© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From Sheep to Shawl


North Dakota is known for a variety of agricultural products. The state leads the country in honey and sunflowers, among other crops. Corn, wheat, and cattle are high on the list. Very few people would think of sheep, but there is a sheep history in the state.

On this date in 1936, The North Dakota Wool Pool announced that their annual convention would be held on February 11 in Devils Lake. The purpose of the organization was to boost North Dakota sheep production for both meat and wool. They had their work cut out for them. According to The North Dakota Sheep Industry Newsletter, the state’s sheep business went into decline during the 1940s. That was partially due to a labor shortage during World War II. In addition, American GIs came back from the war with a poor opinion of mutton, which they ate while stationed in Europe.

In 1954, the Federal government passed the National Wool Act. The Act was a price support measure for wool and mohair. This sustained the domestic sheep industry for 20 years, but during the 1970s, domestic lamb consumption fell even further out of favor with the American public. Production decreased from almost 700 million pounds in 1970 to about 325 million pounds by 1980, this despite some nutritional advantages. The North Dakota State University Extension Service points out that lamb is similar to beef and pork, but with lower fat, sodium, and potassium, and a calorie content about the same as chicken and tilapia.

After Congress ended price supports for wool in 1993, the industry continued to decline, but the wool from North Dakota sheep still has its fans. The North Dakota Handspinners promote the use of the wool. With several hundred members, they hold an annual conference, offer presentations, and teach classes on spinning, knitting and crochet. Some clean the fleece themselves, card it, and even dye it using natural dyes like tea and onion skins. The number of these handcrafters is growing, and with grass-fed meat gaining in the marketplace, the North Dakota sheep industry is confident that the decline is a thing of the past.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


North Dakota Handspinners. "http://midwestfiberartstrails.org/organizer/north-dakota-handspinners/" http://midwestfiberartstrails.org/organizer/north-dakota-handspinners/ Accessed 12/28/15.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Wool Pool to Gather February 11.” 27 January, 1936.

The North Dakota Sheep Industry Newsletter. “Market News.” Publication #76.