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Published April 13, 2022
The University of Wyoming Sheep Program has become the first operation to reach Level III (Certified) status in the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) American Wool Assurance (AWA) Program.
“We have a 400-head commercial Rambouillet flock, and we felt like the AWA Program really aligned with our operation from a teaching and research perspective,” says Whit Stewart, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Animal Science and UW Extension sheep specialist. “I think that people have a tendency to say, ‘I don’t want someone to tell me what to do,’ but this program allowed us to take a critical look at our enterprise and find ways to improve.”
It also made sense for UW to lead the way for the state’s sheep producers in becoming certified in this voluntary, producer-driven program.
“From the extension side, we’re always trying to educate our producers, and we couldn’t do that as well as we need to if we didn’t go through the process ourselves,” Stewart says. “Helping our producers is a priority of our program.”
The university allowed ASI to test the AWA Program audit instrument at the UW Sheep Unit in late 2021. That audit process was completed recently and, now, the university’s wool can be stamped AWA Certified and with the AWA logo. Wool from the university flock is being used to develop value-added products -- such as university-branded blankets -- and the proceeds from the sale of those products are being invested into the development of other regionally manufactured products.
UW graduate student Courtney Newman, of Fort Collins, Colo., was instrumental in the certification process. She plans to use blockchain technology to source verify not only the university’s wool clip, but also that of other producers across the state.
“ASI would like to congratulate the University of Wyoming for reaching Level III certification,” says ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson. “The association also owes the university a debt of gratitude for its assistance in finalizing the audit process that will lead to producers throughout the United States having the opportunity to reach Level II (Process Verified) and Level III (Certified).”