he explains, is that it performs after washing. Spanish wool, in general, loses almost half of its weight when it comes out of the sink. But those of Australian and Chilean sheep only lose 30%. And they want to reach that percentage of performance in Fuente de los Romeros. They trust that subsequent crosses between the offspring of the first mothers and fathers will improve it. Now they can take many paths. Cross them with each other or throw females from their Australian male herd.

Miro and Rita say that they have been listening to the farmers of the cooperative for years complaining about the low prices of wool and that the conclusion reached by both commercials and shepherds is always the same, to improve genetics. “We know that it is poorly paid because it is of poor quality, so let’s improve the quality of what we have,” they conclude.

One of the stallions that have been bred on the farm. /


And they are on that path. So far, they have gotten an unexpected interest in the evolution of their idea. Rita has received an email from the Australian embassy congratulating her on the project and encouraging them to share her achievements with other farmers in her country. Calls from colleagues who want to see the first Australian stallions are repeated. Writers and researchers have visited his farm and dedicated specialized articles to them, they have also come interested in buying the wool they shear in spring. “She has many boyfriends and that’s good because everyone who comes to see her says that he wants to book her.”

It is of interest to a textile industrialist from Catalonia, a laundry from Portugal and several artisans who make garments to order and blankets. Also to professional restorers with commissions in museums because with wool it cleans and absorbs without damaging delicate surfaces. At least they know that they will be able to sell it through a commercial circuit different from the usual one. That is already a step. And since there are no more than two hundred sheep, they can be taken by a single buyer for their own use.

But the path, the two ranchers explain, is to expand the Australian morphology in its almost two thousand head livestock to generate a volume that can be exported directly to China and India, where the international textile industry is usually supplied.

They do not see profitability as far away. The ten dollars per kilo to which they aspire can be worth so that each sheep takes from the shearing what is later eaten as supplemental feed in the breeding.

If we come from a few years in which it is almost necessary to pay the buyers to take the wool, the interest that this bet in Fuente de los Romeros arouses among sheep farmers is understandable.

Seventh generation transhumant and innovator

Miro Rodríguez and Rita Álvarez have not lost their Castilian accent. They continue to live as they have been all their lives: transhumant. Now in Extremadura from autumn to spring and in summer they flee from the heat to the ports of León, where they have their other home. Miro is a seventh-generation retired nomadic herder. He learned from his grandparents and his father to lower the sheep from the ports to La Serena. Eight days on the way from the mountain to the Palencia station and from there by train to Villanueva. They got off at Todos los Santos and got on at the end of May.

Many of the books that have been written about transhumance carry photos of him in the sheepfolds at more than a thousand meters of height or lowering the sheep on the emblematic pier of the Villanueva station for cattle. Then they went from the train to the truck. «He was more comfortable because he loads at the foot of the port in León and unloads on the farm». They worked for the Marquis of Perales and as the foremen had the right to some sheep, they expanded their livestock. In 1981, the Marquis put Fuente de los Romeros up for sale and Miro bought it together with his brother and his brother-in-law. In the 1990s they stopped migrating. It was getting harder and harder to find shepherds who could endure so many months in the mountains. To which was added the increase in the cost of transport. And the owners who invaded the royal canyons, very reluctant to let the cattle pass, did not make it easy either. Since then they maintain their own and fixed livestock in Extremadura. Miro says that he has always been obsessed with improving the genetics of his herd. And for this project in Australia, his nephew, Ángel Salio and Beatriz López, an agricultural engineer specializing in genetics, have helped him.

Beatriz, he says, was in charge of selecting the mothers from his farm that were inseminated and of the subsequent follow-up, and Ángel was in charge of connecting with the Australian farmer or solving all the bureaucratic procedures for importation. Miro and Rita are more than satisfied with the people around them on this adventure. They think they have found two other people who are very involved in the sheep world. «Without them all this would not have been done because there are very technical issues that they have helped us solve. We all love sheep.”


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