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Western Montana sheep producers ready to ship wool

Published On: Jun 03 2013 06:43:28 PM MDT
Updated On: Jun 03 2013 06:51:03 PM MDT

Missoula sheep ranch works to enhance market.

MISSOULA COUNTY -

Western Montana wool growers are waiting to find out how much money they'll make on this year's wool crop.

They are part of the Western Montana sheep growers cooperative.

The fleeces are ready for shipment. The wool is gathered on a Missoula ranch. That ranch is working for agricultural stability.

The Stahl family only has a few sheep on the home place. The rest are grazing Mount Jumbo to keep the city's weeds down.

Close to 100 Western Montana co-op wool growers brought their fleeces to the Stahl ranch.

"It's cheaper to ship in bulk," said Eric Stahl, "so everybody gathers up all the wool so they can get the best prices."

From the Stahls, the wool will be transported to Billings. From there, it will probably go to a mill in South Carolina, where it will be specially cleaned.

"To take off the little burrs," explained Eric's stepmother Cheryl Stahl, "Most people think that they're allergic to the wool, what they're allergic to is the burrs that scratch their skin."

The wool is graded into 7 stages, from material used for expensive clothing to a coarser, carpet wool.

The finer the wool, the better the price.

The Stahls would like to sell more wool locally. They want to enhance new markets.

"Like with the wool," said Eric, "we found that spinners buy the wool for a lot higher price."

The Stahls are looking for ways to subsidize disappointing wool and lamb prices. Lamb producers are dwindling in western Montana.

Eric is  fifth generation on the place. His family wants its nearly 100 year old ranch to be as diverse as possible.

"We want to make sure that this land is going to be available for our children and our children's children," said Eric.

Goats have become a part of a larger plan. Goats are sometimes used as nursemaid lambs.

"We don't have to bottle feed them (the lambs) said Cheryl.

Goat milk is rich for people too. The Stahls would like to start a certified dairy. Then, there's eggs and produce.

They are converting a 60-year-old horse barn into a museum. It will honor the Stahl family ancestors.

"Grandma Josephine was one of the first white women in the valley and she had a trading post here," said Cheryl.

The family would like to continue that trading post on their working ranch.