The Montana Wool Company and Montana Sheep Company fall under the same ownership, the Roeder Family which ranch East of Fairfield. For the last five years, Tracie Roeder has been having wool shorn from her Targhee sheep to be made into blankets and breeding butcher lambs for the market as value-added products.
They were developed by the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in 1939 in Dubois, Idaho, and released for the Intermountain West. They are specifically developed for Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.”
This breed does produce fine, high-quality wool like Merino. With superior genetics, the Roeder lambs are able to make next-to-skin wool products and create a fine cut of lamb.
We met with Tracie on their family farm near Greenfield. A bitter Montana winter day, where we were greeted with gray skies, under a foot of blowing snow, and that bone-chilling westerly wind. She rounded up her flock in a corral, where we examined a pen full of pregnant ewes approaching a mid-April due date.
At a time when the weather in Montana sits below freezing for practically weeks, it’s easy to question why the flock is shorn, but in the long run, it protects the pregnant mothers and keeps them comfortable, so shearing doesn’t pose discomfort ahead of lambing season.
Tracie was alone on that cold winter Friday, and it doesn’t represent the product of their brand.
“It’s 100% a family operation. I just happened to be the one home today. Both my husband and son are professional sheep shearers. Brent is also the state extension specialist. Ben is shearing sheep professionally, and our daughter, Caroline, is a senior down at MSU in Ag Economics.”
The family of sheep producers has allotted a quality product. Throughout raising a flock of sheep, the Roeders prioritized quality genetics in their sheep. Producing 20-21.5 micron wool with a high comfort factor makes their Targhee wool next to the skin comfortable.
With wool as a commodity, Tracie believes that selling only wool held back business. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the company’s weaknesses, forcing them to adapt.
“We do three things here. We sell genetics, we raise rams, and we raise 40 to 50 rams a year for fellow producers We raise replacement yearling ewes, and then we have our wool made into blankets and then we sell lamb through Central Avenue Meats. That has really carried us through the value-added portion of it. But for producers that are just selling a commodity, it’s been really tough.”
Tough times forced the company’s hand at having to find other ways to generate revenue. Being in the value-added product business to start, the Montana Wool Company sends its wool to Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Wyoming to be spun into yarn and knit into blankets. Some yarn is sent on to New York where a manufacturer produces a high-quality Targhee woven wool blanket. Not only is selling blankets a value-added product, but it also sells its sheep flock’s genetics and creating a partnership selling lamb meat at Central Avenue Meats in downtown Great Falls. These shepherds are finding ways to bring back quality American-made products.
“This is a huge opportunity to have a reset about American values and what we make and what we do and what we consider important. We can have multinational corporations make our products, and we can be a captive audience, or we can pull ourselves up from our bootstraps and start making our own products again.”
According to the American Sheep Industry Association, the price per pound on a clean weight basis for wool is down 2.5% from last year, specifically for the product the Montana Wool Company produces. This is a foreshadowing of another year as regional wool warehouses are full.
Montana Sheep Company is working diligently to bring back American ingenuity.
“The take-home message is its time. We’re either going to do this or we are going to be, you know, captive to outside forces controlling our lives and our economy.”
This is a continuation of a constant fight between foreign entities that hold top spots in the American marketplace. Many Montana state and federal lawmakers are working diligently to preserve the Montana way of life. Tracie didn’t elaborate on hot-button issues, but she wants to push for the next generation to get involved in Montana’s oldest industry.
“For young people out there. If you have not been involved with agriculture and you really would like to do something, get out of the office, build America, and partner with a producer that has the knowledge, you might be the one that makes the product.”
The Montana Wool Company is hoping to inspire other producers to break the mold of traditional agriculture and find other ways to create revenue. The way of the future is scary for most, but many producers have found that designing a value-added product plan can save the small family farm.
Montana Wool Company products can be found at www.mtwool.com. They can also be contacted on Facebook. Central Avenue Meats is located at 422 Central Avenue in downtown Great Falls.