Five Questions With the Man Behind Our Finest Wool
Raising sheep tends to be a family business. We’re not sure if it’s an innate heritage of stewardship, a need for all hands on deck or if the kids simply grow up to appreciate the beauty of the family land. For Johnny Anderson, not even a shot at the Big Leagues would pull him away from the family farm he runs with his father, Ginger.
Johnny and Ginger run Ben Omar, a 20,000-acre station located in the middle of the South Island of New Zealand. They raise Merino sheep for Ibex 17.5-micron wool.
One look at the place and we understand why Johnny ~ and a busy pack of dogs ~ are sticking with the family business. Check out the video for a glimpse of where your Ibex base layers got their start, and read our interview with Johnny to get to know the man who makes it possible.
Ibex Question (IQ) Ben Omar is 20,000-acres. How many people does it take to operate the entire farm?
Johnny Anderson (JA): There is just myself, my father, and a shepherd full-time. But at certain times of the year we will bring in outside help to muster the sheep off the high country. Sometimes we will have up to six or seven musterers here to get a job done.
IQ: That tight crew makes dogs even more critical to your operation [see video]. How many do you have?
JA: I have nine dogs. They are a mixture of what we call heading dogs and huntaways. The heading dogs are basically Border Collies, which over the years have been bred to suit our conditions and to work sheep silently. The huntaway is a breed unique to New Zealand – originally a cross between a Border Collie and a Labrador. They work sheep with noise, by barking.
IQ: Ben Omar raises Merino for 17.5-micron fleece, some of the finest micron fleece available. How do you sustain such high quality and properly sized fibers?
JA: We breed our Merinos to suit our type of country, which is mountainous and dry. The 17.5-micron is what seems to work best here. In breeding sheep, [we look for the following] factors: constitution, conformation, size, mobility, and wool type – style and length – as well as micron.
IQ: Okay, party trivia time. Can you tell our readers something they may not otherwise know about sheep?
JA: Something that a lot of people don’t know about sheep is that for their body size, a male sheep (ram) has the largest testicles for any land-based mammal in the world!
IQ: Ha! Who ever said Ibex never taught you anything? Johnny, farming has run in your family for years, and we’re appreciative that you’re holding true to the heritage. But we noticed that you’re wearing a Boston Red Sox hat. Anything we should know about your connection to Beantown? Would you scrap it for a shot at the Big Leagues?
JA: The Red Sox connection came about when I travelled through America in 1995 and became a baseball fan. I don’t know why but the Red Sox were the team I started following, and still do. I don’t think I’d scrap it all here for a chance to play for them, and I definitely wouldn’t be good enough! But I would love to go to a game at Fenway Pak one day and maybe see them beat the Yankees!
Throwing down the gauntlet all the way from the Southern hemisphere! Thanks so much, Johnny. We’re grateful to you and you’re your dad for your brilliant stewardship and for your attention to providing a quality life for sheep that results in a quality wool for the rest of us. Thank you.