Merino wethers with a high (fleece plus, Fl+) or low (fleece minus, Fl') potential for wool growth were offered a restricted intake of either oat grain or lucerne chaff for 8 weeks followed by ad libitum lucerne chaff for 4 weeks. The Fl' sheep that were fed oats then lucerne had a lower (P < 0.05) intake during the first 2 weeks of ad libitum feeding than all other groups. Staple strength of Fl+ sheep (37.5 ± 2.2 N/ktex) was less (P < 0.05) than that of Fl' sheep (44.5 ± 2.4 N/ktex), and dietary treatment did not significantly affect staple strength. Wool growth rate was unaffected by dietary treatment, but was greater (P < 0.001) for Fl+ (6.4 ± 0.2 Âµg/mm2.day) than for Fl' (4.0 ± 0.2 Âµg/mm2.day) sheep. Along-fibre variation in diameter was greater (P < 0.001) in Fl+ (15.6 ± 0.5%) than in Fl' (9.9 ± 0.5%) sheep. Between-fibre variation in diameter was greater (P < 0.001) in Fl+ (16.5 ± 0.5%) than in Fl' (13.2 ± 0.5%) sheep, and between-fibre variation in diameter was affected (P < 0.05) by dietary treatment in Fl+ sheep. Staple strength was significantly correlated (P < 0.05) with along-fibre variation in diameter (r = '0.48), and stepwise regression analysis indicated that along-fibre variation in diameter, wool growth rate during early restricted feeding, and minimum fibre diameter explained 63% of the variance in staple strength. The results are discussed in relation to the lower staple strength of Fl+ sheep.