By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
My daily life involves tending to our sheep flock, and my morning news consumption includes updates on sheep and wool news from the last 24 hours. Imagine my surprise Saturday morning when Kayne West appeared in that news feed. What does Kayne West have to do with sheep?
Kanye West’s Paris fashion show coverage included references to one of the ranches he purchased in Wyoming. West told a reporter for The Cut that he’s got 700 sheep and he’s trying out different ways of felting the wool. Good on ya, Kanye! I saw a photo of the ranch’s sheep flock, and they are gorgeous range sheep, similar to other fine-wool bands found on the range throughout Wyoming.
I appreciate West’s interest in wool for his fashion line, since wool is a renewable resource, and is both biodegradable and natural. Wyoming’s recipe for wool is simple: Take four-hooved docile creatures, mix with sunshine, snow, and native vegetation, and the animals produce a soft and luxurious product.
My message to Kayne West and other aspiring shepherds is this: Wyoming has a lot to offer shepherds, so reach out to your new colleagues. A national sheep industry magazine called The Shepherd is owned by myself and another sheep producer and is based on our western Wyoming ranch. Wyoming Wool Growers Association is the state organization for us shepherds, and our American Sheep Industry Association is based in neighboring state Colorado. The Mountain Meadow Wool over in Buffalo is a family-operated wool mill that does a mighty fine job in custom processing Wyoming-grown raw wool.
Your fellow shepherds can talk to you about why we like to lamb outside in the pristine landscape, following the same natural cycles as the wild animals that share the same range. We can share how to protect your beautiful ewes and lambs from large carnivores in your neighborhood – including mountain lions, bears, and wolves – because Wyoming has them all. We can teach you how to help a weak lamb gain strength, and to practice low-stress animal handling for the benefit of both you and your sheep. We hope to see photos of your children bottle feeding orphan lambs – something that happens every spring on nearly every sheep ranch in America.
As shepherds, we understand the direct benefits of the healthy meat and natural fiber produced by domestic sheep. We also know the wider range of benefits sheep bring to human lives – from ecosystem services such as reducing fuel loads, fertilizing the soil, and controlling weeds, to their historic and vital roles in medical research to improve the human condition. Sheep provided the baseline for successful human blood donation, artificial heart valves, and vaccine development.
Biomedical researchers use sheep for studying neonatal development, and for optimization of drug delivery and surgical techniques. Sheep are used to study heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease; and are used as models for implanting medical devices, as well as improvements in the repair of broken bones and wounds.
Sheep provide meat, wool, numerous byproducts such as lanolin, ecosystem services, medical advances, and overall health advantages, but our flocks also provide shepherds with inspiration and a special type of calling.
We shepherds feel the benefits of human-animal bond as we work with and interact with our flocks on a daily basis. My favorites are when we assist a ewe in labor and hear that guttural, contented murmur to her newborn lambs, when we watch small children fall asleep with a lamb on their lap, and when we greet the rising sun alongside our grazing flock. Our blood pressure drops, and we are reminded of the good in the world – simply by being with our sheep.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.