From My Window… Woolgrowers enlightening; volunteers play a major role

Sean McMahon, Editor
Sean McMahon, Editor
I spent an interesting couple of hours on Friday at the annual Rio Blanco County Woolgrowers Association meeting, and I was surprised at how enlightening that meeting was.
I had attended the county stockgrowers’ meeting several weeks ago, and it was enlightening as well. While much of the same information was given, it was interesting to see that the woolgrowers and stockgrowers have much in common when it comes to land leases, water regulations, grazing, permits, state and federal regulation, etc.
But what set the woolgrowers apart from the stockgrowers were a couple of topics that barely even came up during the meeting.
What happens with the meat from the local sheep? Where can one purchase reasonably priced lamb locally during the year? Why is lamb so expensive in the local markets – and everywhere else?
One small discussion that did bring me enlightenment was in relation to goat growers throughout the area. I did not know goats were part of the “woolgrowers” group but it did make me wonder consciously about something I have had questions on for several years.
Why can’t one find goat meat in stores or on menus around here?
Most of these topics, if covered at all, came up during discussions on how best to promote lamb within the county, how to get more local activity and participation by the county’s goat ranchers and how to let the rest of the world know there are plenty of lambs and goats in this area.
I am interested because I would say it is a real toss-up as to which meat – beef or lamb or goat — that I would prefer to eat on a daily basis.
The high price of beef is frustrating to all of us as we head into grocery stores all over the country. But pound for pound, the price of lamb is even higher than beef. And it is quite difficult to find goat meat at all except in the largest of cities and metropolitan areas.
Around the turn of the century, much of northern Colorado and almost all of southern Wyoming were sheep lands. Carbon County (Rawlins), Wyo., was in the top five in sheep production in the United States.
What happened?
We all know about the bloody Johnson County War around Buffalo, Wyo., which was a true, bloody battle between the cattlemen and the sheep men. We know about the range wars all over the West between the sheep men and beef men, and many a body was strewn across the grassland of the West.
In the end, it seems both parties reached a settlement as to where both interests were able to use our ranges, and beef as well as sheep thrived throughout the Rocky Mountains and much of the West?
What happened?
An interesting sidelight follows. All over the food networks out there, lamb from Colorado is considered the best in the world, surpassing Australia, which has long been known as sheep country and the purveyors of some of the best lamb on earth.
Colorado lamb is good. Colorado lamb may be the best in the world.
Colorado still has a good supply of sheep, but you’d never know it if you were looking for it in the stores in surrounding counties or here in Rio Blanco County.
Most local lamb is gone from this area by early November. If you were lucky enough to know a sheep rancher, you might have been lucky to get some local lamb at a decent price.
But wouldn’t it be great if the sheep ranchers here would hold back a few more of their lambs in the fall? Those that do butchering on their properties, and there are quite a few of those, could sell lamb meat off their ranches and that would allow them to get more per pound than they do by selling their sheep to slaughter, and local residents could get it cheaper than they would at the grocery stores in or out of town.
There is a solution to this that I would think plausible here. It is not a new concept at all.
It is called a co-op, and the area sheep growers would have lamb year-round for sale and, more importantly, for promotion locally and to visitors.
I would love to find real lamb here year-round and I know there are others as well who would like to see it available as well.
While the prices of lamb locally are sky-high (if you can find much of it at all) it is tough to place all of the blame at the local markets. The middlemen (of which there are many layers) have to get their fair share of the profits and by the time the lamb (and beef) hits the meat counters, the prices are way high.
The entire business world is founded on marketing, marketing, marketing.
And is seems to me that the lamb industry has fallen way back in marketing over the past 40 years.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the goat growers as well.
While the sheep growers have fallen way behind, I’m not certain that the goat growers have even started any kind of a marketing campaign.
Goat meat has been growing in popularity by leaps and bounds throughout the Caribbean and from Mexico to southern Chile and Argentina.
Goat meat is also flying up the popularity charts on the East and West coasts of the United States, having already become by far the fastest growing consumer meat of any kind in the U.S.
It is, from what I hear, the No. 5 meat in the nation behind beef, pork, chicken and lamb. If the curried goat I had about six years ago in the Caribbean and a couple of times since, was any indication of quality and taste, goat would be right up there near the top to me.
But if no one knows about it in the smaller markets or the the meat isn’t available in the smaller markets, then we in those smaller markets all lose.
Particularly when that meat is so available locally — on the hoof, but not at the meat counter.
Remember: marketing, marketing, marketing is the key.

There are so many things we take for granted in our lives, and it doesn’t matter whether you live in small towns or large cities, although I believe the residents of small towns are more involved and appreciative.
Volunteers add so much to a community and that unique sense of community that often comes with with smaller towns. It seems almost everyone plays at least a small role in volunteering time, labor or donations to help some group or activity.
That perspective really became obvious on Saturday at the Meeker Volunteer Fire and Rescue’s 81st annual banquet at the Fairfield Center.
Fire Chief Steve Allen pointed out that the volunteer department is 39 men and women strong and that the longest-term member is Bob Ruckman, who joined the force in 1974.
These volunteers are probably the most vital to our survival as a town and community, which definitely extends outside the town limits for many miles when needed.
Their presence and participation at vehicle accidents, fires and rescues reaches out to a lot of people over a lot of land around here, yet it is the volunteers who play such a vital role.
These volunteers come running anytime, night and day, in sunshine and knee-deep snow.
And it is to these men and women that many folks in this county and its two towns owe their home, their properties and, in many cases, their lives.
Volunteers play many other key roles in our two communities as well.
From Septemberfest to the Fourth of July, from the Rio Blanco County Fair and its recreation of the Meeker Massacre to the annual Meeker Sheepdog Classic, volunteers carry the weight of the actual events.
Volunteers also serve on bank boards, business boards of directors, chambers of commerce, church boards, school boards — the list is endless.
Volunteers are truly the heart of any community, and we should all feel blessed by the number of volunteers in Rangely and Meeker who really help make our lives more practical, safer and more enjoyable – depending on the board on which they serve.
While thousands in this county undoubtedly serve in some capacity as volunteers in some way, there is always a need for more.
There are thousands of slots for volunteers, all of which help make life in a small town much more enjoyable.
If you aren’t involved in some theater group, animal care group, health care group or some community group, it isn’t too late. It is a great way to help your neighbor, it can help you stay off the couch and become active in your community and there is no better way to get to know you neighbors.
I have always felt that volunteers are truly a community’s citizens of the year because they make so much happen.
If you aren’t volunteering now, how about giving it a thought?

Congratulations and a hatful of confetti is well deserved by the Meeker High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams – both of which qualified for this weekend’s Colorado State 2A boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments in Pueblo.
Best of luck, Cowboys! If not there in person, we are there with you in spirit!