Whitefish couple corners the art-wool market

‘Come on girls! Tulip! Come on lambies!” John Steitz hollered.

“Cash, you’re missing dinner,” his wife, Carol, yelled toward a reluctant sheep.

As the couple continued to shake round bins of barley, the flock of Australian Merinos picked up their heads, and upon realizing dinner was served, bounded over the hill at a full-out run.

The sheeps’ coats were a medley of brown, gray and black, though most of those hues were hidden beneath protective coats. The garments, which looked like miniature horse blankets, helped keep the sheep clean — well, as clean as one could keep a farm animal.

It’s a necessary step in raising sheep for wool. The Merinos, with their variety of colors and fine coats, are ideal producers, especially for the art-wool market that the Steitzes target. The couple is in a state of semi-retirement — caring for a flock of 25 Merinos to keep them busy and rejuvenate their land, which had been overgrazed by its former equine inhabitants.

The couple sells full fleeces, which average about $125 to $150 each, directly to craftsmen and women as far off as New Hampshire, Texas and even Spain.

The operation, situated on five acres in Whitefish, is a far cry from John’s Pennsylvanian roots. He grew up on the family farm in the western part of the state, where he started a production sheep operation with his sister. They ran 100 head — quadruple John and Carol’s current flock — but didn’t enjoy much success.

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