The Montana Wool Company and Montana Sheep Company fall under the same ownership, the Roeder Family which ranch south of Fairfield. For the last five years, Tracie Roeder has been sheering wool from her Targhee sheep and breeding butcher lambs for the market.
“They were developed by the US Sheep Experiment Station in 1939 and do voice and Idaho and release for the Intermountain West. They are specifically developed for Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.”
This breed doesn’t produce the finest quality wool like the Merino, but with high-quality genetics, the Roeder lambs are able to make wearable quality 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 coral outside, 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 sheering 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. Brant is also the state extension specialist. Ben is shearing sheep professionally, and our daughter Caroline is a senior down at MSU and AG Economics.”
The family of sheep producers has allotted a quality product. Throughout raising a flock of sheep, the Roeder's have prioritized quality genetics in their sheep. Producing 20-21.5-micron wool that makes their Targhee a quality to sit on the skin.
With wool as a commodity, Tracie believes that selling only the 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 use, 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 really been 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 New York where a manufacturer produces a high-quality Targhee Wool blanket. Not only is selling blankets a value-added product, but it also sells its sheep flocks 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 down year as regional Wooler houses are full.
Montana Sheep Company is working diligently to bring back American ingenuity.
“The take-home message is it's 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, help to build America, and have a job 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.
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