What is a Merino?
Merino a breed of sheep, thought to be the oldest breed of sheep in the WORLD. Famous for its fine, soft wool and its ability to thrive in extreme climates, like the high country of New Zealand, the outback of Australia, the plains of South Africa or the mountainous terrain of South America. .
Merino products are world-renowned for natural luxury, quality and performance. You can spot a merino sheep by their wrinkly skins and fleeces, pink noses, and the rams (male sheep) often – but not always – have big curly horns.
What about other sheep?
Merinos make up less than 10% of all the sheep in New Zealand with the rest of the sheep producing strong wool. Strong wool producing sheep can be a variety of breeds, some of the common ones include Romney, Suffolk, Texel, and composites.
Strong wool has the same amazing properties; it doesn’t smell, it biodegrades, it is fire retardant, but due to the coarser nature of the fibre, it is scratchier against the skin, and is typically used for carpets, rugs and upholstery.
How are ZQ animals treated?
Our growers rely on their animals for their livelihood, so it’s vital they provide and care for their livestock in the best way they can. Healthy, happy sheep make the best fibre after all! ZQ sheep are grazed in some of the world’s most beautiful and remote grassland areas and are free to roam in extensive conditions throughout the year.
The ZQ programme requires growers to provide these five basic freedom requirements;
Freedom from thirst or hunger
Freedom from pain or distress
Freedom from injury or disease
Freedom from discomfort or inadequate shelter
Freedom to display normal patterns of behaviour
Are ZQ sheep mulesed?
Nope. Mulesing is not permitted on properties that supply ZQ wool. Growers have adopted integrated strategies to manage the risk of flystrike, without mulesing.
ZQ Natural Fibre has led the world, being the first accredited wool fibre that guarantees mulesing does not occur.
Does mulesing still occur on farms?
We're happy to report New Zealand officially banned the practice of mulesing on the 1st October 2018.
For more information, please contact the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
There are other countries around the world that still practise mulesing, so it pays to check where your wool is coming from. Luckily, with ZQ, you can be assured no mulesing occurs - even from countries that still condone the practice.
Are sheep harmed in the process of harvesting wool?
ZQ Natural Fibre is harvested through a process called shearing. It's like getting a 'number 4' haircut!
Shearers are highly skilled people and pride themselves on careful handling of the sheep. They leave a good covering of wool on the sheep, to keep them warm. Machine shears are the most popular tool for shearing, as they are fast and efficient, for minimal stress on the animal. Prior to shearing commencing, ZQ growers work with their shearing contractors and team to ensure that appropriate planning and preparation has taken place to minimise stress.
Sheep have been bred for thousands of years to grow wool, therefore shearing is not just about harvesting wool - it's also about keeping the animals comfortable, relieving them from having to endure the hot summer months with a heavy fleece.
All ZQ properties are third party audited, including random audits during the shearing season.
When does shearing happen?
Timing of shearing must be appropriate for the breed of sheep and their environment, including weather conditions.
Most Merino growers in New Zealand shear once a year and this main shear will normally take place sometime between August and November, to ensure the sheep still have their woolly coats for the winter months.
Depending on the farm, strong wool growers may shear once or twice a year (or in some situations, every 8 months).
How long do sheep live for?
Most Merino sheep will live between 6-8 years in the high country before their quality of life starts to diminish. As the sheep age, their health is closely monitored and typically by 7-8 years they will be either sold to other farms in lower, easier farmland or sold to the meat industry to be processed for consumption. It is essential that, even in this instance, the sheep are treated humanely. Therefore, we have strict transport and handling protocols. This is audited by an independent, 3rd party auditor.
What is the environment like where the sheep live?
That depends on which country the sheep live in. Most of ZQ Natural Fibre comes from New Zealand. Our merino sheep thrive in the high-country conditions of the mountainous South Island. This is because it’s drier in the high lands, merino’s like it dry underfoot. They’re also naturally foraging feeders and enjoy a tussock environment. Sheep producing a coarser fibre do well on lower lands and can be found all over the country.
What kind of standards are there for the land?
Our growers are required to have a Land Environmental Plan, which helps them establish ways they can sustain their individual property, to protect it for today and generations to come. Many growers have their own environmental projects and are passionate about the natural landscape that they call home.
Who are the people behind ZQ?
ZQ Natural Fibre is available exclusively through The New Zealand Merino Company and our selected supply chain partners. You won’t find ZQ on the auction market. ZQ started in 2007, in Christchurch, NZ and is sourced through direct supply contracts, priced to ensure the economic stability of our growers, supply chain partners and retail brands.
What is ZQ’s social responsibility?
Sustainable farming is closely linked with the social and economic welfare of farmers, farming families, farm workers and their local communities. ZQ promotes safe and healthy workplaces, fair wages, and our growers have access to income stability through our forward contract model. For more about what we ask of our partners, take a gander at our supply chain code of conduct.
How do you select ZQ growers?
Our growers are audited on a regular basis and adhere to the ZQ Grower Standard. When a new grower comes on board, an initial audit is carried out to assess their farming systems. We then work with the grower to help identify improvements their farm may need to carry out, within certain timeframes, before they qualify as ZQ material, and therefore have access to branded contracts.
Is ZQ an NGO?
ZQ is a wool certification, developed and owned by The New Zealand Merino Company Ltd. which is a commercial company. ZQ is recognised by ISO/IEC 17065:2012 and all auditing is done by third party services.
How can I buy ZQ wool?
If it’s ZQ Natural Fibre you’re after, you’ve come to the right place! We help set long-term, forward contracts for 1-year supply, through to 10 years, delivering beautifully scoured ZQ wool tops. If you’re feeling the connection, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us today!
I want to start a business. Where can I buy ZQ fabrics or yarns for making stuff?
We work with a lot of ZQ supply chain partners that also like making stuff – from fabrics to yarns, to clothing to carpets. Drop us a line and share a bit about yourself, your business and vision. We can help hook you up with the best partners in the business.
What makes ZQ fibre such high-quality?
Great question. It really comes down to the people and animals that create it. Our growers comply with the ZQ Grower Standard, where standards are upheld with pride. The standards demand the best from our growers in animal welfare (think healthy, well fed sheep!), and environmental practise, resulting in strong, white, long staple fibre that’s fit for the market it’s grown for. Each fleece is hand selected. Every single one. Which means a highly skilled ‘classer’ or wizard of wool, inspects the fibre’s quality and assesses whether it meets the contract specification or not. That way you know you’re only getting the wool quality you ask for, and no floor sweepings.
How do you harvest your wool?
Wool is collected by shearing a sheep. It’s like a number four haircut but for sheep. This is usually carried out once a year, in early springtime, to ensure they still have their woolly coats for the cold winter months. Shearers are highly skilled and pride themselves on careful handling of the sheep. Shearing can be done by machine clippers or blade shears. Machine shears are the most popular because of their speed and efficiency. Some ZQ properties still blade shear, which is good for leaving extra wool cover if the farm is in a colder climate.
After hundreds of years of breeding and producing wool, shearing sheep is also about keeping the animals comfortable, relieving them from having to endure the hot summer months with a heavy fleece.
Isn't wool all scratchy and prickly?
Maybe the stuff your grandma used to knit (sorry, nan!). There are different types of thicknesses for wool, measured in ‘micron’. Merino wool is very fine and soft, starting at around 12 micron and getting up to 24 micron. That prickly jumper was probably made from coarser microns such as 27 and above, normally reserved for home textiles and carpets. To put things into perspective, human hair is around 60 micron.
Why is ZQ wool this miracle fibre everyone is talking about?
We’re so glad you asked! ZQ Natural Fibre is naturally technical; it moves moisture away from the skin, adapts to warm or cool you according to the conditions, protects you from the sun, is flame resistant, and resists the build-up of odour. Oh, and it’s super soft. Check out the ZQ performance page where we geek out about wool even more.
Who does the auditing for ZQ?
ZQ farm are audited on a regular basis by an third party Certified Accreditation Body (CAB). One partner is AsureQuality who specialise in a high level of integrity and consistency auditing approximately 15,000 sheep, beef and dairy farms each year in New Zealand and Australia.
How often are growers audited?
Normally every three years if things are going well. Our audits help identify improvements the farm may need to carry out, within certain timeframes, and if changes need to be made, audits will be stepped up to ensure these changes are put in place for good.
Do you audit other brands in the supply chain too?
ZQ is an on-farm standard and certifies growers to produce and grow wool in an ethical, sustainable practise. The ZQ Grower Standard does not extend to certification beyond the farm gate, though we work with many long-term partners within the supply chain, who align with ZQ values and adhere to our Rules of Engagement agreement.
Is ZQ just New Zealand wool?
Though ZQ started in the land of the long white cloud (that’s New Zealand by the way) the ZQ programme is definitely a way of life, of farming ethically, and it’s not just kiwi farmers that believe in producing wool in a more sustainable way. ZQ wool is sourced from certified growers mostly from New Zealand, as well as Australia, Argentina and South Africa. All to the same ZQ Grower Standard, just slightly different landscapes (and lingo).
Where are the ZQ growers based?
ZQ Natural Fibre is sourced from certified growers mostly from New Zealand and you can check out our grower map for specific locations in the On Farm page. ZQ certified wool is also sourced from Australia, Argentina and South Africa.
How do I know my garment is actually ZQ Natural Fibre?
Good question and we like your drive for authenticity! We work with ZQ partners throughout the supply chain, with back to back contracts ensuring that the ZQ Natural Fibre the scour sold will make x amount of yarn, which will make x amount of fabric, and so on. We can trace back from the garment, right through to the growers the fibre came from. We pride ourselves on the relationships we have our partners, some which span decades, and only partner with those that align with our values and share a similar vision for authenticity and sustainability.
What happens after the wool leaves the farm?
Back in the day, the farmer would wave goodbye to their wool as the bales went out the door, never to be seen again. With ZQ, our growers know where their wool goes, and they’re proud to wear and use the products! Being able to produce wool for a specific purpose adds a greater sense of achievement. All ZQ bales are sent from the grower to our wool store, where they are logged, tested and sampled, to ensure quality and spec, before being sent on their merry way to the next stage of the supply chain.
GOT A BURNING QUESTION?
The ZQ Grower Standard continues to push boundaries and challenge existing farm practice.
We review and update the ZQ Grower Standard regularly, incorporating learnings from our on-farm research and development work.
It's a continual process and the work is never done!
If you've got a question that wasn't answered in our FAQs above, odds are you're not the only one. Send us a message using the form on the right and we will get back to you as soon as we can.