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UW utilizes blockchain

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The University of Wyoming’s (UW) College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources blanket project launched in 2021 with noted success. Nearly 300 Wyoming-made wool throws were purchased by patrons in 29 U.S. states, the United Kingdom and Norway. In 2022, the Wyoming Wool Initiative was established and efforts continue with the 2022 limited-edition wool throw nicknamed “Wyoming Gold.” 

Making a product from start to finish in Wyoming is a proud accomplishment, but this year UW is taking it a step further by using blockchain technology to document each stage of production – shearing, first-stage processing, dyeing, spinning and knitting. 

SheepChain 

In 2021, UW established SheepChain, a blockchain technology, to track and store reliable, transparent data from all stages in the production process. 

Each year, wool clippings from UW’s growing heritage flock of 300 Rambouillet ewes provides raw material for the blanket project. 

“SheepChain came about in 2021 with the first blanket project,” shares UW Wool Initiative Project Coordinator Lindsay Conley-Stewart. “SheepChain was a way to share traceability with consumers and producers – it was a way to showcase the process from beginning to end. It becomes really valuable when ‘Made in America’ is starting to dwindle, and blockchain is value added to the blankets when there is that traceability component.” 

Process

Shearing is done in February by a group of experienced professionals, shares Conley-Stewart.

“This year, 307 blankets were made and from now on, 307 will be the limited-edition wool throw number,” she says.  

Once the fleece comes off of the sheep, usually ranging in eight to 12 pounds, the wool is taken back to the wool handling room. An associated barcode is given to match the ewe’s electronic identification number and is later scanned once the wool is weighed and sorted. 

All of the wool is put into a wool press and is baled for transportation to the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, shares SheepChain’s webpage. 

The first-stage process consists of three different stages: scouring, carding and combing. The wool begins as a raw wool upon arrival and ends as a long sliver of fibers called “top” which gets spun into yarn. 

During the first stage, the wool is cleaned with water and biodegradable detergent. This process is called scouring. Afterwards, carding begins to untangle and align all of the wool fibers in the same direction. 

The final stage is combing, which helps remove vegetable matter and short fibers. The next steps include dyeing and spinning.  

In the dyeing stage, two artisan dyeing processes are used. Large quantities of wool are dyed in the combed top form and small qualities of wool are dyed in the yarn form. Both of the processes are typically done by hand – leaving variety in the color blanket fibers in each blanket. 

The next stage is spinning. During this process, machines spin the combed tops into yarn. This is done on a large spinning frame where 112 separate spindles can be spun at once. After this process is complete, knitting begins. 

In the last stage, 1,000 needles bring the correct color of wool yarn into place and knit the blanket together. The whole knitting process takes roughly two hours. 

Conley-Stewart shares Mountain Meadow Wool Mill knits roughly five blankets a day. After the blankets come off of the knitting machine, they are washed and dried to shrink to the finished size of 55”x70”.

Upon completion, Range Leather of Laramie sews on an assigned leather patch and the blanket is shipped back to Laramie. 

Purchasing a blanket 

The initiative recognizes the value and potential of the raw wool produced in the state of Wyoming and its sheep producers, concludes Conley-Stewart. 

“We have raw material in the state not always being utilized and there is so much value that can be added to our producers’ wool clip if there is processing and manufacturing available within the state,” she mentions. “We feel this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many different avenues we can go with processing and manufacturing wool in the state.”

“We are really grateful and believe in our sheep producers in the wool industry, and we’re working really hard to expand and revitalize the wool industry in Wyoming,” she concludes. 

Blankets can be ordered online at bit.ly/wy-blanket-project-2022.  

To learn more, visit bit.ly/wy-wool-initiative or sheepchain.org or e-mail woolinitiative@uwyo.edu. 

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net. 

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