THE NATURAL PARADISE OF TASMANIA
THE ORIGINS OF OUR WOOL
The sheep in Tasmania have a unique habitat to call home. The pristine island 240km south of Australia offers excellent air quality and is one thing above all: green. With an area around the size of Bavaria, the Australian federal state provides a home for around 500,000 people – as well as 3 million merino sheep.
Our wool has its origins at the heart of this natural paradise. The air is pure, the food for animals rich, and the climate moderate – this is where extraordinarily fine and high quality merino wool is found. Surrounded by thousands of kilometers of water, far away from industrial sites, the best air quality on earth is regularly measured in Tasmania. 19 national parks provide a protective habitat for everything that grows, lives and flourishes on the island – including 1,500 endemic plant species.
A LUSH ISLAND
Wild mountains alternate with wide, hilly grassy landscapes interspersed with eucalyptus trees, scrub and pasture. The western portion of the island is almost inaccessible. Very few paths lead to the wild and rugged peaks that often remain covered in snow until early summer. And even in Tasmanian summer, an icy wind will blow into your face.
The weather in Tasmania is a topic all of its own: The feared westerly winds that can batter the island, known by some as the “Roaring Forties”, are the very same winds that are responsible for providing the island with extremely clean air.
Tasmania has four seasons, just like in Europe – and you can experience them all in one day, as some residents will tell you with a wry smile. With an average temperature of 21°C (70°F), December to March are the warmest months. The winter months are the rainiest, when winds from Antarctica also blow over the island. However, the sea functions all year round as a kind of thermostat, meaning that it never gets too hot in summer, but also doesn’t get so extremely cold in winter, either.
MERINO SHEEP LOVE IT
The eastern part of the island, which bears more of a resemblance to a green plateau, is an ideal habitat for animals: Tasmania is the land of marsupials. Wombats, different types of kangaroo and the famous Tasmanian devil all call Tasmania their home. And, of course, sheep as far as the eye can see. Wide-open, fertile pastures offer protein-rich sources of nutrition all year round and unrestricted space to roam in the animals’ natural habitat.
It is precisely here that our merino sheep live in incomparable seclusion. Sheep herds with an average of 10,000 animals see perhaps just two or three people a year – the rest of the time they live independently in the midst of fertile grassy pastures, surrounded only by mighty eucalyptus trees.
It is as if the natural conditions in Tasmania are made to ensure sheep can enjoy a relaxed life. This means the island is inextricably linked to the story of wool, how it was written here and how it continues to be written to this day.
THE PERFECT CONDITIONS FOR FINE WOOL
At the farms where ORTOVOX sources its wool, sheep have a completely natural habitat with rich food sources. That is just one of that reasons why Tasmania provides excellent quality wool:
Merino sheep lead a totally relaxed life on their farms. Their daily task is to eat as much grass as possible, stay fit and healthy and grow their wool.
It is in fact the living conditions in Tasmania that are responsible for the top-quality wool. The merino sheep have almost unlimited space to roam and discover rich, natural sources of food, such as pasture grass, which is especially high in protein. The climate is moderate: The winters are not particularly cold, and extreme heat is just as rare. These factors lead to uniform fiber growth – and here, uniform is synonymous with stable. Happy sheep provide good wool. The same principle as for Bavarian cows, just on the other side of the world.
The merino sheep can trace its origins to North Africa, from where it was brought to Spain in the Middle Ages before making its way (after a rather long stay or “export ban”) via Germany to the rest of the world. The fine-wool sheep also came with European settlers to Australia, including Tasmania, where the majority of the world’s merino sheep now live.
For 180 years a great deal of expertise and energy has been invested in breeding in Tasmania. Over the decades, this has led to the development of sheep breeds that produce wool with very fine, tear-resistant qualities. It is also a means of avoiding the infamous practice of mulesing. Mulesing, the cutting off of skin folds in which dangerous fly larvae can settle, is not practised on any of the farms we select. Instead, the farmers also rely here on breeding. Many modern merino sheep do not grow the skin folds in question at all, which also makes shearing considerably easier.
A COUPLE OF FACTS AND AN ANECDOTE
Our four-legged, white-wool suppliers are pros when it comes to durability and their ability to digest pasture, and they are excellent on their feet. They are very adaptable and are able to deal excellently with the quickly changing weather conditions of their homeland.
If you count all the sheep that call the “ORTOVOX farms” home, you quickly total up to 95,000 merinos – the number of sheep always varies according to the amount of rainfall in the previous year. It must be ensured that there is always enough food for all sheep.
By doing so we are able to process up to 360,000 kilograms of wool per year for our mountainwear. If you’re being very precise, a single sheep can almost single-handedly adjust this average upwards. Sometimes a merino will get lost in the enormous expanse of its pasture. If it is then found (sometimes years later) it must first be freed from its woolly burden. That was the fate that befell poor Chris in Australia, who after years of “life on the wild side” was released from 40 kilograms of wool in one go. This surely secured Chris a place in history as the sheep with the most wool.
Normally merinos provide between two and four kilograms of wool (washed) per year. Up to ten kilograms of merino wool can be obtained from high performers – our farms regularly count around six kilograms of wool per sheep. They must be shorn at least once a year, because wool never stops growing during a sheep’s life (see Chris). Too thick a fleece can have unpleasant consequences, such as heat accumulation, restricted movement and also blindness.
The people of Tasmania have been living from and with their sheep for more than 200 years. They experience how merciless nature can be. So they also understand the importance of sustainable farming, correct sheep farming and responsible stewardship of animals and land.
FOUR MILLION YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT
We take advantage of the optimal conditions in Tasmania, which allow us to utilize the high quality, fine merino wool: The natural conditions there provide an ideal habitat for sheep and their wool. Because over many millions of years, nature has achieved what humans have been trying for only a few hundred years: creating a perfect fiber. Tasmanian merino wool is of a particularly high quality because all the conditions are just right here. The animals have enough fresh grass, plenty of space to roam, and are cared for gently.
ORTOVOX sources its wool from selected farms in Tasmania, which have often been run by families for several generations. But it’s not enough for us to know that our wool comes from Tasmanian merino sheep. That is why ORTOVOX has initiated its own comprehensive wool standard: The ORTOVOX WOOL PROMISE (OWP) The OWP ensures that the highest standards for animal welfare are maintained and managed sustainably.
As such, we maintain continuous dialogue with our farmers and meet them for an annual round table to provide a platform for discussion, transparency and new ideas. This is what makes our relationship with the wool farmers so personal, direct and transparent. For this reason we process and wear their high-quality wool with a clear conscience.
But what exactly do we mean by “high-quality wool”? Where does it come from? Here you will find answers to your questions.
HOW EXACTLY DOES SHEEP WOOL ENTER THE PRODUCTION CYCLE?
In order to obtain the wool and use it for processing, the sheep are shorn twice a year – the resulting wool is called virgin wool. In reality, there is no difference at all between virgin wool and merino wool – the former alludes to the way it is acquired, the latter to the sheep breed and wool type. Virgin wool in a narrow sense also alludes to the fact that the wool comes directly from the living animal, and is therefore new and not from recycled products.
FEATURES OF OUR MERINO WOOL
The natural functional fibers grow all year round without external influences. Merino wool is the product of water, air and grass, and if you were to compost it, it would have biologically degraded in around three months and disappeared completely into the ground. That would not be the case for artificially-produced fibers.
Merino wool is good if it is thin enough to prevent itching, uniform and stable enough that the thin fibers will not tear, and so pure that only the smallest amount of water and soap is needed to clean it.
The reason why our favorite fiber is a functional miracle can be best determined from its “inner values”: The nucleus ensures breathability and moisture absorption, while the top layer is hydrophilic, meaning the skin stays nice and dry. The structure of the inner protein molecules simply destroys bacteria before they can cause odors. The fiber core is helix-shaped and is what makes the wool so elastic. Durability is provided by the cell membrane, which is under constant pressure.
BACK TO THE SHEEP
Merino wool grows in small thick bunches on the sheep’s back. It is fine, soft, in wavelike ripples with a scaled surface and elastic. As with all animal fibers, the wool fiber consists of keratin and proteins. The secret to its positive characteristics lies in the performance ability of the fiber itself.