BOZEMAN — The Montana Legislature first approved funding to construct the Montana Wool Lab on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman back in 1945. The landmark building currently sits on the north end of Bozeman’s campus on South 11th Avenue.
Completed in 1947, the lab has served sheep and wool producers nationwide by conducting research and testing to help sheep producers improve their wool clip for fiber diameter and wool yield, which significantly influences their income from wool. The lab is one of only two testing locations for wool fiber left in the nation.
Members of the Montana Wool Growers Association have long advocated that the wool lab stays in operation and that updates be made available for the nearly 74-year-old facility. It took years of proactive work on the wool growers' part with Montana State University’s Office of the President, MSU College of Agriculture, Extension, and the Montana Legislature, but the Montana Wool Lab will indeed be brought into the 21st Century.
Recently, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 14, which included $5 million to build a new Montana Wool Lab on the Bozeman campus. It's news that brought joy to former Montana Wool Growers President Dave McEwen from Galata.
“I don't know if we have words to express it. A building from 1947 and we're trying to do 21st Century research and testing.” McEwen added that the support from MSU President Waded Cruzado was a major force behind the legislative success.
“The support from President Cruzado and her staff, was just, I don't know how to explain it,” said McEwen in a joyful tone. “Dr. Cruzado said, ‘we were going to do it’ and she held us to it. We got it done. Yeah, we're pretty ecstatic right now.”
The Montana Wool Lab processes nearly 15,000 samples per year from across the U.S. That number would most likely be higher if the lab was fully equipped and had enough space for the process.
The lab analyzes wool for fiber characteristics, such as diameter and staple length. These analyses are required for producers to enroll in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP), the only American organization to offer US sheep producers a proven genetic selection system to use to improve flock productivity and quality.
Furthermore, seed stock producers are encouraged to have wool analyzed for possible purchasers, so they know the wool quality of the animal, as wool is a moderately heritable trait.
“We've lost some wool testing to the international market,” explained McEwen. “We can bring it back home after we get this new lab built. This has been long needed and the research that will come out of the wool lab in the future years, I can only begin to speculate what it will be.”
According to McEwen, the MSU Planning Board is currently in the process of selecting a new location for the wool lab. The original lab is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will be relocated and incorporated into the design of the new MSU Wool Lab.
An additional $1 million will be collected through fundraising efforts in order to complete the project.