CASPER — Wyoming is the wine country of wool. At least, that’s how the University of Wyoming Extension sheep specialist, Whit Stewart, describes it. 

And with the state ranking No. 1 in wool production in the 2017 Census of Agriculture — with 2,796,792 pounds shorn — it kind of is, in a way. 

With the goal of continuing to expand the sheep industry in the state and to further its current value, the University of Wyoming recently announced the launch of the Wyoming Wool Initiative at the annual Wyoming Wool Growers Association conference this month. 

“It’s celebrating the agricultural products that are grown on our ranches, from our soil and then having more of that go back into the state economy. I think it’s a lofty goal, but it’s a very worthy goal, which is driving this whole effort,” Stewart said. “The mission of the Wyoming Wool Initiative is to really provide processing and innovative solutions for producers to get more for their wool in the state (and) to provide more robust training opportunities for students that want to work in the sheep and wool industry.” 

The initiative is a nonprofit effort supported by UW’s College of Agriculture, other donations and partners. It will begin at the start of the 2022-2023 school year and will factor in two additional projects. 

The first is the Wyoming Blanket Project, originally launched in January 2021. 

In partnership with Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, using wool from Wyoming, student designs are turned into throw blankets which are then sold to the community. All profits made from the funds are then reinvested back into the initiative. 

In April 2021, the project developed a limited edition design over a 12-week process. The 300 blankets sold out within three months, Stewart said. 

“It’s all reinvested back in the state,” he added. “Whether it be into research, different training opportunities, or in last year’s case, bringing some processing and manufacturing equipment back to our state for us to do feasibility studies to grow that part of the industry.” 

Additionally, as another tie to the Wyoming Wool Initiative, a Lamb-a-Year program will also be introduced. 

Producers around the state are invited to donate a minimum of five lambs to the program. The animals are then taken to a lamb feeding facility in Colorado where students can monitor their performance, then collect information on the meat to provide feedback to ranchers. 

“We use those lambs to teach students, but also we give really valuable feedback to ranchers.” Stewart said. “Because a lot of time, once [the lambs] leave their ranch, we really don’t know much about how they perform and how the product looks. So this kind of follows them throughout the process… all the while supporting that private public partnership of getting students out into the land feeding industry and being more involved with that process.” 

Producers interested in contributing to the Lamb-a-Year program can visit bit.ly/uwyolamb-a-year-2022 for more information. 

“It’s really about supporting the next generation that’s gonna work in the sheep industry,” Stewart added. “Like when we have opportunities to take some of these proceeds and take students out into the field… problem solving that benefits the rancher and enhances their education. I mean, that’s a beautiful thing and we just need to do more of it in higher education, I think.”

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