March 17, 2021

Sheep of Iron County

Sheep To Shawl –

The annual event at the Frontier Homestead State Park Museum was held last weekend.  The pandemic created a different experience this year due to social distancing and “non-touch” events.

Many volunteers helped demonstrate the process of sheep to shawl and visitors had to register ahead for a certain “time slot” to keep numbers within the State Park Guidelines.

What was missing?  Some history of the sheep industry in Iron County.


According to the Iron County Resource Management Plan of 2017, the livestock industry started in Iron County with the arrival of the first European settlers in the 1850’s.  William R Palmer recorded that “sheep were first brought to Cedar City in November 1852 by the Walden Family, who later moved to beaver.  They had ten head, but as fast as people could get hold of them, every family acquired on or two (or more) to produce the wool that was needed to spit the family clothing.”

By 1869 Palmer reported the Co-op Sheep Company had built up to 5,000 head of sheep. At that time, they were the only users of open range, as herders preferred the West Hills near Iron Springs and Mud Springs.  After 1880, sheep were taken into the mountains for summer range.  By 1900, sheep had replaced cattle as the dominant livestock industry in Iron County.


Iron County settlers quickly found that Cedar Mountain was an ideal place to raise livestock (especially sheep) and animal numbers began to increase.  By 1910, the first Agriculture Census for the State was published and reported 190,953 sheep and lambs.  From that point the numbers varied due to changes in the economy, the World Wars, weather, and Federal legislation.

Unregulated grazing was curtailed by the enactment of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1935. Grazing management was initially designed to increase productivity and reduce soil erosion by controlling grazing through fencing and water projects.  Sheep and Goat numbers have declined from 1,858,000 in 1940 to 126,596 licensed uses on BLM managed lands in 2008.  The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture lists of livestock in Iron County reported 36,097 sheep.  That same report for 2017 shows 42,525 animals on 69 farms, an increase of animals over 2012, but a decline in the number of farms. These numbers reflect the ongoing Federal programs and policies that have impacted sheep production and wool markets.


Wool production from those animals was recorded as 258,731 pounds in 2012 and 344,721 pounds in 2017.  Those numbers reflect each fleece at an average of 8 lbs.

Prior to 1920 sheep were hand clipped.  In 1924 Erastus Jones built a large shearing corral 4 miles west of Cedar City, near the new (at that time) rail spur.  This operation lasted 20 years.

The best years for Iron County Sheepmen and women were 1910 to 1930.  Total herd sizes ranged from 190,000 to 200,000 sheep.  Wool production reached over a million pounds in 1930.

Sheep continue to provide jobs, a rural lifestyle and about 15% of the county tax revenues.

Women are heavily involved in the industry and many of the farms are women owned.  A large number spin, card, dye, and weave or knit the fiber into needed household items.  Anything from rugs to socks can and are produced each year.

What else was missing?  The collection of shawls made by many of our volunteers.  We’ll have them back when the rules change.

Our annual Sheep To Shawl event showcases many of these artists/crafters and we’re looking forward to having it again next year where you can touch, try, and enjoy.

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