Mountain Meadow Wool Mill preserves Wyoming way of life | TheFencePost.com

Mountain Meadow Wool Mill preserves Wyoming way of life

Gayle Smith
Potter, Neb.

Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos started Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in 2002 to help Wyoming wool producers market their wool.

Wyoming is well known for the large bands of sheep that graze the mountains and plains of the cowboy state. Surrounded by that culture, Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos were surprised to find it was difficult to purchase products made from Wyoming wool.

“We were also concerned about the loss of this way of life with many of the sheep ranches closing down, so in 2002 we embarked on a journey to solve some of these challenges,” said Karen. In 2007, the pair opened the doors to the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyo., which is a full service mill with a family of dedicated employees and friends.

“Our mission was to create a company that sustains ranching, and we are working very hard toward that goal,” Karen said. “What we are trying to do is market Wyoming wool products. Before we opened, it was very difficult to find yarn that we knew came from Wyoming. We ended up taking a bale of wool, and having it made into yarn and marketing it. It was selling really well, but it was taking too long to get it made into yarn.”

Val and Karen made the decision to form a partnership and start their own mill where they can process the raw wool themselves. “We thought it would be neat to have someplace to have yarn made that was closer to the producer,” Karen explained. “That is where this idea came from.”

“Basically, what we do here is work directly with the producers,” she continued. “We have about seven or eight growers we work with, and when the wool is made into yarn and sold, we pay the producer. So, they actually own the yarn until it’s sold.”

One thing that sets them apart from other United States mills is their ability to trace the wool back to the ranch where it was produced. “We are the first United States wool mill that can do that,” she proudly admits. “It is something unique that we do that other mills don’t. We have a code on the label, and people can go on our website, type in the code, and find out which producer their wool came from and learn more about them.”

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“I think it is becoming more important to people to buy products made in the United States,” she continued. “This is a way for people to connect with the growers and the product. They can monitor how the sheep are taken care of, and what kind of wool is raised on those ranches. Some customers have even started to request wool from a particular ranch because it has certain qualities they are looking for.”

The raw wool that is processed by the mill primarily comes from Rambouillet, although they also have some Targhee growers. The wool is all grown in Wyoming, with the exception of one grower near Red Lodge, Mont. “She produces black Rambouillet with very fine wool. We use her wool to produce a blended yarn,” Karen said.

“All of our wool has to meet a certain micron, length and yield to be acceptable,” Karen said. “Our select group of growers produce some of the highest quality wool in the world. We are selling it to mostly wholesale yarn buyers and dyers, who take the wool and make it into whatever they want. We also sell yarn through some retail stores, and on-line at our website: MountainMeadowWool.com.”

Mountain Meadow wool returns 10 percent of the sale of finished products back to their select group of ranchers, Karen said. These ranchers are compensated at or above the current auction price of equivalent wool types. “They now have a working wool mill not only creating yarn from the fine wool of the area, but also custom processing for other growers,” Karen explained. “We can make their wool into yarn, felt, roping, or batt. We just charge them for processing, and they get their product back,” Karen explained. “We have several customers who like to get their wool back, so they can take it home and make things from it or sell it themselves.”

The mill is processing about 12,000 pounds of wool each year – a number Karen hopes will continue to increase. Raw wool is delivered to the mill, where it is sorted and washed. Foreign particles like paint, cockleburs, and tags are sorted out. The wool is washed, and then dried. Only eco-friendly cleansers and non-petroleum spinning oil are used to bring a non-chlorinated, pure and soft yarn to market. The wool goes through a carder that combs and aligns the fibers, then a pin drafter, which creates an even more aligned sliver, and finally into the spinner where it is spun into yarn. The yarn is sold either on cones or skeins. Some of the yarn is sold as base natural yarn, or it can be dyed.

Karen and Valerie do their part to respect the environment, by washing the wool in citrus based detergents; recycling their wash water and using natural dyes.  They are currently working with a USDA SBIR grant to recycle, reduce and reuse the waste water that is generated in their washing operation.

Since the mill has opened, the women have been pleased with the response they have received about the quality of product they produce. “We have some sales representatives who travel across the country developing customers for us. We have also went to some of the big industry trade shows to develop our customer base,” Karen said.

In the future, Karen and Valerie hope the mill continues to grow. “We also hope to develop some finished products that can be sold here, but mostly we want to see the plant keep going and remain operational,” Karen said.

Wyoming is well known for the large bands of sheep that graze the mountains and plains of the cowboy state. Surrounded by that culture, Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos were surprised to find it was difficult to purchase products made from Wyoming wool.

“We were also concerned about the loss of this way of life with many of the sheep ranches closing down, so in 2002 we embarked on a journey to solve some of these challenges,” said Karen. In 2007, the pair opened the doors to the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyo., which is a full service mill with a family of dedicated employees and friends.

“Our mission was to create a company that sustains ranching, and we are working very hard toward that goal,” Karen said. “What we are trying to do is market Wyoming wool products. Before we opened, it was very difficult to find yarn that we knew came from Wyoming. We ended up taking a bale of wool, and having it made into yarn and marketing it. It was selling really well, but it was taking too long to get it made into yarn.”

Val and Karen made the decision to form a partnership and start their own mill where they can process the raw wool themselves. “We thought it would be neat to have someplace to have yarn made that was closer to the producer,” Karen explained. “That is where this idea came from.”

“Basically, what we do here is work directly with the producers,” she continued. “We have about seven or eight growers we work with, and when the wool is made into yarn and sold, we pay the producer. So, they actually own the yarn until it’s sold.”

One thing that sets them apart from other United States mills is their ability to trace the wool back to the ranch where it was produced. “We are the first United States wool mill that can do that,” she proudly admits. “It is something unique that we do that other mills don’t. We have a code on the label, and people can go on our website, type in the code, and find out which producer their wool came from and learn more about them.”

“I think it is becoming more important to people to buy products made in the United States,” she continued. “This is a way for people to connect with the growers and the product. They can monitor how the sheep are taken care of, and what kind of wool is raised on those ranches. Some customers have even started to request wool from a particular ranch because it has certain qualities they are looking for.”

The raw wool that is processed by the mill primarily comes from Rambouillet, although they also have some Targhee growers. The wool is all grown in Wyoming, with the exception of one grower near Red Lodge, Mont. “She produces black Rambouillet with very fine wool. We use her wool to produce a blended yarn,” Karen said.

“All of our wool has to meet a certain micron, length and yield to be acceptable,” Karen said. “Our select group of growers produce some of the highest quality wool in the world. We are selling it to mostly wholesale yarn buyers and dyers, who take the wool and make it into whatever they want. We also sell yarn through some retail stores, and on-line at our website: MountainMeadowWool.com.”

Mountain Meadow wool returns 10 percent of the sale of finished products back to their select group of ranchers, Karen said. These ranchers are compensated at or above the current auction price of equivalent wool types. “They now have a working wool mill not only creating yarn from the fine wool of the area, but also custom processing for other growers,” Karen explained. “We can make their wool into yarn, felt, roping, or batt. We just charge them for processing, and they get their product back,” Karen explained. “We have several customers who like to get their wool back, so they can take it home and make things from it or sell it themselves.”

The mill is processing about 12,000 pounds of wool each year – a number Karen hopes will continue to increase. Raw wool is delivered to the mill, where it is sorted and washed. Foreign particles like paint, cockleburs, and tags are sorted out. The wool is washed, and then dried. Only eco-friendly cleansers and non-petroleum spinning oil are used to bring a non-chlorinated, pure and soft yarn to market. The wool goes through a carder that combs and aligns the fibers, then a pin drafter, which creates an even more aligned sliver, and finally into the spinner where it is spun into yarn. The yarn is sold either on cones or skeins. Some of the yarn is sold as base natural yarn, or it can be dyed.

Karen and Valerie do their part to respect the environment, by washing the wool in citrus based detergents; recycling their wash water and using natural dyes.  They are currently working with a USDA SBIR grant to recycle, reduce and reuse the waste water that is generated in their washing operation.

Since the mill has opened, the women have been pleased with the response they have received about the quality of product they produce. “We have some sales representatives who travel across the country developing customers for us. We have also went to some of the big industry trade shows to develop our customer base,” Karen said.

In the future, Karen and Valerie hope the mill continues to grow. “We also hope to develop some finished products that can be sold here, but mostly we want to see the plant keep going and remain operational,” Karen said.

Wyoming is well known for the large bands of sheep that graze the mountains and plains of the cowboy state. Surrounded by that culture, Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos were surprised to find it was difficult to purchase products made from Wyoming wool.

“We were also concerned about the loss of this way of life with many of the sheep ranches closing down, so in 2002 we embarked on a journey to solve some of these challenges,” said Karen. In 2007, the pair opened the doors to the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyo., which is a full service mill with a family of dedicated employees and friends.

“Our mission was to create a company that sustains ranching, and we are working very hard toward that goal,” Karen said. “What we are trying to do is market Wyoming wool products. Before we opened, it was very difficult to find yarn that we knew came from Wyoming. We ended up taking a bale of wool, and having it made into yarn and marketing it. It was selling really well, but it was taking too long to get it made into yarn.”

Val and Karen made the decision to form a partnership and start their own mill where they can process the raw wool themselves. “We thought it would be neat to have someplace to have yarn made that was closer to the producer,” Karen explained. “That is where this idea came from.”

“Basically, what we do here is work directly with the producers,” she continued. “We have about seven or eight growers we work with, and when the wool is made into yarn and sold, we pay the producer. So, they actually own the yarn until it’s sold.”

One thing that sets them apart from other United States mills is their ability to trace the wool back to the ranch where it was produced. “We are the first United States wool mill that can do that,” she proudly admits. “It is something unique that we do that other mills don’t. We have a code on the label, and people can go on our website, type in the code, and find out which producer their wool came from and learn more about them.”

“I think it is becoming more important to people to buy products made in the United States,” she continued. “This is a way for people to connect with the growers and the product. They can monitor how the sheep are taken care of, and what kind of wool is raised on those ranches. Some customers have even started to request wool from a particular ranch because it has certain qualities they are looking for.”

The raw wool that is processed by the mill primarily comes from Rambouillet, although they also have some Targhee growers. The wool is all grown in Wyoming, with the exception of one grower near Red Lodge, Mont. “She produces black Rambouillet with very fine wool. We use her wool to produce a blended yarn,” Karen said.

“All of our wool has to meet a certain micron, length and yield to be acceptable,” Karen said. “Our select group of growers produce some of the highest quality wool in the world. We are selling it to mostly wholesale yarn buyers and dyers, who take the wool and make it into whatever they want. We also sell yarn through some retail stores, and on-line at our website: MountainMeadowWool.com.”

Mountain Meadow wool returns 10 percent of the sale of finished products back to their select group of ranchers, Karen said. These ranchers are compensated at or above the current auction price of equivalent wool types. “They now have a working wool mill not only creating yarn from the fine wool of the area, but also custom processing for other growers,” Karen explained. “We can make their wool into yarn, felt, roping, or batt. We just charge them for processing, and they get their product back,” Karen explained. “We have several customers who like to get their wool back, so they can take it home and make things from it or sell it themselves.”

The mill is processing about 12,000 pounds of wool each year – a number Karen hopes will continue to increase. Raw wool is delivered to the mill, where it is sorted and washed. Foreign particles like paint, cockleburs, and tags are sorted out. The wool is washed, and then dried. Only eco-friendly cleansers and non-petroleum spinning oil are used to bring a non-chlorinated, pure and soft yarn to market. The wool goes through a carder that combs and aligns the fibers, then a pin drafter, which creates an even more aligned sliver, and finally into the spinner where it is spun into yarn. The yarn is sold either on cones or skeins. Some of the yarn is sold as base natural yarn, or it can be dyed.

Karen and Valerie do their part to respect the environment, by washing the wool in citrus based detergents; recycling their wash water and using natural dyes.  They are currently working with a USDA SBIR grant to recycle, reduce and reuse the waste water that is generated in their washing operation.

Since the mill has opened, the women have been pleased with the response they have received about the quality of product they produce. “We have some sales representatives who travel across the country developing customers for us. We have also went to some of the big industry trade shows to develop our customer base,” Karen said.

In the future, Karen and Valerie hope the mill continues to grow. “We also hope to develop some finished products that can be sold here, but mostly we want to see the plant keep going and remain operational,” Karen said.