[caption id="attachment_84433" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2021\/12\/Wool-Pool.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="400" class="size-full wp-image-84433" \/> Fighting the winter chill in the air last Thursday, Pocahontas County sheep farmers loaded up their wool and brought it to the Pocahontas Producers Stockyard in Marlinton to be weighed and baled. From left: Pocahontas County High School sophomore Adam Workman, WVU\u2008Extension Service adminstrative assistant Connie Burns, PCHS junior Justin Moyers and Larry Sharp, of Marlinton, discuss the process of a wool pool. S. Stewart photo[\/caption]\r\n\r\nSuzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nFor nearly100 years, the tradition of a county-wide wool pool has seen multiple generations of sheep farmers collect their wool and bring it to market to be weighed and sold to be processed into wool cloth and yarn.\r\n\r\nWhile most wool pools are held in the summertime, the first Marlinton wool pool in two years was held last week at the Pocahontas Producers Stockyard \u2013 on a fair winter\u2019s day.\r\n\r\nIt was a long day \u2013 unloading and weighing the two-year crop of wool.\r\n\r\nAs farmers backed their trucks and trailers up to the stockyard, several Pocahontas County High School FFA members were there to pull the large bags of wool on to the scales. There, WVU Extension Service administrative assistant Connie Burns recorded the weight of each bag before it was sent on to the baler. At the baler, a crew removed the wool from the bags and sent it through the baling machine.\r\n\r\nAmong those working the baling machines was West Virginia Shepherds Federation president Joe Aucremanne and treasurer and wool pool manager Ron Fletcher, as well as Grant County extension agent Brad Smith.\r\n\r\nDuring his time with the federation, Aucremanne said he has seen the market for wool go down and, unfortunately, it\u2019s particularly bad this year.\r\n\r\n\u201cThirty years ago, wool was bringing a dollar a pound,\u201d he said. \u201cNow, we\u2019re lucky if we get thirty to forty cents a pound for it. Polyester fabrics have taken a lot of the wool market.\u201d\r\n\r\nTypically, a core sample of wool is sent to markets to verify the quality of the wool to get a price, but the federation has been working with a wool market in Jamestown, South Carolina, for so long, the verification isn\u2019t necessary.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019ve been doing business with this market in Jamestown for so many years, that they trust our word on things,\u201d Aucremanne said. \u201cThey gave us a fair bid for it and will be taking it on a good faith basis.\u201d\r\n\r\nAll the Pocahontas County wool will join wool from pools in Petersburg and Ripley, and will be trucked to Jamestown, South Carolina, \u201cWe\u2019ll be heading to Petersburg tonight when we leave Marlinton,\u201d Fletcher said. \u201cI like coming to Pocahontas County. I\u2019ve got friends here that I only get to see during the wool pool. Of course, I\u2019ve got friends all over the state like that.\u201d\r\n\r\nFletcher has been baling wool for 50 years \u2013 ever since he was a teenager in high school. He\u2019s traveled the country to attend shows and conventions.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019ve seen a lot of the U.S. because of sheep,\u201d he said. \u201cAnd this business has made friends for me all over the country, too.\r\n\u201cSheep have been my whole life since I was young and if my wife had her way, I wouldn\u2019t be doing it anymore \u2013\u00a0but I enjoy it,\u201d he added.\r\n\r\nSmith was available to lend a hand before the wool pool crew headed to his neck of the woods in Petersburg. A self-proclaimed part-time sheep specialist, Smith was concentrating on separating black wool from the white wool before placing it into the baler.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe cannot ship any black wool \u2013\u00a0it won\u2019t accept dye,\u201d he explained. \u201cSelling it to commercial, large lots like this, they can\u2019t mix it in with white. If you have a market for it, it actually sells for a premium because it\u2019s naturally dyed.\u201d\r\n\r\nSmith was in his element \u2013 despite the chill \u2013\u00a0and said, laughing, \u201cIf it\u2019s anything to do with sheep, I\u2019m there.\u201d\r\n\r\nPocahontas County has been one of the largest producers of wool in the state. Back in the day, the wool was shipped out of the county by train and now it\u2019s hauled in tractor trailers.\r\n\r\nAukerland said Texas is the biggest wool producer in the country, with about one million sheep. West Virginia, in comparison has between 30-and-40,000 sheep. A hundred years ago, it was closer to 300,000.\r\n\r\nOne reason West Virginia still has a large number of sheep is because of tradition. Children who grow up on farms tend to become farmers in the family business, which leads to generation after generation carrying on where their elders left off.\r\nLarry Sharp, of Marlinton, is a prime example. He grew up on a sheep farm and when asked how long he\u2019s been a sheep farmer he said, \u201cI\u2019m fifty-nine \u2013\u00a0ever since I was a baby.\u201d\r\n\r\nSharp has close to 200 head of sheep, which he raises for meat. The money he earns from the wool is just a little extra spending money.\r\n\r\n\u201cI take them to New Holland [Pennsylvania] or Jeff Lawson \u2013\u00a0he buys slaughter lambs over at Churchville [Virginia],\u201d Sharp said.\r\n\r\nSharp recalled wool pools from years past when there was so much wool, it was delivered to the pool in semi-trucks and a friend of his would unload it with a forklift.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019d load it by hand and those bags weighed two to three hundred pounds,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nAnother farmer to bring wool in to the stockyard married into the sheep farming business.\r\n\r\nRosemary McNabb\u2019s husband, Rob, and his brother, Frosty, were raised on a sheep farm and followed in their mom\u2019s, Pat\u2019s, shoes.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis goes clear back to where their mother was a young girl \u2013\u00a0nine years old,\u201d McNabb said. \u201cIt\u2019s been a long, very long tradition.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe have Suffolk and Southdowns,\u201d she continued. \u201cRight now we have about 100.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn its heyday, there were 200 to 225 head of sheep on the McNabb farm.\r\n\r\n\u201cPat raised them \u2013 they shaved sheep,\u201d she said. \u201cFrosty started the Southdowns, and Rob had the Suffolks, and then when Frosty got married, Rob sort of just took over.\u201d\r\n\r\nRob also provides shearing services to other sheep farmers in the county.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWhen shearing their own sheep and preparing to bag the wool, Rob isn\u2019t a fan of Rosemary\u2019s technique, but it gets the job done, nonetheless.\r\n\r\n\u201cHe doesn\u2019t like the way I pack the bags,\u201d she said, laughing. \u201cI don\u2019t get into the bags. I take a stick or a piece of PBC piping and stuff it down in there all the way around the sides and it gets pretty downright stuffed.\u201d\r\n\r\nThere are some sheep farmers who do get in the bags and stomp down the wool to pack it tight.\r\n\r\nOne of those farmers is Stella Callison, of Hillsboro. She has been in the sheep farming business for 45 years and carries on her father\u2019s love of sheep.\r\n\r\nAt one time, Callison had 100 head of sheep, but now she is down to four ewes.\r\n\r\n\u201cI had my knee replaced last year,\u201d she said, \u201cand I sold my ewes except for two, and they had two ewe lambs, so I\u2019m back in the business with four.\u201d\r\n\r\nCallison\u2019s son, Mikey, has 60 head of sheep. She was delivering his wool as well as hers to the pool.\r\n\r\nWhen Callison first started her sheep farming business, Rob McNabb sheared for her and she did her best to keep up with him \u2013\u00a0he sheared and she packed the wool bag.\r\n\r\n\u201cHe could shear one in about three minutes, and I had to be there to roll the fleece up, twist it up with paper twine, stick it in the sack and stomp the sacks \u2013\u00a0put about four or five fleeces in \u2013 then get in the sack and stomp it, and get back out before he finished the next sheep.\u201d\r\n\r\nCallison still does the routine on shearing day, but has had to alter it over the years.\r\n\r\n\u201cI never did have a whole lot of upper body strength to get out of the sack,\u201d she said. \u201cSince I got my knee replaced, of course, I can\u2019t climb into anything. So they just stick me in the sack and let me stomp and just throw [the fleece] in on my head, and I keep stomping.\u201d\r\n\r\nAt the end of the day, the wool pool collected 30,000 pounds of wool which will be processed and weighed before being sent to market.\r\n\r\nFrom beginning to end, the wool pool is a sight to see and is an enjoyable day that will add fond memories of farming in Pocahontas County. \r\n\r\nThe COVID-19 pandemic may have postponed the event, but it couldn\u2019t keep the tradition from continuing this year.