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Have you any wool? Tri-State Wool Marketing Association works to market wool for members

 While driving along highway 212 in southeast Montana, the tiny berg of Hammond, just three buildings, is easy to miss. But there is more to this community than meets the eye. One of those structures is a large warehouse that is home to the Tri-State Wool Marketing Association. They market around 300,000 pounds of wool a year to domestic and foreign markets, selling clean, classed wool for a premium price through an auction system. Most of their members are from the tri-state region but more distant states are represented as well. 

The association started in 1981 when three sheep producers in southeast Montana got together and took their wool to Pendleton, Oregon. That trip paid off and they continued to do that for a number of years, growing their members and cutting out the middle man. In 1990 they formed the Tri-State Wool Marketing Association and has been growing and making money for sheep producers ever since. The Association has a reputation for marketing high quality skirted and classed wool. The wool is no longer sold in Pendleton; it is auctioned off and has been shipped around the world. “We are making producers money by doing what we are doing,” said Danny Lanning, founder and all around one-man show. “We have a very low overhead. Our members have a contract and we wait to sell when the market is the highest.” 

“In around 1995, a sheep producer from Utah sent us a semi load of wool, about 45,000 pounds. We made him $20,000 more than he could get in Utah. He has been sending us his wool ever since. If you have a thousand ewes, in ten years you will have made enough to buy a new pickup,” Lanning said. “Our history speaks for itself. Even coarser wool, if it’s prepared right, will bring a premium. The advantage of a cooperative is it benefits the little guy.” 

The Association is open to anyone who is willing to skirt and class their wool for the opportunity to get a better price, regardless of the flock size. Little to big producers, everyone is treated fairly. The wool is sold based on its merits, not who you are. The same classes of wool are grouped together for the core test, 6,000 to 7,000 pounds in a group, which helps lower that expense and allows for larger volumes to be marketed. A core sample is taken and sent to Denver to be certified according to weight, microns and yield. The wool is sold when the market is highest, sometimes even before all the sheep are sheared. All the wool is required to be in the warehouse by May first. The association charges about ten cents a pound to do it all. Bidding is done over the phone or through fax. Paid on yield factor, the cleaner you keep your wool the more money you make. Super fine wool up to the coarser wool, just keep it clean. 

The Association was one of the first to sell wool to France. The bales had to have a veterinarian health inspection just like live sheep before being shipped. They have also sold to China, and interest is growing in India as well. Some has also been used for military contracts in the United States. This year the Association is still watching the markets and waiting to see the outcome of the Chinese tariff issues.  

The wool is skirted on the shearing floor, a process which removes the dirty, stained wool, second cuts and vegetable matter from the fleece. It’s then classed according to the Micron system, which separates wool into grades according to the average fiber diameter as measured by a micrometer, which is one millionth of a meter. Fine wool has a low micron value. The fiber diameter is the most important characteristic of wool in determining its value. 

The wool is packed into square wool bags or bales, each one weighing around 470 to 500 pounds. Lanning was one of the first to start the use of square bags in the US. He built his bagger after seeing a photo of one from Australia. He went on to build ten of them. More wool can be packed into a square bag compared to a round one and they are easier to transport. When selling overseas, all the paperwork, weights and inspections have to match. The wool is placed in shipping containers, 100 bales to a container, delivered to a port and loaded on the boat. 

“The sheep industry is shrinking, there is less profit in them and predators are the biggest problem. There are a lot of little bunches, but not the volume of sheep there use to be. Ranchers are getting old, and it’s hard to find help.” Lanning said. 

“We help the producer make more money if they are willing to keep their wool clean, skirt it and class it. Pay is based on yield, so keep it clean. Everyone is treated like family.”  Lanning said. “If you want to make money with the sheep project, you need to look at alternatives.” 

Work-Study: Students study ag topics in high school biology

Several Nebraska youth are getting a taste of the agricultural research world. 

Students at Central City, Nebraska, in Mrs. Chelle Gillan’s advanced biology and anatomy and physiology classes are required to do a research project of their choice, and some of those students choose topics in the ag world. 

Mrs. Gillan’s sophomores in biology each do a simple experiment, then those students who take an advanced science class are required to do a more intensive research project. 

The projects are of the student’s choosing, and range from the effectiveness of biochar on seed corn, to the propensity for cavities, the effect of antibiotics on small water crustaceans called daphnia, and using switchgrass for biofuels.  

This year, senior Chesney Reeves is studying the efficiency of cattle dewormers. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s research feedlot in Mead, she took 200 rectal fecal samples from incoming calves just off the truck. Twelve days later, after the calves were treated for dewormers, she returned to the feedyard to take another sample from the same calves. The samples were sent for testing to a lab in Lawrence, Kansas. Seventy-two percent of the calves had stomach worms before treatment. After treatment, only two of 200 calves had worms.  

The research projects reap bountiful rewards for students, Gillan says. Students learn how to read and digest research projects, approach university professors to ask for advice, and how to present, among others. She has seen the effect the work has on the students. “I’ve seen success story after success story, and I’ve seen students’ lives change. Their confidence, their skills, there’s no way to put it into words how it affects students.”  

The projects require from thirty to forty hours outside of class time. As students read research papers written on their topic, they reach out to the writers of those papers, who often include professors. Gillan has had students working with professors from UNL, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Colorado State and even a professor in Massachusetts.  

As a junior, Reeves’ research project was testing for the prevalence of coccidia in feedyard cattle. She brainstormed her project with David Lee, DVM, to find a relevant project, one that was a problem in the industry.  

She took twenty fecal samples from each of six different pens at Christensen Feedyards in Central City and Fullerton and sent the samples to a lab at UNL. All six of the pens were positive for coccidia, and at least fifty percent of the samples were positive, showing that the disease is prevalent in feedyards.  

Gillan’s students take their projects to the Nebraska Junior Academy of Science and the State FFA Agri-Science Fair. The top ten projects at the state level qualify for the American Junior Academy of Science National Conference. In each of the last seven years, at least one person from Gillan’s classes has gone on to the American Junior Academy conference.  

Last year, Reeves won top honors at the Nebraska State FFA Agri-Science Fair in her division, animal systems, and also won the veterinary award at the Greater Nebraska Engineering Science Fair.  

The skills students gain from research are applicable in nearly all job settings, Gillan says. “The way we want education to be is for students to have skills that will transfer across subjects. Research is all-encompassing. They have to improve their writing and reading skills. They have to read science journal papers, which are difficult to read. They learn computer skills and how to analyze data. They learn organization and time management. And probably the most important things they learn are perseverance and grit, because science research never goes as planned.” 

Adapting and modifying plans is good for students, Gillan said, especially the high ability students. “A lot of the kids doing this research have never had to fail. I would rather have them have little bumps in the road now in high school. They learn to pick themselves up and keep going when times get tough.”  

Reeves takes great satisfaction in her success at science fairs. “It’s a proud moment,” she said. “You know how much work went into it, and you see other people coming up and being interested in what you did, asking about your research and genuinely caring about it.” She recalls a moment when she was working alongside grad students at a feedyard as she collected data. They mistook her for another grad student. “It was really cool,” Reeves said. “They were UNL grad students and they helped me.”  

Gillan has seen it affect students’ career choices. Central City High graduate Sydnie Reeves (a distant relative to Chesney) wanted to be a veterinarian. Her high school research project, studying roundworms in raccoons, was published in The Journal of Emerging Investigators, and she narrowed her career choice to the area of parasitology.  

Gillan also knows that the research students do helps them no matter their career choice. “The skills they learn transfer to anything,” she said. “These are the types of things employers want: communication skills, problem solving skills, perseverance, time management, dependability. When things don’t go right, they have to say, how can I redesign this to make it work? These are all things that the employers are looking for.”  

Gillan is a strong advocate for her students, too. “With Mrs. Gillan, you can go as far as you want,” said Reeves. “She never says no.” Gillan encourages her students who are afraid they’ll get a negative answer. “Her statement is, ‘The worst they can do is say no,’” Reeves said.  

Compassion that lives on: Cole’s Pantry carries on the spirit of feeding the hungry

A stone tossed into the water will quickly drop out of sight. But the ripples it makes create impact, sometimes beyond the grasp of our understanding.  

Cole Pelican’s passion was being a cowboy, and he was a good one. He loved being outdoors, hunting, fishing, sports, and most of all, his family and friends. At just eight years old, Cole had lived more life than most people dream of when a he died in a tragic horse accident on his family’s ranch near Belfry, Mont. in 2009. “Though young, Cole took full advantage of what this life had to offer,” his family wrote. “Cole’s passion for living brought joy to all who knew him and he is an example to all of us to enjoy every day that we have been given.”  

Cole cared for people, in particular, his friends. And he knew that when the Friday bell rang, some of them would go hungry until the next school meal. He would bring buddies home so his mother could feed them. Sometimes she would find food missing from the pantry, taken to be secretly shared with others.  

In 2010, a year after Cole had passed away, his older sister Fallon Pelican joined Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA, at Bridger High School. She was challenged to start a community service project. Working with her advisor, Vicki Kaufman, they deemed the right fit was providing weekend backpacks of food to needy students in memory of Cole – his big appetite and his heart for the hungry. Using a $500 donation from Cole’s Western Wishes memorial, established to assist rural families in times of need, Pelican and Kaufman created Cole’s Pantry. They began by anonymously serving 11 kids from eight families. 

The organization was based upon the principle of students supporting students. “It’s powerful and heartwarming how much students want to be involved,” says Kaufman. As the program launched, a group of volunteers dubbed themselves “Cole’s Posse” – anyone who donated over $25 or $25 worth of food got to be in the club, complete with membership badges proudly distributed and worn.  

The idea of Cole’s Pantry spread, and over the next eight years programs launched in Fromberg, Laurel, Glasgow, Shepherd, Red Lodge, Deer Lodge and Huntley. In 2017 the program was recognized by Montana Governor Bullock with a ServeMontana award for community service. 

Today Cole’s Pantry has grown tremendously as cartons, boxes, cans and most of all, love, have poured in. Their mission continues to be to provide weekend and summer food backpacks for hungry children in the rural communities of Montana. In 2018, with what would have been Cole’s twelfth year of school approaching, his family and the organization set the goal of supporting 12 programs. They quickly surpassed that in one year, and are currently at 14, feeding almost 1,000 kids in rural Montana every week. 

The program is run 100 percent by volunteers and overseen by a board of directors, and accepts applications for funds to start new programs on a quarterly basis. Program growth has been built mostly on word of mouth, and directors say the people who get involved are those who see a deep need in their own rural communities. No tax or government money is received; all provisions are funded by donations.  

Each program affiliated with Cole’s Pantry runs a little differently. Some volunteers fill actual backpacks, canvas bags, or even t-shirt bags hand-sewn by students. Others offer an open pantry students can discreetly visit and choose what they need. Schools send out a letter at the beginning of the year and any family or student who requests assistance can be put on the list. There are no qualifications, stipulations or guidelines – anyone who asks for food can get it.  

Two things in common, however, are that the recipients are always kept private, and the volunteers always include students. Many programs are run by FCCLA or FFA programs, but some are by 4-H groups outside of school. All are based on the foundation of peers helping peers, just as Cole did.  

Kaufman says when you talk to the student volunteers, you receive smiles of pride. “They have no idea who gets these bags,” she says. “They are just doing it because they know it needs to be done.” 

Today Kaufman continues her involvement as outreach coordinator of Cole’s Pantry, Inc., assisting schools or organizations with setting up a program, and following up as they learn and grow. The nonprofit provides grants for initial start-up funds, then works with each community to become self-sustaining. Board members volunteer to visit the startup location to help with fundraisers and training. Additionally, all the Cole’s Pantry school advisers are in a network and are in continually in contact with one another – asking for advice and receiving ideas from other programs.  

Marteann Bertrand is a friend of the Pelican family, and serves as the chairman of the board of Cole’s Pantry, Inc. “If a program is struggling, they can ask for input or assistance,” says Bertrand. “We don’t just set them up and say, ‘Here you go, you’re on your own.’ We’re truly a family of programs.” 

Plans for the future include continued expansion throughout Montana and possibly into Wyoming, while keeping the mission and purpose the same – kids helping feed other kids. 

“It’s sad to think there are that many hungry kids out there in rural areas,” says Bertrand, noting that 40 to 60 percent of students in rural Montana receive free or reduced cost school lunches. “Many of those kids don’t have anything to eat from lunchtime on Friday until lunchtime on Monday. That’s why Cole’s Pantry exists.” 

The organization may have originated from a deep loss, but a shared passion for honoring a kind and fervent boy by feeding those in need is what draws the board of directors and supporters of Cole’s Pantry together.  

“We have a little motto among us,” says Bertrand. “We say, ‘We’re going to feed them all.’” 

This May, Cole would have graduated with his classmates at Belfry High School. They plan to honor him with his own cap and gown, his seat upheld, as they march out to make their mark on the world.  

Though his chair will sit empty, Cole has already made his impact – deeply, widely, and above all, compassionately.