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Wool

Laramie – With the goal of uniting students interested in the sheep industry, the University of Wyoming (UW) Collegiate Wool Growers Association is blazing a trail for organizations rooted in the commercial sheep industry.  

The recently created organization aims to unite students interested in sheep and wool, allow them to network with industry professionals and teach them more about the commercial side of the business, according to the organization’s advisor and UW Extension Sheep Specialist Whit Stewart. 

“This organization is unique in that its focus is on the commercial side of the industry,” says Stewart. “We hope to become more integrated with larger, nationwide industry groups such as American Sheep Industry Association (ASI).” 

Young members

“We started with about 16 members,” according to Stewart. “Our members come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them have experience on the commercial side, while other have experience on the show side. Some of our members are just simply interested in sheep.” 

“We want to train leaders,” says Stewart. “These students are the future operators, board members and leaders of the sheep industry.”

“I would really like to see this organization grow and get more people involved in the commercial sheep industry,” says President Alexis Julian. 

Julian is no stranger to the commercial sheep industry. The master’s student grew up on a 10,000-head operation in southwestern Wyoming. 

Vice President Brady Springer shares similar goals and notes he hopes to see the organization grow. Brady will be the fifth generation to operate on his family’s ranch in Colorado.  

Activities

To get students connected with industry professionals, the club invites industry professionals from across the commercial sheep business to speak to members at meetings. 

Members of the organization have also had the chance to participate in regional and national events, such as the West Central States Wool Growers meeting and the American Sheep Industry convention. 

“We brought our members to the West Central States Wool Growers meeting,” Stewart says. “They had the chance to network and also moderate sessions, tour feedlots and visit packing plants.”  

Stewart noted students were also able to attend the American Sheep Industry Convention in New Orleans, La. The event featured speakers and representatives from American Lamb Board, American Goat Federation, ASI Women, Make It With Wool, National Lamb Feeders Association, National Livestock Producers Association, National Sheep Improvement Program, National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, Sheep Heritage Foundation, Sheep Venture Company and Western Range Association.

“Students will have the chance to assist at the Laramie wool pool,” says Stewart. “In the wool pool, students assist in packing and grading wool.”

The organization has also allowed members the opportunity to participate in competitively. 

“The University hasn’t had a wool judging team in a long time,” Stewart says. “The team competed at the National Western Stock Show this year, and we hope to compete even more in the future.”

Industry needs

“A lot of people just don’t understand the sheep industry,” Springer noted. “Even others in agriculture, such as cattle producers, don’t understand the things that go on in commercial sheep operations.”

Springer notes his favorite part of being involved with the organization is simply being surrounded by people who understand the ins and outs of the commercial sheep industry. 

“The industry has to elevate engagement as a whole,” says Stewart. “Young people have to want to get involved, and the industry needs them.”

Stewart comments despite widespread participation in showing sheep, there are still very few avenues for students who are interested in the commercial sheep industry to get involved, learn and network. 

“My favorite part of this organization is being able to teach people about our industry,” says Julian. “Seeing new people come into the sheep industry and getting to share my knowledge with them is great.”

Springer pointed out, despite the healthy nature of lamb, it often falls in the shadow of more popular products such as chicken and beef. 

Springer jokes, “At the end of the day, we really just need people to eat more lamb and wear more wool.” 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Riverton – “The wool check will be good this year, and we don’t want to miss out on it,” said University of Wyoming Extension Sheep Specialist Whit Stewart. 

Stewart addressed producers from in and around Riverton at the annual Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days, held in early February. He stressed the importance of selecting quality replacements and rams, as well as producing clean wool. 

Quality determinants 

Stewart pointed out there are many determinants in wool quality but specifically discussed micron, yield and vegetable matter. 

Stewart defined micron as the diameter of the fleece fiber. Wool with a smaller fiber diameter will grade as finer, and larger diameters are considered coarser. 

While micron is a quality indicator, he said producers should be paying attention to and using it as a determining factor in their herds, they should not sacrifice yield for micron. 

He also discussed the important role vegetable matter plays in determining the quality and ultimately pricing of a fleece. 

“We have a lot of control over vegetable matter, and it’s something we can control with how we feed,” Stewart explained. “If we have poly twine or other foreign material in the wool, it can lead to the complete loss of wool at the first-stage processing level.” 

Stewart explained producers want to have vegetable matter as low as possible, but the typical range is between one and 1.5 percent. He noted anything above two percent vegetable matter can result in significant price discounts.

“Vegetable matter is what will dock us the most at the end of the day,” said Stewart. “This is the most overlooked quality of wool we can actually control.”

Grading wool

Stewart distributed a Montana Extension handout explaining the three main grading systems used in the wool industry, the American or blood system, the English or spinning count system and the micron system. Each of these three systems measures the average fiber diameter and can be used interchangeably. 

In the American system of grading, wool grade is defined as the percentage of merino blood carried by the sheep that would typically produce a particular fineness of wool. The terms used are fine, low, common and braid. 

Stewart pointed out these terms are not as precise as other systems. Due to its ambiguity, the American or blood system has become nearly obsolete. 

The English system of wool grading has much narrower ranges of diameter and provides a numerical designation for fineness. The system measures the spin count and is based on the number of hanks that can be spun from one pound of clean wool. 

The micron system came about as the emphasis on precisely measured diameter became more popular. The unit of measure is the micron, which is one-millionth of a meter or 1/25,000th of an inch.

Choosing sheep

“I’m not telling anyone what sort of sheep to run or what decisions they should make,” Stewart said, “but I caution producers to pay attention to length and total fleece weights in additon to micron.”

Stewart explained he teaches his wool judging students to measure their middle finger and use it as a tool to measure the staple length of wool on the grading rail. 

“We really don’t want anything under three inches,” he explained. “We want to select for overall uniformity and identify outliers in the flock throughout the year.”

Stewart noted the simplicity of utilizing wool labs to ensure we are staying within a specified micron range. 

Producers should cut a side sample with scissors all the way down to the base layer of the wool and put it in a bag with identification to send to a wool lab. This is especially important in testing wool on replacement rams older than one year, as they will make up the greatest contribution to the flock. 

Stewart also noted it’s important not to sample the shearling fleece, which comes from sheep less than one year of age, as the shearling fleece is significantly finer and doesn’t truly represent what that ram will produce throughout his lifetime.

“At three dollars per side sample, it’s very hard to argue against utilizing wool labs,” Stewart said. “When we get the results back, they help us know what the wool on replacement animals is.”

“As technology has progressed, we can measure the micron of a fleece more accurately than ever before,” said Stewart. “But we can’t fall into the trap of using micron as the only determinant in how we select sheep.” 

Stewart stressed the importance of establishing wool and broader selection criterion by the individual operator based on long-term, economically relevant data. 

He said producers should “determine where they are with their wool and where they want to be, and then stay there.”

Wool economics 

“Yield is an extremely important factor in wool production,” said Stewart. “The quickest way to increase revenue is to increase yield.” 

Stewart challenged ranchers to pencil out each decision they make to determine whether or not it’s profitable. 

He used the example that, in the end, a 19 micron as opposed to a 21-micron wool may only bring marginal returns. While it’s always appealing to chase finer wool production, there is a threshold that can result in lighter fleeces with smaller staple lengths and, in some cases, tradeoffs in lighter lambs being produced. 

In our region, a heavy shearing 20 to 25 micron ewe will always be marketable, he said.

Marketing

He explained the USDA National Wool Review produces prices based on the Eastern market or Australian indicator. 

“This information is produced for the public and should be checked weekly or at the least before marketing,” said Stewart. “Knowing this information gives us a ballpark of what we might expect for our wool.” 

“The sheep industry has had some ups and downs through the years, but wool is good, lamb is decent, and there are real positive indicators in the industry right now,” said Stewart.

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – On Dec. 3, the Wyoming Wool Growers Association hosted the 2018 Make It With Wool Fashion Show. 

Within the state of Wyoming, nine of 10 total districts are active in Make It With Wool, and interest and involvement in the program continues to increase year-over-year. 

This year, Carol Macy of Pine Bluffs took over as director of the Wyoming program, as Lynda Johnson, former program director, has taken over as direction of the National Make It With Wool program. 

“I have been in the wool industry since I was a child,” said Macy. “My daughter went through Make It With Wool, and we have both competed numerous times. Now, it’s time to give back.”

She continued, “My competition years have gone by the wayside, and I want to give back. This is how I’m going to continue to support the program.”

Macy said the program will continue to promote the wool industry, aiming at expanding information about the contest throughout the state. 

“I don’t think people realize the sheep running around in the fields end up making these beautiful garments,” Macy explained. “The concept is teaching young ladies that these garments used to be the fleece on ewes.” 

In the contest, participants construct garments that must be 60 percent wool. Every piece of fabric that goes into each garment is tested by Yocom-McColl to ensure the integrity of each garment.

“While garments must be at least 60 percent wool, we see many of our contestants using 100 percent wool,” Macy said. 

At the state level, contestants compete as junior, seniors and adults. A pre-teen contest is also held at the district level.

“We also have a made-for-others division, afghan, quilt and wearable accessory divisions at the district level,” she continues.

“Wyoming has the largest state contest in the nation,” Johnson added. “In 2016, we had 500 contestants across the country. Last year, Wyoming had 60 contestants.”

Winners from the state contest advance to the national event. 

“Adult winners from the state contest submit a video to the national committee, where they are judged. The national winner will attend the American Sheep Industry Association annual meeting,” Macy explained.

Johnson looks forward to taking over the Make It With Wool program on the national level.

“This is the first year Make It With Wool has been held in New Orleans, La.,” she explained. “There will be a lot of cultural experiences our contestants will be able to enjoy, and I’m looking forward to hosting my first national contest.”

“Make It With Wool helps to promote wool,” Johnson commented. “We also promote lamb with our ‘Eat Lamb. Wear Wool.’ slogan.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..