Highlights from the 2012 Wool Growers Association Banquet
February 20, 2012
The 78th annual Western Slope Wool Growers Association banquet and dance was held on Saturday, January 28 at the BPOE 1053 lodge in Montrose, Colo. Once again there was a packed house with plenty of lively conversation, great music, plentiful platters of food, and a wide variety of both raffle and door prizes. “What started out as a celebration in the valley,” said 12-year President Ernie Etchart, “has become a good place for people to let their hair down. It is THE hot ticket in town.”
From the looks of the small mountain of donated items – each carefully marked with the name of a local business – it was clear that both he and his small but dedicated staff had spent a considerable amount of time just in gathering sponsors. “January is the busiest time of the year,” Mr. Etchart acknowledged. Why does he continue to apply for the job? With a short laugh, he explained, “I used to be a really shy kid. My dad, Martin, encouraged me to do this to help with public speaking.” Obviously, it has paid off.
Microphone in hand, President Etchart got right with the program while the meal – which consisted of lamb, mint sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, rolls and brownies, all prepared by the BPOE volunteers – was being served by members of the Montrose FFA club. After introducing himself and Secretary Ken Zahnizer, he briefly turned the floor over to his son (and third generation rancher) Nathan, who gave the opening invocation. Later, assisted by both Rodeo Royalty and “Montrose’s favorite auctioneer,” Jimmy Flowers, Ernie proceeded to sell off three memorial blankets: the first, for Dallas Collins; another for Paul Nicholas; and a third for Jim Holman. (The wife of Mr. Flowers nabbed the second one. He joked to the crowd, “That’s what happens when you leave her alone with the checkbook!”) Raffle items followed and included wool throws, blankets and pelts in a wide variety of sizes, patterns and colors; a gift basket; a giant, stuffed sheep toy, and the highlight of the evening, a Remington 700 22/250 rifle. In addition, four Avalanche tickets (VIP Club seats) were sold, with the proceeds going to the Albert Aldasoro Scholarship which was established to help support students that are going into agricultural careers.
“Lamb is easy to digest,” one of our table neighbors remarked as I was reaching for a third helping. (The food was wonderful!) Tuning into the conversations that were going on around us, I heard how one family used to fly rams in from Ohio; learned that breeds like the Suffolk, Hampshire, Merino and Columbia were used primarily for wool while the Rambouillet was better for meat; met a young man who had built his own portable shearing trailer (watch for that story in a future issue of the Fence Post); and was told about a lady who restores sheepherder’s camps. “I’d like to have one of those,” someone a few seats down from us remarked. It brought to mind a somewhat romantic image of shepherds, travelling from area to area and living alone with their dogs … along with about a thousand bleating ewes and lambs.
“Agriculture is going to lead Colorado out of the recession according to Governor John Hickenlooper,” Ernie told the crowd during his ‘State of the Association’ speech. “Sheep products brought in 7.5 million dollars in ranch gate sales last year. Since economists say that every agriculturally-generated dollar will turn over almost seven times in any community now, that equals 45 to 50 million for Montrose County. This was a good year; prices are looking strong again.” The Association represents the local industry with issues involving predators, federal grazing lands, land use planning, and county concerns. “There’s also the issues with the economy (as an example, some ranchers got more money for land than sheep and they sold out); the difficulties of keeping younger generations on the farm; and labor problems,” he explained, adding that “Montrose used to be the lamb shipping capital of the world.”
“People will summer their sheep above timberline,” Terrie Young (my pharmacy co-worker and dinner companion) chimed in. “It’s good feed, plus there’s few cattle up that high to compete with. They can wander around.” The daughter of Kenneth Lane (who used to own the Delta, Colo., Sales Yard along with his two brothers) she and her own daughter, Amanda Sheldon, are well-known in the area for buying “bums,” or orphans, which were then bottle-fed for profit.
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The Western Slope Wool Growers Association is affiliated with the Colorado Wool Growers and “supports it in state and national issues impacting sheep production,” Mr. Etchart concluded. As for when he’s not travelling as part of the job, spending hours on the phone, or meeting with officials? Along with his brother, George, he keeps busy operating Etchart Livestock, Inc. which raises 4,600 Rambouillet and Merino cross ewes. “How do you spell that?” I asked with pen in mid-air. He and Terrie both grinned. Eventually, they decided that I should just look it up for myself.
As the tables started getting folded and moved in preparation for dancing, the President of the Wool Growers Association began to look a bit distracted. It wasn’t because the opening bars from the Anders Brothers Band had begun; instead, he was being beckoned by yet other people who wanted to talk. Watching as he hurried off and was quickly surrounded, I couldn’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have preferred being in the midst of his own sheep herd … at least until next year.