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Montana Wool Lab: Building a sustainable future

Posted at 10:55 AM, Jan 24, 2022

SAN DIEGO - The Montana Wool Lab, constructed in 1947, 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.

The original lab sits on the north end of Montana State University's campus in Bozeman on South 11th Avenue. It will soon be brought into the 21st Century and will continue to build a sustainable future for the all-natural fiber, wool.

As MTN News originally reported in the spring of 2021, with Gov. Greg Gianforte signing HB 14 the state has provided $5 million to build a new Montana Wool Lab on the MSU campus.

But MSU and the Montana sheep industry must privately raise $1 million in funds to support the design, construction, furnishing, and equipping of the vital facility.

MSU Sheep Extension Specialist Brent Roeder said the funding will ensure a bright future for Montana and the nation's wool producers.

“The current lab that we're in has served about the past three generations of Montanans and regional producers in the upper Great Plains,” said Roeder. “Actually, the facility turns 75 years old this year.”

Roeder explained that the Wool Lab focuses on two major objectives.

“We focus on running individual samples for genetic improvements,” Brent explained. “We have technology at the wool lab that we can determine the fineness of the wool. What the length is. A lot of different processing characteristics of greasy wool that then tells producers how that wool is going to process into yarn and other fabrics.”

This testing helps sheep producers improve their sheep flock’s wool quality while also focusing on value-added agriculture within the state.

“As Montana really takes advantage of the quality of wool that we produce and take that into some value-added processing with companies like Duckworth,” said Roeder. “We are able to analyze that wool as it comes off the sheep and basically give them advice on where that specific wool needs to go in their production chain.”

Roeder said the MSU Alumni Foundation has secured $450,000 in private funds as part of their $1 million private funding campaign.

Donors include:

  • $200,000 – Northwest Farm Credit Services
  • $100,000 - Montana Wool Growers Assoc.
  • $50,000 – Helle Family/Duckworth Co.