Convention: YE's Prove Competitive & Determined

Young Entrepreneurs Prove Competitive & Determined

CAT URBIGKIT
The Shepherd

Competitive, innovative, bright and determined: The future of the American sheep industry is sure to share characteristics of its young leaders, as evidenced by participants at the ASI Annual Convention in New Orleans.

Montana producer Evan Helle talked about his family’s success with the Duckworth clothing brand, and asked the audience for a show of hands for those wearing wool. A lot of hands rose, but when he asked for a showing of those wearing something more than wool socks, the number declined substantially. Helle challenged the group to not just wear wool basics, but to showcase and help tell the full story of wool and wool blends.

“Tell people it’s high-performing,” he said. “Have them try a blend product, which is lower cost, that they can’t mess up in the washing machine.”

Helle said once a newcomer to wool tries a first wool product, that person learns about its great properties – such as its moisture-wicking ability – paving the way to becoming a wool consumer and supporter.

“You’ve got to be wearing wool to set the example for everyone else,” Helle said.

Regina Frahm of Iowa agreed, pointing out that people are interested in quality products, despite the higher costs when compared to lesser-quality products. She said that spending more money on a better product is also better for the environment.

“It’s not about how many things you have – it’s about the quality of the few things you do have,” she said.

Karissa Maneotis of Colorado said that both American lamb and wool offer sustainability and tradition.

“What a great story to tell,” she said of marketing these premium products. “Keep pushing ahead – don’t ever get discouraged. Don’t ever be embarrassed to be a sheepherder.”

Other young producers told stories of how they market their products to fit local markets. Anthony Theos of Colorado noted that his family’s range outfit is able to sell nearly half their lambs to Whole Foods, while also providing whole carcasses to customers in a small ski town.

Cameron Lauwers of Michigan has gone to year-round lambing in confinement, selling whole animals to a butcher shop that sells to restaurants in Detroit.

These young producers spoke with pride in their products and industry, prompting moderator Jake Benson of Utah to ask about their proudest moments as sheep producers. Ryan Boner of Wyoming said it was when a red meat study measured carcass traits on 300 lambs, and the lambs he was able to evaluate were from his own ranch.

Theos said he’s proud when he learns that local consumers ask their grocers when Theos lambs will be restocked in the markets.

Ryan Mahoney of California noted that the American sheep industry seems full of people who are strong, stubborn and smart.

“Every ideal you want your children to be is evident in the people in this industry,” Mahoney said. “I’m more proud of that than anything.”

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