Fibre comes in from depots across the province, as well as B.C. and Saskatchewan, for grading and shipping to Ontario
The wool comes in from all points on the compass, leaving flocks of sheared sheep in its wake.
On this day, a truckload of wool from north-central Alberta is unloading while another semi-trailer sits on the street outside, waiting its turn in the dock.
It is a busy time for Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers branch manager Brian Shaw, whose Lethbridge facility is a primary destination for much of the wool gathered in British Columbia, Alberta and parts of Sask-atchewan.
Shearing has been under way on sheep farms across his collection area and the wool is coming in, packed into large burlap bags weighing several hundred pounds each.
“There is a use for every fleece produced in Canada,” Shaw said as he examined some of the wool near the unloading dock. It all depends on what purpose the user has in mind.
The co-op was once strategically located on a rail spur near the Leth-bridge main line. From there, wool would arrive in boxcars for grading and further distribution.
Today, the location is the same but it is not quite so strategic. The rail spur is long gone and the building is a few blocks from what is now this prairie city’s downtown shopping area.
It’s one reason why the co-op has a satellite location on the city’s outskirts and will meet people outside the city if necessary. Wool also comes here from 21 depots in the three prairie provinces.
Once accepted and recorded, the wool is compressed and shipped to the co-op’s head office in Carleton Place, Ont., where it is graded. Nearly three million pounds of wool a year flow through the CCWG network.
Grading also used to be done in Lethbridge, but Shaw said selecting wool into 20 different grades is a specialized skill that few now possess.
“Grading in itself is a lost art,” said Shaw as he adjusted the old tags once used for that purpose.
“Three to five grades per farm is not uncommon, but we probably get all grades in Alberta. For the most part, the wool that we get in here is quite good.”
The wool is bought at greased weight and sold on the yield weight, which is the weight after cleaning.
Material that is graded as range wool is the finest of the fine and is used in high-end textiles, said Shaw. Canadian range wool is equivalent to Australian merino, although the latter has several quality gradations.
Range wool comes mostly from purebred sheep, primarily Rambouillet, Columbia and Targhee breeds, said Shaw.
“When some of that wool comes in, it is so clean that it’s almost white.”
The Lethbridge site is also a collection point for musk ox hair, partly because it has a machine capable of compressing the material for more economical shipment.
The co-op also maintains an extensive inventory of livestock supplies, sheepskins, wool and wool products, clothing, lanolin and lanolin-based products.