Routt County Local sheep rancher Greg Brown is shearing his animals this week, and he invites the public to come and watch the process firsthand.
"We want to try to educate people on things related to sheep and wool," Brown said.
Brown estimated that 35 people are in the sheep-ranching business in Routt County with about 2,000 sheep year-round.
In the summer, the population of sheep here explodes to approximately 80,000 when ranchers from all around move their sheep to eat the high-country grass.
"You can't beat the summer range here," Brown said.
In the winter, most of the sheep ranchers keep their animals in low-land desert range areas of the West where they feed on high protein shrubs, he said.
Like most agricultural businesses in the valley, making a living sheep ranching has become a challenge.
"Most everyone that raises sheep here have a second job," local sheep rancher Charnel Wille said. She explained that ranchers now compete with wool growers from overseas, which is a factor that has forced wool to drop to a low price of 38 cents a pound.
That, coupled with the rising land values, has forced many sheep ranchers to sell and move on.
Brown and Wille are a few of a handful of sheep ranchers who grow wool for Routt County Woolens. Brown also is the co-manager of the company.
Routt County Woolens is a local blanket company that receives high-quality wool for a premium price from local ranchers, creating a good local market for wool, said Nancy Mucklow, co-manager of the company.
By offering a price for wool that's well above market value, Routt County Woolens tries to give local sheep ranchers an incentive to stay in the business, she said.
The company buys 8,000 pounds of wool a year, all from local ranchers. The wool is shipped to Minnesota where it's made into an annual limited-edition blanket and sold in retail stores in Steamboat.
Getting the wool from the sheep and woven into a blanket is a big process that many people don't understand, Mucklow said. That's why Brown is opening up the shearing day to the public, so people can get a glimpse at one of the stages of wool growing.
"In order for people to appreciate different aspects about agriculture, there's an education that needs to happen," Mucklow said.
Brown has 140 ewes that will be gathered, depending on the weather, will be sheared today or tomorrow.
Anyone who wants to come is encouraged to call Greg Brown at 879-7089 to double-check the time. Brown's ranch is at 22455 County Road 56. That's 12 miles north of 7-11 on Elk River Road, then west on C.R. 56.
"Usually, it's just friends and neighbors that come by," Brown said.
So, his open shearing day is an unusual opportunity to for people who have never experienced a day on the ranch.
"That's what it's all about," Mucklow said.
-- To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org