ETTRICK — I recently received in the mail affirmation of our decision this past year to downsize our sheep flock.
Our annual wool check arrived. It comes from a national wool cooperative that sells to the textile industry.
The check represents the proceeds from the 2017 shearing — a testament to and reward for the long hours spent nurturing and caring for the flock. It was a difficult farming year, but a little encouragement would sustain some hope for the future.
I opened the check and instead of lots of numerals I was struck by the big black lettering that some say matches the space between my ears:
Zero and 00/100
There it was. The big zero. The old “L” tattooed across my face. Worthless. Specifically, the 77 pounds of wool that we had shipped was worth nothing. It was classified as kemp — rough, coarse fibers that do not felt or take color. I should have added the hair on my head.
Even when we had Suffolk sheep, we never made much from wool. Our flock is now all Blackface, which is used to make high-quality Harris Tweed suits in Scotland. But apparently U.S. buyers want only long, white wool.
The member letter that accompanied the check explained.
“Defective wools again made up a large percentage of the wool we handled this year. As in the past, poly-contaminated and kempy (hair) wools continue to have no value to the wool industry.”
I know there is a void upstairs, but in fairness we raise the sheep for meat and we sold more than 20 this past year. Oddly enough we’ve had lots of inquiries during the past few months asking if we have breeding stock available. Perhaps we sold too low.
Nevertheless, let’s do a quick profit and loss on the wool side of the farming operation.
Expenses: A shearing bill of $125.
Revenue: Wool sales of zero.
As Billy Preston once sang, “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’.”
Makes me wonder what would happen if I applied for a nonrecourse marketing-assistance loan — a MAL — for my anticipated 2018 wool proceeds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the loan provides an influx of cash when market prices are typically at harvest-time lows. The loan allows the producer to delay the sale of the commodity until more favorable market conditions emerge.
I might even be eligible for loan-deficiency payments.
So it’s pretty clear I should borrow more money to buy more sheep in anticipation of my zero-revenue projections.
Clearly my farming acumen needs some work, but I think I’ve become qualified to become a congressman. What other dysfunctional business with funds running out and having no capacity to borrow more money can suddenly cooperate and agree to a $560 billion spending spree that will add an estimated $320 billion to the deficit?
Sometimes you wonder if we’re all crowded together in a handbasket making rapid descent to a very warm place.
I may be a worthless sheep farmer, but I just figured out where I should send some of my worthless golden-colored wool.
I suspect a fellow Wisconsinite, the U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, would agree.