‘Lucy’s Sheep Camp’Written by Jennifer Womack
Billie Jo Norsworthy’s desire to take up knitting soon had her seeking out more knowledge on spinning, felting and all things wool related. Just two years after picking up her first pair of knitting needles Billie Jo, with the help and support of her family, has opened “Lucy’s Sheep Camp” eight miles north of Thermopolis on the family ranch. Billie Jo and her husband Jason and their daughter Emme ranch with Billie Jo’s parents, Jim and Terry Wilson, and her grandparents, Willard and Maycle Wilson. For Billie Jo the venture is more than a store, but also an opportunity to share ag’s message in her community.
“I started knitting and then I got interested in spinning,” recalls Billie Jo. “I thought there’s no reason I can’t have sheep.” After doing a little research she traveled to Pavillion and purchased her first sheep. “It just took off from there and we soon went from four ewes to 75 in the spinning flock now,” says Billie Jo. Rambouillet, Teeswater and Wensleydale can be found among the ranch’s flock. When Billie Jo jokes there were days when the learning curve was steep she’s not talking about the artistic side of the endeavor, but her new role as the owner of sheep.
“The long wools we shear twice a year,” says Billie Jo who skirts the wool herself. “We send everything to a mill in Kansas.”
This year she says they also tried something new. “Jason and I have a herd of commercial Rambouillet ewes. We took a 550-pound bale of their wool and sent it to the mill to have it turned into felt.” She says the project has thus far turned out really well. “There’s a fiber artist in California that’s interested in the felt and has made a couple of orders.”
“I just love it,” says Billie Jo of the decision to open the store that sells yarn, roving, fleeces and felt. Easing into the business over the past two year she says an official grand opening on Sep. 20 complete with a shearing demonstration proved busy.
“I love the wool, I love the fiber arts and how I get to use my creativity and blend it with all the skills I acquired growing up on the ranch.” She says she’s appreciated the opportunity to start with her own sheep drawing on what the land can produce and working her way toward end products. Wildlflowers, she explains on her website, serve as the inspiration for many of the colors used to dye her wool.
Continuing her role as a ranch woman while operating the business, Billie Jo says juggling the fall ranch schedule and the store hours has had its challenging moments. It’s also part of what makes the business special and yet another opportunity to ensure the ranch remains in tact for the family’s third and fourth generations.
“I want to promote sustainable agriculture,” says Billie Jo. “I also want it to help bring a better knowledge to people about agriculture.” Her daughter Emme’s Kindergarten class visited the ranch to see the sheep and the resulting products and it’s an opportunity Billie Jo hopes to see offered to more area students and residents in general.
As for the larger presence in the community she laughs, “I’d like it to get big enough that I have to hire a couple of people to help out.” Classes offered one Friday a month beginning this fall are aimed at teaching more people to enjoy working with wool. “Women can come out and create stuff and have a little gathering,” she says.
Beyond Billie Jo’s own products, those from other area producers can also be found in the store. “I’m trying to help out some other local producers,” says Billie Jo. Products from Colleen Jennings of Riverton are part of the store’s inventory and Billie Jo says, “I also know some people in Laramie who raise alpacas and llamas and I carry some of their stuff, too.”
“Lucy Moore, known as the ‘Sheep Queen’ of Wyoming homesteaded on Copper Mountain where all of our summer country is,” says Billie Jo of the name she chose for the store. “I thought it was a nice historical reference for the county, the land and everything agriculture stands for.”