At the annual Wyoming Wool Growers Association conference this month, University of Wyoming Extension sheep specialist Whit Stewart announced the launch of the Wyoming Wool Initiative.
The initiative leads innovative research and programming that promotes and expands Wyoming’s sheep industry. Its mission is to support producers, both directly and indirectly, in adding value to their wool, says Lindsay Conley-Stewart, manager and project coordinator.
The Wyoming Wool Initiative is a nonprofit supported by the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, donations, Mountain Meadow Wool and other partners.
Current programs include the Wyoming Blanket Project and inaugural Lamb-a-Year program. Both endeavors connect UW students with sheep industry professionals.
It all started with a question, explains Stewart, head of UW’s Sheep Program: “If we’re producing this high-quality product in a landscape that’s really well-suited for it, shouldn’t we be capturing some of that value at the state level?”
In January 2021, his team launched the Wyoming Blanket Project, working with Mountain Meadow Mill in Buffalo to produce blankets using wool from the university farm in Laramie.
The project, now part of the Wyoming Wool Initiative, will feature new blanket designs each year.
A limited number of the 2022 blankets will be available for pre-sale at Cheyenne Frontier Days, starting Saturday, July 23.
Currently, funds from blanket sales and other donations are used to support student internships and graduate assistantships, travel for wool judging competitions, and research and development for wool processing and manufacturing. As the initiative grows, the team will develop programming for producers throughout the state.
Its Lamb-a-Year program connects producers with UW students interested in the sheep industry. Participating producers will donate a minimum of five lambs, which will be transported and finished at Double J Lamb Feeders in Ault, Colorado, in the fall. As part of the inaugural Lamb-a-Year course, UW students will be involved in the finishing and harvesting phase of lamb production.
Students enrolled in the class will visit Double J Lamb Feeders multiple times to measure animal performance and learn about the lamb feeding industry. They will also collect carcass data at a lamb processing plant in Denver. This data will be shared with the producers who donated lambs to the project.
While “Steer-a-Year” programs are common across the U.S., the Lamb-a-Year project is one of the first of its kind, comments project manager Conley-Stewart.
Going forward, she hopes the Wyoming Wool Initiative will “open doors for younger generations to get into the industry, support entrepreneurs making products with wool, and help producers get more value from the wool that they grow.”
Ultimately, the goal is to build on the unique heritage of Wyoming’s wool industry to support its future, she says.
To learn more about the Wyoming Wool Initiative, please visit bit.ly/wy-wool-initiative or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For producers interested in contributing to the Lamb-a-Year program, please visit bit.ly/uwyo-lamb-a-year-2022.