RAINIER, Ore. – For proof that entrepreneurial spirit is still alive in the West, just talk to the folks at The Oregon Shepherd wool insulation factory in Rainier. Inside the building, they are making loose-fill insulation for buildings out of sheep wool.
Located near the banks of the Columbia River, the building serves as offices, showroom, raw wool storage and processing plant. From the Rainier location, finished loose-fill natural wool insulation is shipped all over the United States including Alaska and Hawaii.
The company started when sheep growers Margaret Magruder (from Clatskanie) and Joel and Kay Pynch, (from Halsey), decided to find something to do with a product that was going to waste. They came up with the idea of making loose-fill insulation and then set about inventing a way to do it.
“Because no one else was doing it, we’ve had to do everything by trial and error,” Magruder said of her eclectic but functional collection of wool insulation processing equipment. “We only bought one machine new and fabricated the rest. As we realized what we needed to do, we set to work looking around for machines that we could make do it. Joel had an old cyclone machine in his barn that he turned into something we could use to dry the wool after we add the borax solution.
“Because wool is hard to chop, we did buy the chopper new. George Cornwell, our jack-of-all trades CPA and Director of Operations and Finance, took samples of wool to Pennsylvania where the machine is made to see if it was tough enough to do it. Lucky for us it was. It has been a challenge to do everything the hard way.”
The wool used for insulation has no other significant market value and might be discarded if Magruder and Pynch hadn’t developed a use for it. They purchase the fiber (called card waste), from places like Pendleton Woolen Mill’s Washougal plant, the Wool Gatherer Carding Mill in Montague California. To that they add wool they raise themselves and obtain from private sheep growers.
“We have sheep growers that give us wool rather than throw it away,” Magruder said. “Some sheep have wool the textile industry doesn’t want because it is colored or comes from hair sheep or has been contaminated because it comes from animals that have been raised with hair sheep. None of those things affect the insulation capacity of the wool so we can use it.
“Once we get the wool, and before we begin processing it, we send it to be washed in the scouring plant in San Angelo Texas. Once we get it back, it is sprayed with a borate solution which increases its already natural flame resistance and adds pest control. By the time it is air-dried and packed with the staples and installation netting, it is ready to ship. In fact, we have a very popular 8-by-10 foot wall-in-the-box product that is very easy to install.”
Wool is not only non-toxic and acoustically superior as a sound control material, but it uses less than one-tenth the energy it takes to manufacture fiberglass insulation or rock wool. As a sustainable and renewable organic product, it is perfect for people concerned with the plastic, polystyrene fibers, fiberglass and mineral wool that make up the most common types of insulation.
“Our manufacturing processes consume only a small fraction of the energy required to produce traditional insulation materials,” Magruder said. “We feel good that we are utilizing something that might otherwise be discarded and managing to keep our carbon footprint miniscule.”
For more information about natural sheep wool loose-fill insulation, visit www.oregonshepherd.com
Jan Jackson©2012 –