Wool, mohair buy in Shiprock helps producers receive fair price
A sheep lost in the wilderness for years was shorn for perhaps the first time in his life. It resulted in 93 pounds of wool-- an unofficial world record!
SHIPROCK — A group of wool and mohair buyers visited here today as part of a project designed to increase access to the wool market for Navajo producers and improve the quality of wool production.
The project is the result of a partnership between the Black Mesa Water Coalition and Diné College's Land Grant Office to bring buyers from outside the region to offer international market value pricing for wool and mohair produced by Navajos.
Felix Nez, an extension agent for the college in Tsaile, Ariz., said in addition to offering fair prices to producers, which is based on grade, they also receive feedback from the buyers.
That feedback was one reason Shiprock resident Anna Yazzie sold 484 pounds of wool from her flock of Columbia and Rambouillet sheep.
"I've been selling here and there, but the price is always low. This is a better deal," Yazzie said.
This is the sixth year for the buy, which happened today at the college's south campus, and the payout to producers last year was approximately $62,000 for about 92,000 pounds of wool and mohair, Nez said.
In addition to Shiprock, the group visited Crownpoint on Monday and the Mexican Water Chapter this afternoon. The group also will travel to the Arizona communities of Tsaile, Piñon, Kaibeto and Tuba City before winding up their circuit in Dilkon on Sunday.
Each time a bag of wool arrived, Stanley Strode punched three holes in the sacks, then pulled samples to examine them. Strode, a wool manager for the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association, was purchasing wool for the association.
He said prices for fine-grade wool ranged from $1 to $1.05 per pound while coarse grade wool was between 30 and 65 cents per pound.
"Hopefully, price wise, it's added some extra income for the sheep producers," Strode said.
When a mixed batch of wool arrived, produced by a flock raised by an 86-year-old woman from Newcomb, volunteers sorted through the bags while Strade determined the quality.
Among those checking out the wool was Teddy Varndell, who traveled from Chicago to purchase mohair.
"How good is that? It's bright. It's white," he said while examining a piece of wool.
Varndell said he has bought about 500 pounds of mohair since Monday. Overall, he and his wife hope to buy between 4,000 to 6,000 pounds this week.
"It's good mohair, and I can help support the pricing on the reservation by coming out here and paying a market price as opposed to the border towns," Varndell said.
He added the mohair is exported to England, where it is scoured and combed. The combed top is shipped to Italy.
"If you're wearing an Italian mohair suit, there's a good chance its Diné mohair," Varndell said.
Among the youngest wool sellers were sisters Melanie Antonito, 12, and Megan Antonito, 10, who help their family care for sheep in Blanco Canyon.
"It works the muscles, plus it's fun," Melanie Antonito said about sheep herding.
Their mother, Althea Martin, said her daughters learn responsibility by taking care of the animals.
Table Mesa resident Tommy Begay was driving to Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., to sell wool but when he heard about the prices offered at the buy, he decided to participate.
Begay, 67, said his grandparents raised sheep because it was a source of income and he remembers they would use the money from selling wool and lambs to buy him school supplies and clothing.
"Right now, you can't do anything like that. It's like a hobby now," Begay said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.