Diversifying agriculture: Thermoplois area producers featured in tour
Thermopolis – The 11th Annual Diversified Ag Tour, sponsored by Wyoming Women in Ag and the Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division, brought producers from across the state together to examine different ways to diversify their operations.
“Several years ago, the Agribusiness Division did quite a bit of work with local agricultural producers, trying to help them diversify their operations,” said Cindy Garretson-Weibel, director of the Agribusiness Division. “We decided to partner with Wyoming Women in Ag to put on this tour and have producers see firsthand how others are supplementing their incomes with these ventures.”
“We try to pick different areas of the state for the tours each year,” continued Garretson-Weibel. “We rely heavily on the feedback of the participants from the tours to decide where to go the coming year.”
This year’s tour focused on diversified operations in the Thermopolis area. Attendees visited Merlin’s Hide Out, Lucy’s Sheep Camp and Wyoming Whiskey.
Lucy’s Sheep Camp
Just outside of Thermopolis lies Lucy’s Sheep Camp, a diversified agricultural operation owned by Billie Jo Norsworthy and her husband Jason.
Lucy’s Sheep Camp began when stay-at-home mom Billie Jo Norsworthy took up knitting.
“Knitting led to spinning, which lead to buying sheep,” chuckled Norsworthy.
The business was named after Lucy Morrison Moore, who was known as “The Sheep Queen of Wyoming.” Her sheep ranch was located on Copper Mountain, where Norsworthy’s family and her parents Jim and Terry Wilson now ranches. The legend said that Lucy was a tough, independent woman who overcame many challenges in order to hang on to her sheep herd.
“I bought my first couple of sheep from a lady who lived in Pavillion,” she continued.
Her flock has steadily grown over the years, and now Norsworthy has 300 sheep that provide the wool for the sheep camp. The family raises Teeswaters, Wensleydales and Rambouillets for their fleece.
“I have crossbred several Rambouillet ewes with a Teeswater buck in order to produce a fleece that has the high luster of the Teeswater breed along with the tighter crimp and diversity of the Rambouillet,” Norsworthy told the group.
“I try to sell as much raw fleece as I can to people who use it for spinning or fiber arts,” said Norsworthy.
Although she sends the fleeces out to be milled, Norsworthy and her crew skirt the wool themselves.
“The process has gotten more efficient over the years and now I have a pretty good crew that I have trained for skirting,” she continued.
She stated that there are two people per table that worked to clean as much of the debris from the fleece as they can before the fleece is bagged up once again. Norsworthy then analyzes the fleece and determines if it should be sold raw or milled.
When it returns to the shop, color is added to the fiber.
“I do all of the dyeing myself,” said Norsworthy proudly. “It started in the garage, the bathroom and the kitchen. My husband said that if I was going to do this as a business, I needed to do something differently, and so we built the shop. However, I still do all the dyeing in the bathroom.”
Yarn, roving and fleece are then sold in the shop. Examples of projects are hung around the cozy and brightly-colored shop, sparking the imagination of the participants who gathered materials for their own projects at home.
“The best part of this whole process is raising the sheep, feeding them, truly seeing the fruits of your efforts and getting to educate other about it,” said Norsworthy. “We have a lot of school kids that come out. They always come out during lambing and they think it is the coolest thing in the world.”
Norsworthy always makes these trips fun but education for the school kids.
“I really try to connect how this,” she said, grabbing a handful of raw fleece, “turns into their mittens or gloves. It seems like people have gotten out of touch with those processes.”
“Growing up in agriculture laid firmer roots than I ever imagined,” she continued, mentioning her childhood on the family ranch. “I believe that understanding where our products come from is important and have made teaching that concept a personal mission.”
Norsworthy invites local schools to come to the shop during lambing and shearing to see the processes and make the connections from the animal to the product they buy at the store. She also makes classroom visits to educate kids on the history and importance of agriculture to their community.