Volume 12 Issue 2 A Journal Dedicated to Natural Dyes Spring 2007
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Wool Mill, Thirteen Mile Farm, Belgrade, MT
Photograph Copyright by Dave Tyler

Thirteen Mile Wool Mill
By Katey Plymesser
Mill Manager

Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool Company, owned by Becky Weed and Dave Tyler, offers certified organic products made from the wool of our flock of sheep in southwestern Montana. Tender lamb meat, along with knitted goods, blankets, yarn, roving and hand-spinners’ fleeces are all things you can buy, but you are sharing in much more when you do so.

A view of Thirteen Mile Farm
Thirteen Mile Farm, Belgrade, MT
Photograph Copyright by Dave Tyler

The sheep at Thirteen Mile Farm are raised without chemical fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics or hormone supplements. They grow on grass, clover and alfalfa. Our lamb and wool are certified organic by the Montana State Department of Agriculture. The livestock are fenced out of the creeks to protect both local wildlife habitat and the quality of the sheep’s drinking water. Our only protections against native predators are guard llamas and vigilance, and, since we choose not to use lethal control methods against coyotes, bears, wolves, mountain lions, our ranch is certified as "predator friendly.”  It is a choice which, like many of our land management decisions, acknowledges risk in the interest of learning how to coexist with native species while caring for the land.

We now have a full-service, small-scale natural fiber processing mill at Thirteen Mile Lamb & Wool Company. There we process our own wool and do custom processing for other fiber producers—washing, picking, carding, pin-drafting, felting and semi-worsted spinning—and can produce roving or batts directly off the carder, pin-drafted sliver, felt or yarns. We have a variety of carding and spinning experience, ranging from fine fibers like merino and guanaco (a camelid fiber that is finer than alpaca) to longwools like Karakul and Lincoln, and double-coated fibers such as Icelandic and Shetland.

We began by building a mill that would be versatile enough to add value to regional fibers—one that would be consistent with our goals of organic management, and that would be a pleasant place to handle the natural fibers grown, remarkably, from grass. After remodeling, reroofing, and rewiring, the white barn at Thirteen Mile Farm was ready to receive wool processing equipment in early 2004. With partial financial assistance from Northwest Energy Corporation for renewable energy projects, we hired a local firm to install solar water heating panels on the barn's south-facing roof. This solar energy system supplies most of the hot water needed to run our wool wash tank. An adjacent greenhouse, built primarily to replace the lambing-barn space taken over by the wool mill, also houses drying racks for the wool-washing system.

Thirteen Mile yarns are made with certified organic and predatory friendly wool from our flock.  We have a range of natural colors and sheep varieties, including Corriedale, Romeldale, Border Leicester, Blue-faced Leicester and Wensleydale.  We also have a limited supply of fibers from our flock and other nearby growers that are suitable for weaving yarns—Churro, Karakul, Lincoln and llama. These are not certified organic but are processed with the same attention to fiber quality.  The knitting yarns are available in sport, worsted and bulky weights in a range of natural and plant-dyed colors. 

Making a commitment to using only natural dyes seems an obvious extension of the philosophies which have helped direct this business.  We use only potassium aluminum sulfate and cream of tartar to mordant our yarns and choose not to use any heavy metals that are dangerous to our health and the health of the environment.  We are currently using extracts from Earthues in Seattle, along with the tansy and goldenrod we collect locally in the fall and dry for use year-round.

Thirteen Mile Wool Mill
Wool Products and Custom Fiber Processing in Southwest Montana
13000 Springhill Road
Belgrade, Montana 59714
Phone: 406-388-1956
Email: katey@lambandwool.com
Website: www.lambandwool.com