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Inaugural sheep festival a success

Sheep herder Ivan Laird and University of Wyoming student Emi Ramirez examine samples of wool at the inaugural sheep and wool festival, held Friday-Saturday, June 30-July 1, in Kemmerer. (Photo by Rana Jones, Kemmerer Gazette)

By Rana Jones
Kemmerer Gazette
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

KEMMERER – One of the aims of the inaugural Wyoming Sheep & Wool Festival, held in Kemmerer Friday, June 30, and Saturday, July 1, was to inform the public about the importance of the sheep industry. 

“After our wool growers meeting, a few of us got together and decided we wanted to inform people about the sheep industry and came up with the festival idea,” said sheep festival planning committee member Marie McClaren.

Informative and interactive events included sheep trail tours, discussions about grazing, exhibits and vendors with demonstrations on different types of wool. Other topics included the art of sheep shearing, marketing strategies for wool and lamb products and discussions about environmentally-friendly ways to feed and clothe people at a local level and beyond.

McClaren and most of the other festival volunteers not only organized the festival, but they also herd sheep.

“We are currently trailing our herd from lambing ground to the forest, where they will be in the summer,” said McClaren, who was out counting sheep when the Gazette called for an interview.

Counting sheep every time they are moved to a new allotment as well as throughout the summer is common practice for herders to make sure they don’t lose any sheep. 

McClaren said they have about 1,400 in their herd now. She is a fifth-generation sheep herder on her family’s ranch in Kemmerer.

Next year, the festival will be in Thermopolis, but McClaren felt Kemmerer was a great choice for the inaugural event.

“Southwest Wyoming has a lot of sheep,” she said, “and different ranchers trail through the Kemmerer area to get to their different allotments. There is a large grazing association in Rock Springs, and Kemmerer is a trailing area along the way.” 

In addition to moving sheep camps, committee members organized this year’s festival in conjunction with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association and the Wyoming SHEEP Foundation. They were also in partnership with the University of Wyoming Extension and Wyoming Wool Initiative to provide programming on the science, art and practice of Wyoming sheep and wool production.

McClaren said, “Every summer we have wool growers meetings, so we thought to combine it with the festival. The sheep industry provides a major resource for the state. I think people view sheep herding as a thing of the past. We want people to know we are still here and products that come from sheep are awesome, and people need to know about it.”

The festival was a two-day event with vendors and exhibits at Kemmerer’s Triangle Park as well as the South Lincoln Training and Event Center.

Emi Ramirez, a student at the University of Wyoming and part of the Collegiate Wool Growers Association at the university, explained wool quality while standing next to several different samples. 

Grabbing a pinch of wool, she said, “If you pull apart the fibers, you can see they are holding pretty tight because that is how fine it is.”

She explained the finer the wool the higher the quality and placed the product in a machine that reads coarseness. Ramirez is learning about wool content and is studying animal science with a concentration in meat production.

Samples of lamb were offered with recipes of different seasonings and preparation.

Ivan Laird, a sheep herder from Lander, said, “I like rosemary and garlic salt on my lamb but not much else because I like the natural flavor of it.”

Kemmerer sisters Kalieh and Madieh McCloud hold a lamb at the sheep festival at Triangle Park on Saturday, July 1. (Photo by Rana Jones, Kemmerer Gazette)


Ramirez and Laird were judges at the wool booth. With clipboard in hand, Laird said, “One of the biggest things to look at when judging wool is to consider what the use of it is for.”

Other factors to consider when assessing wool are genetics and the environment, which can affect coloring among other things.

Getting the wool off the sheep is another sect of the industry. 

Third-generation shearer Cliff Hoopes runs his family business, Hoopes Sheep Shearing of Wyoming, which has been operating for 142 years. He was at the sheep festival and said an experienced shearer can do as many as 250 sheep in an eight-hour day. 

As he stood in his shearing trailer, with rock music playing in the background, he explained how the animals pass through a system of chutes to where up to eight shearers wait to harvest their fluffy white wool.

Trista Gordon, director of the South Lincoln Training and Event Center and the Kemmerer Recreation Center, said the event was a great two days.

“The event was a success,” she said. “The dinner sold out, and there were about 50 locals that showed up to dance at the event center.”

Gordon said the festival organizers approached Kemmerer City Council in February, requesting a fee waiver for the building.

“Fee waivers are not guaranteed,” Gordon said, “but the sheep festival was a good fit and brought in people from every corner of the state.”

Gordon said events like this that bring in people from other parts of the region help support the local economy.

“A woman from the Wyoming Wool Growers Association who is in town for their annual board meeting saw the fossils in the event center and asked how she can dig fossils in Kemmerer,” Gordon said. “She is going on a local fossil digging excursion after the meeting. … It’s great to see people come into Kemmerer and see the assets we have here. When people come from out of town to Kemmerer they spend money on fuel, hotels, food and retail and it helps our local economy.”   

Also in attendance at the sheep festival was University of Wyoming College of Agriculture Dean and Professor Barbara Rasco.

“We are proud of this initiative,” Rasco said. “We want to support rural communities and the sheep industry, so we got some funds to launch the Wyoming Wool Initiative.”

Rasco said they aim to get young people engaged in the industry and support innovative ideas for lamb and wool.

“We want to support Wyoming-based small businesses,” she said. “We raise some of the best wool in the world right here in Wyoming. Our wool is a leader in the sustainability of natural fibers, and it is great to see American producers making products out of our wool.”

Rasco was pleased with the support the event and the industry as a whole has seen.

“It is amazing to me to see so much community support for the wool initiative and to see people coming together for the industry,” she said.

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