Trailing of the Sheep festival in Wood River Valley, Idaho: For some, it’s on the bucket-list, but for me—it’s just part of FoodWISE thinking and living. Attending the festival, I was able to do some research on the wool industry—while enjoying the sagebrush-covered rangelands, with their dramatic mountain-scapes.
The festival is all-things-sheep, including a celebration of the fine-wool breeds of sheep.
But it’s only been recently that the wool has been valued close to the actual cost of production. Producers might have to let the shearers-take-all, and then the shearers need to find a market for the wool—some of it may end up in landfills. Worse, however, are sheep-rearing operations in some northeastern states. There I’ve seen hundreds of hides piling up before the owner needed to (pay to) take them to a landfill.
But in this Valley, at least, artisan wool weaving and knitting enterprises are trying to provide a market for what Pendelton Woolen Mills doesn’t pick up. My coarser dairy-breed wool wouldn’t make the cut at Pendleton.
The industry, however, has little new/young growers, shearers, processors—that’s a blow for longevity and sustainability.
The festival hopes to increase public awareness around sheep-ranging and wool production. It celebrates (and features) the annual movement of the sheep from southern Idaho through the Valley from their mountain summer grazing. It offers public education from lamb-grilling to felting—and makes a strong case for ecologically-based range management. That’s a lot to think of, next time you wear a woolen sweater or comfy, woolen socks.