HETTINGER, N.D. — The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down some ag research activity, but it has also made time to create a scholarship program that uses university-grown wool for blankets made in North Dakota State University colors and design.

Christopher Schauer, director and animal scientist at the North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center, said the new project uses NDSU station wool to make wool blankets colored in the NDSU official “tartan.” A tartan is an official, world-registered plaid pattern for NDSU. The Hettinger station is known for sheep research. Founded in 1909, it today has a diversified program of agronomy, weed science, wildlife science and livestock animal science.

“But what we’re known for nationally, and definitely within the region, is our large research sheep program,” Schauer said. “We concentrate on feed and nutrition and reproductive management in ewes and rams.”

Hint of ‘teal’

The average fleece from a Columbia ewe weighs from 10 to 16 lbs., so the tartan blanket project took roughly150 fleeces. The “staple length” of the wool strands ranges from 3.5 to 5 inches. 
Photo circa 2009, from North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center. Submitted photo / Agweek
The average fleece from a Columbia ewe weighs from 10 to 16 lbs., so the tartan blanket project took roughly150 fleeces. The “staple length” of the wool strands ranges from 3.5 to 5 inches. Photo circa 2009, from North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center. Submitted photo / Agweek
In 2011, NDSU students in the textiles department of the College of Arts and Humanities developed and registered a “tartan,” a signature plaid pattern. They registered it with the Scottish Register of Tartans, a governmental body in Edinburgh, Scotland, operating since 2009.

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The design has been used in ties and smaller projects, marketed through the NDSU Bookstore, with proceeds going to scholarships. The colors are the beloved NDSU green and gold, with a small amount of teal color, to set it off.

Schauer said the blanket project is the largest project of this type that’s been done with the tartan design — with scholarship potential 40 times the previous items. The idea was to allow Bison-backers to buy a blanket made with 100% NDSU Hettinger Research Center wool, with proceeds going toward scholarships.

The blankets will be sold through the NDSU bookstore and will be available for purchase online or at football games. Officials haven’t yet finalized the price for the blankets. They think up to 350 blankets may be generated, with a goal of selling at less than $300 per blanket, including profits generated for scholarships. The scholarships will be split among the departments of Animal Science and the department of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management.

25% in the end

Columbia sheep at the Hettinger station are from an all-American breed, developed in the U.S. from a Lincoln and Rambouillet cross. Photo courtesy North Dakota State University. Photo circa 2009, from North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center. Submitted photo / Agweek
Columbia sheep at the Hettinger station are from an all-American breed, developed in the U.S. from a Lincoln and Rambouillet cross. Photo courtesy North Dakota State University. Photo circa 2009, from North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center. Submitted photo / Agweek
Besides being a fundraiser, the project offers a peek into the world of wool.

Only about 25% of the wool weight from an initial shearing of Columbia sheep remains in the final product. The center sent 1,800 pounds of “raw” wool to Mountain Meadow Wool at Buffalo, Wyo., where it was processed as a sole source — keeping it together, processing it and putting together, scouring it of grease and dirt, and putting it through their wool line and making it into colored yarn.

In late August 2020, about 900 pounds of clean wool yarn was delivered to Faribault Woolen Mills in Faribault, Minn., to go through their looms for weaving. In the end they’ll produce 325 to 350 blankets, available in late September to October. They should be available for any of the traditional or nontraditional homecoming-related activities.

Schauer noted that South Dakota State University in Brookings also did a signature wool project that combined locally grown wool, but not necessarily SDSU-grown wool, and they were doing a blanket and scarves, but not with a tartan project. Similarly, the University of Wyoming has done a similar thing. But not with a registered tartan.

“We're unique,” Schauer said.