In May 2018, Brooklyn Tweed released the latest addition to their core yarn collection: Peerie. This beautiful merino is sourced from our lovely state so we decided to dive into the history books and learn more about Utah's wool legacy.
In 1847, Latter Day Saint pioneers brought the first domestic sheep into Utah, beginning the state's legacy of sheep ranching. In 1918, John H. Seely (of Mount Pleasant) sold a two year old Rambouillet ram for $6200 at the National Ram Sale in Salt Lake City and ended up introducing the (amazing!) breed to the state.
Two years later, Utah had the more Rambouillet than any other state. Rambouillet is known for soft, strong wool produced at higher quantities than traditional sheep breeds. They were also a desirable choice because they are docile and can easily adapt to a variety of environments. In 1900 the average fleece per sheep was about six pounds but by the 1930s the average was about ten pounds. The numbers of ranches and sheep increased steadily until the great depression where the Utah sheep population peaked around 2.4 million. At that time, many ranchers relocated to the surrounding mountain states and Utah's sheep industry started to decline.
Today, almost 300,000 sheep live in Utah which is the fifth highest state for raising sheep in the nation! Utah ranches contribute to the 78,000 agricultural jobs the state. Almost 80% of Utah is good rangeland for sheep. Land that is too dry or rocky for traditional crops often is perfect for grazing sheep. Currently Utah has about 1,700 producers.
We often focus on the wool because we are a yarn shop and wool is our obsession however, there are more benefits to these animals then just their fleece. Wool is a sustainable fabric which makes sturdy, warm clothing and retains color beautifully. The ability of sheep to graze in rocky or dry land allows sustainable use of land which would otherwise be unavailable for farming. Lamb is a delicious and healthy meat eaten by people all over the world. Because sheep graze land, they control and minimize noxious weeds which allows for healthy indigenous plants to grow, which in turn provides improved wetlands and decreased chance of forest fires.
Sheepherders are still commonly used to rotate sheep to new grazing routes as well as keeping track of and protecting the herd. Coyotes and mountain lions are predators who threaten sheep so it is equally important to herd sheep in the right direction as it is to protect them. Shepherds often have border collies to assist with the protection as well as keeping the herd together. They rely on the land being diverse and plentiful; much of their job is caring for and acting as a steward for the land.
In the 1940s the United States had about 56 million sheep and now we have around 6 million. Utah is a large player in the rekindling of this industry. We are proud to offer a yarn in the store which can support and honor the great history of Utah sheep and wool.
We do not own any of the images in this post.