124: Thayne Mackey | Brookside Woolen Mill | Malta, MT

Thayne and Michelle Mackey highway run Brookside Woolen Mill in Malta MT where they create green insulation out of wool produced by locally raised sheep.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m in Malta, Montana up here, we have a woolen mill. We used to run about 12-1500 sheep. Decided to change markets a bit, since there hasn’t been any decent wool market in Montana since the second World War. My wife

Brought 29 semi-loads of machinery and set up a wool mill.

I found a new podcast called Woolful! This young girl ashley is doing listeners!

Did she say you brought it back from UT?

We did.

Was the old Baron Woolen Mill

started by the mormon church

would n’t let the church

Baron’s of Scotland and they  started running

ran up until the late 80s, went through several buyers before we got it.

all there Baron brothers were alive,

original parts and pieces

neat bunch of old gentlemen and were a big help moving the machinery and setting it up for us!

ww2 veterans….

Wow! It says you were retired farmers who farmed about 4000 acres of grain? Which sounds outrageous!

Tell me about your of first gardening experience?

Dad always had a garden when I was fairly young. Through high school, did a lot of shoveling and

A lot of weeding

Grandmother always had a big garden

in Turner over on the east side of the state here and she canned a lot , my aunt still gardeners up there.

always had the farming and stuff in the background.

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you? Maybe you want to tell us little bit about green insulation and your green mill.

Organic is difficult. because there are so many definitions very political. some things one organization will call organic and some wont.

All sheep coming out of New Zealand and Australia is organic but they don’t have to follow the  same standards we do. Three are so many third party orgs that say this is this isn’t, there’s no standard. OCIA (organic crop improvement association) 25 years ago, definitions change with political climates and availability so organic is a very tricky situation  to get into.

We are organically certified. We’re working with state of Montana on paperwork

do use organic sheep and organic wool

use conventional, the problem is there is no difference the way they are treated on the farm

if you have to inject it there are exceptions for organics

it’s a catch word

it’s a wonderful thing

it’s kind of a thing on

does it not mean you have to be fed organic food.

depends on your inspector … what’s organic hay?

if it comes out of a well does it have to have organic water on it?

if it comes out of an or

I think it means not being sprayed with pest

what are you up by the Yaak?

no we’re south of town?

if you irrigate out of the creek is it organic

if it has leafy spurge on it it can’t be organic

water out of the milk river drainage

if you irrigate out of the creek


leafy spurge in it…

we get a lot of people  calling out of the east coast wanting organic wool

I think it’s people who are doing whatever they can to build the soil around their

people ask me why don’t we sell our eggs, I think they are not organic eggs because I can’t afford to feed my chickens organic chicken food…

certainly somebody who’s putting chemicals onto their hay to make sure it’s got weeds in it,

I prefer the terms green and natural are undefinable

anybody with any conscious, that says yeah this is natural we’re

yeah we’re doing the best we can.

If you tell me your certified organic, I’m like yeah?

inspectors fighting all the time with the state

tricky situation

sheep fleece to be scoured

That’s why we go with the green label.

Montana Green Insulation Product available in the world

Have to wash it with a soap.

Wash with Dawn

same thing they wash animals with after an oil spill etc…

10 day biogradibility

irrigated pasture

that’s the green thing that we use there.

As opposed to the organic label

That’s our process, our scouring train is

120 feet long weighs 105 tons.

We had to build the building around it

one bath

it’s a hot soapy water, goes through 3 rinses

water is recycled through

put into a clean pit

irrigation system

small children

Cray fish, frogs and turtles

document that on our website  You can see our water usage.  is about as good as it can be. Natural.

That’s one of the things we’re trying to do this summer

is get a green house set up that has a  large commercial aquaponics

puts some prongs in it and some tilapia, and some hydroponic plants.

I thing people will be interested

I just went on they strip over to paris

there happened to be this big ag production

big show

the first guy I talked to out side had this really cool aquaponics system set up

he was from New Orleans and just moved to France to expand. It was a really cool system. It was almost like a metal rainwater type thing, but it was hanging vertical., the way the water recycled and came out on top was really cool It’s nice to see your gonna be doing 

they had these

that’s what we’re dealing with

growth media

rock wool,

fiber glass

spun fibers, we actually use the sheep wool

it’s natural

not getting any harmful chemicals

every year you have to sheer your sheep

gives nitrogen, you’re actually putting fertilizer into your system by putting

make a sheep pad.

using the sheep wool

can make a natural pad

1000s of years,

what’s that market like?

growing market, it’s a very specialized because it’s  pretty expensive.


There’s nothing in it but sheep wool

add polyboar to it which keeps out bugs if you are somewhere that has bugs, usually down south.

better fire protection so the Federal Government

Fortunately wool

can’t burn in our atmosphere

it will char, but it can’t carry a flame


to meet the new mattress

you can’t burn wool


throw a blanket on it

big internet thing

guy caught a sheep on fire

burnt down the half country

and set the prairie on fire,

when the internet was first starting.

sheep wool does not burn,

It just can’t happen

sheep wool won’t mold?

I was just thinking? Wool, will keep you dry and 

When wool gets wet,

that’s the insulation



when wool’s completely saturated

still has it’s insulation

when you have a good wool coat

throw it on if it’s wet, it still contain 85% of the value

bore you real quick with science

wool itself is just like DNA it’s a double helix

not been able to be recreated in a laboratory

par t of the reason

wool has the insulation has the

springness qualities

why its so comfortable because you’re

surrounding yourself with a little bit of wool and a lot of air


if you look back in history

sheep was one of the first domestic animals

somebody decided to start to spin it

could make fabric and blankets and clothing

start of civilization as we know it, can be traced back to wool

I always love wool, and you can use the felt, I’ve seen amazing paintings done out of wool….

What we have is a line of

We are the only ones of the US production who is making those pads

3 inches thick, put a cotton covering on it, put a

layer it and

build a mattress out of it

you do a lot of studying on the internet

there are some really big and comprehensive studies

about how much better your body reacts to sleeping on wool

you don’t get hot spots, it breathes, non-bacterial

use a mattress for a few years it has  a 100 lbs of skin cells

you can pull a wool mattress apart, clean it and reuse it

they’re very earth friendly and very green that way

filters air

wool will actually take chemicals like takes Hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde.

because of the double helix

basically purifies air

studies that have been done by land grant universities

Texas A&M

Montana State has one of the few wool laboratories left in the US

down in Bozeman, they age a new

sheep university has a new doctor that’s in charge of it. You can verify all of this though them.

you said you got some sheep this year?

4 shetland? 2 brown and 2 black

Do you spin?


You should start spin! Everybody should spin

Kind of like Gandhi that way

I could se that I used to weave…

There you go,

I could see me spinning. 

very relaxing, I could fall asleep running a spinning wheel.

look funny doing it.

I could see that being meditative  We didn’t get the sheep for the wool, we got them for the manure and also to eat the weeds, the spotted knap weed

they will, you’ll have will have to force them on to it for a little while, to get them used to it.

better in the spring,gets really bitter in the fall.

they will actually eat it. They will just be

when it starts to cure out, If you get a chance.

put a blanket on them will help keep your wool a lot cleaner.

should get 15-20 lbs of wool off of the sheep

shetlands have a nice quality wool, it’s a coarse wool, but it has a lot of hand spinning qualities. It makes really nice blankets and sweaters.

I thought it would have to because shetland sweater,s I mean I’ve bought a lot of shetland sweaters. So you have 1200 sheep?

Not anymore.

We go through so much wool. This year we’re looking at going through 200,000 lbs of wool.

each sheep let’s say, a conventional sheep we can get 5 lbs of usable wool out, Over the next couple of  year I’d like to be processing about a half a million lbs a year

total clip

in Montana is about 1.5 million pounds yearly.

Wow! So I was just talking about this friend of mine about the sheep shearing guy, was coming to our community, and she wanted to know if we wanted to bring them over, 

I was asking about them being pregnant now…

A sheep is a sheep

if he is a good shear

Have you ever seen them sheer sheep?

got some wool  from NY a couple of years ago and we’re shipping some there tumor  insulation

sheep shearing

school through the wool

it’s almost like a dance.

sheep shearer can sheer them in a minute

spin them in their but

The sheep changes position and the shearer changes position.

60-90 seconds later a naked sheep runs out

Sometimes if they’re jostling around

might go ahead and lamb

but they are gonna anyway if they are ready

say she’s 8months pregnant

ride on a bumpy road


better for them then non-shearing

community event

bring in 25-30 people

my wife would cook for them, which probably wasn’t much fun for her

kind of like horse traders, kinda got a take with a grain of salt

Anybody willing to shear sheep all day, you gotta be nice to them.

enjoy watching it

true science

to be a good sheep shearer you gotta shear about 1000 sheep

That’s what she said, they said, it would take 1000 sheep!  She’s going to that workshop. And then we hope she’s gonna do our sheep.

all repetition and foot work

sometimes a sheep will fight you, 90% of the times, they’ll walk away with a smile

sometimes you get one who is

Several times,

they can be aggressive

You do have a shetland ram?

Don’t spoil him.

hit him between the horns with a stick

Illl bet he just barely butted me one day,

he’s a sheep

and your a person


Just make sure you don’t get hurt. The biggest problem you have when working with sheep is they jump. Many times, when you’re working wi

somebody’s step in front

jump up and hit them in the face, break their glasses and their nose,


a shetland sheep can jump 3 foot in the year, you watch them when the lambs will be 3-4 days old

I read about shetland sheep, the only way basically to protect themselves is either to run away or they have the ram there, and their vision is kinda limited, So then I realize he’s just doing his thing  protecting the girls. 

you’re a predator

the minute you put the feed bucket down you’re fair game

as he gets a little friskier in the breading season.

you just have to pay attention

You’ve watched on the discovery channel big horn sheep

1000s of lbs of pressure

Need to

let him know up front

if he gets aggressive you’re gonna smack him

pet the little sheep, that’s all fine and dandy.

but if that sheep gets aggressive,

and he hits you 120 lbs sheep with his head,

20 lbs a mile

I bet, I was getting his bucket to give him some food with some molasses and oats and your butting me?

used to run 2-300 shetlands, so I’ve been around them a bit.

want to bottle them, if you need to, if there are 2 that are the same size

pull the odd size off, if you have to bottle freed them.

bottle bum is a wonderment of god himself

wander put the nose in your pocket. They’re like a cat, and follow you into the house.

then they get to be 150 lbs

they’re fun.

baby lambs very few things cuter then a baby lamb,  and baby goats

congratulations on becoming a sheep owner! That’s a good thing! We need more of them.

What if listeners? What would they want to know

We’ve been feeding them hay, and alfalfa, and the oats and some mineral….


if the sheep can get out and graze, they’re gonna graze,


permanent breed

taste better then a conventional lamb, because they just do, taste a little better to me

If you have a little pasture for them to graze on, and good water, keep a little salt  in front all the time

keep them vaccinated


They need a shot within a day of birth….

DSD dead sheep disease, nobody knows what it is, and sheep just die

the only thing dumber then one sheep is a 100 head of sheep, and they’re something to that.

Make sure you get a CSD shots…

will get

nothing more crushing then have a little kid with a baby lamb

could have prevented

fight you

I need a prescription for a CD-T shot

take the tails off of them, are

imagine we’ll leave them long tainted?

Why would you take the tails off?

We don’t have a problem here where we’re dry, but you get a little more moisture up there where you are.

as they deficit

the feces will get caught in the tail

in the hair

they will get maggots

a little cleaner

personal choice

commercial flock do it because of sanitation issues.

wool flies except maybe on their faces sometimes.

If you do, make sure dock them long, make sure it’s 3 inches

the flooper not a technical term.

breeding portion,

keep it covered

go down to the farm supply store,

bag of little green cherries

don’t want a bunch of rams running around, that’s how accidents happen and people get hurt.

keep their mind on being a sheep

This is my personal opinion, don’t take it too serious, but get a little green cheerio

talk to your vet

Your extension agent in your county will be a good help for you.

You’re in good shape, just watch em, if they’re not acting right

get an antibiotic pretty quick

check their eyelids

primitive breeds, we’ve never had problems with.

inverted eyelid, if you don’t they will lose their eye.

upside down

just a muscle thing, it can be treated with an injection of saline solution  or penicillin.

Or you can cut a little slit or the scar tissue

if you don’t they could lose an eye

watch them for runny noses

if they are laying down listless

when sheep catch a cold, they they don’t kick it off very easy and they usually just die.

I would imagine there are books out there, I know the University has a couple of textbooks


american sheep industry out of Colorado  has some good books

all sorts of forums on Facebook  where you can get advice, some people you might not want to take advice form (could be like me haha;)

I had no idea. 

I’m barely the gardener. My husband’s the gardener. He grew up on a ranch, I don’t think they had sheep they had cows….

How about any business advice if somebody wanted to get into a business?

Like a cooling mill?

How many sheep would be the minimum if they wanted to sell some wool to you? IDK I know nothing about any of this.

Like to run big batches of wool

3 woolen mills in the state, 2 for sale and they want us to buy them just because of volume.

The 2 little mills in the State on a good year will use between 4-10,000 lbs of wool. We can process 1000 lbs an hour, so the big thing with that is scalable.

Most of them charge 3-4$ a lb. to scour the wool. Because on the scale we charge $1/lb. or less

can wash a lot at a time,

Let’s say with your four sheep, I couldn’t wash them separately


commercial wool sack is about a 400 lbs sack of wool and you;ll see those if you goto the shearing this year. That’s kind of where we want to be

if it has 2 ends

poor quality we grind up for insulation
higher quality wool can go into mattresses, reclamation pads?

Were doing some stuff with the 

department of transportation on wool beds? Were doing some stuff 

golf mats on tests

We’re doing some work with an engineering firm on 

revegetating the Anaconda Copper Super-Fund site

dirtiest and gives off nitrogen

great growth medium

sprinkle grass down, cover it up, you retain an unGodly amount of moisture because the wool will  hold moisture, so your seed beds stay nice, it throws shade on the seeds till they get established. then you have a mat that the roots grow into, and over the course of 5 or 6 years,

matt starts to deteriorate then as it starts to deteriorate it puts off 80-90% nitrogen so your grass is being fertilized so consequently you don’t have to spray fertilized on it Which for a yard is kind of nice, nobody wants their dog running around in a yard that has fresh fertilizer on it….

Yeah that’s the probably the biggest thing I’ve learned on this podcast is how toxic lawn chemicals are….

Lawn chemicals can be bad. Do you know what Roundup is, glyphosate? Safest chemical known to man It touches anything other then a plant it’s gonna kill, and it becomes inert, run it through everything green and it it will kill everything but as soon as it Hits dirt again it becomes inert

There’s other plants, chemicals like true-tail, sometimes you shake it in a cottonwood tree just driving by in a pickup and it will kill the cottonwood tree…

So there’s very dangerous chemicals out there and there’s very dangerous chemicals. Same thing with GMOs

there  isn’t an organism on the that hasn’t been modified someway.

GMO sheep, they’ve

been bred with something else to get a shetland sheep

back into Politics and catchwords, I won’t bore you with my opinion. Some chemicals are bad and some aren’t so bad. You just need to read the labels

goes against the organic thing, but


I like the idea of the woolen grass pad, it’s putting nitrogen back into the soil. I guess I’m picturing  that paper you get with the seeds in them? What do they use the insulations for? You put it in your walls?

Yep, We do a lot of attics. We do a lot of the tiny houses, because we’re only a few hundred miles from the Balkan Oil Field. So we do a lot of little houses by . and things like that. Lately we’ve been doing a lot of busses, people have been taking school buses and converting them into r vs..  insulated

little gal out of Livingston, who came and got a load of insulation for a tiny house they were building and she has a friend who is going to winter in a teepee, and they are going to come up and get insulation for the teepee. She’s building an old style very indian teepee…

double layer

A flip is R38

A flip of sheep wool is R50. Of course it’s a non-carcinogen,

filters the air and things like that,

don’t have to wear safety gear, when you install it, it doesn’t itch, it won’t get in your lungs, and cystic fibrosis,

using a lot of that

on the mats, we’ve been experimenting with an actual native seed mat, that we put the seed on, we’re not sure how to tack it in there, we’re looking at honey or corn syrup as a glue and you just put it on your yard, and

roll it down your yard and the honey or corn syrup

will actually attract bees and then everybody needs honey bees around

very important, so there are some advantages to that, we’re hoping to have something like kind of this next year.

I was thinking back before Mike and I first got married, a friend of mine had this huge teepee, and she had a big bed in it and she lined it with herbs, and it was like the nicest guest room I ever stayed in, it just smelled so good, and sleeping outside on this big ole queen bed…. was so heavenly listening to the creek flow by …

do a lot of homes


people who have kids with asthma are using it because it filters the air, and people with allergies

wool will help that…

With the felting machine

have requests for air filters for systems

excess filtering that wool will do that a polyester filter

weight the water that we use

washes out the impurities in the water.

I think you’re gonna inspire listeners. I’m always up for a 

It’s a tough one where you have a kid with asthma.

Anything you can do .

5 gallon buckets that have



that will help out a kid

You’ve got four sheep right there and, you can make your own felt

wash it

need to wash at 120º to melt the lanolin,m primitive breeds like shetlands don’t have

fill it up with your wool

get your bathtub and hot as water as you get, the lanolin will float to the surface, if you want to make your own soap or to make your own lotions

Really? I have a friend who makes soap Simply Josephine …

goat milk soap

we are starting to recover some of the lanolin

turned into the slurry

lotion makers run the organic wool, we get organic lanolin

couple of companies that will use it, we’ll start boxing it up and start putting it in boxes.

How many sheep do you have? IDK not many, probably 50 or so

we’re like we say hardly running any more

We have some on shares or things like that.

You can do all sorts of stuff with your wool. Like I said get it in the bathtub

dry balls, wash it,

throw them in the dryer

will keep static out, make laundry a little nicer I guess, I don’t know what she does but it’s kind of magic!

Want a nice bath mat

and you walk on it, feels nice under your feet….

That will make nice Christmas presents!!!

Get yourself a needle felt kit

one year we had kids make christmas tree

filled them up with wool and needle felted them, took them down to the senior center

keep poking with a needle till you take about an inch and a 1/2 of felt, and get it down to about 3/8 of an inch and they make candy canes and snow men and all sorts of stuff out of will. If you look on Pinterest on the computer, just look up wool felting projects

For you with your 4 fleeces, it doesn’t make sense to have it processed

in an afternoon

There’s all sorts of natural dyes

onion skins, native plants that you can get a whole

If you get some good white fleeces.

Can we get a white baby from these brown sheep that we have? WE might get a white sheep down the road…We might trade our ram off for a different ram after this spring if we can…. But is it possible to get a white baby?

Like I say you can get about any color you want out of sheep. You’re sheep there, if you decide you want to some crossbred lambs or you get a conventional ram to breed your sheep

can get about any color

if you decide you want to get a

conventional ram

pretty silky fleeces

f1 generation crop is always, you get a lot of hybrid bigger

get some interesting fleeces out of them. It will be nice if you take up spinning  and get into felting out of that.

I love the felting idea, I haven’t ever tried that but I have a good friend who does, and I like what i’ve seen. 

Want to tell anyone else anything?

Well we have a website I guess www.montanagreeninsulation.com

I am happy to help with questions.

don’t have enough wool for us to run

best way to wash wool, in their situations.

We are trying to work with wool pools in the state

Montana to develop some Montana Made

big spinning frame to make yarn

socks and sweaters and baseball crops

Montana wool growers to get together and say we want to have their own brand

that way people could get together like yourself and say we’re gonna pool our sheep

send it up and have it processed,

wool products  that we made out of Montana wool fleeces.

start our own brand/coop WE’ve had a lot of interest in that.

Anyone interested get a hold of extension agent

wonderful sheep program, wool lab down there,

Call them with questions

Call me with questions

There’s all sorts of people available

There’s a whole bunch spinning and webbing guilds around the state

MAWS spinning and weaving

Eureka has a huge fiber gathering

Isn’t it the same weekend as the Quilt show now?

They used to bring up the Navajo Indians would do spinning and weaving demonstrations. They’d have an auction. It’s amazing the things they could do, they had a hand sheering class

use the old hand sheers and not the clippers. Real educational. Everybody in the wool industry is willing to talk to you.

Go down to the coop


Every ranch in the state of Montana was founded on sheep, very few that weren’t. Montana’s a big sheep state.

Sheep are cool that’s the bottom line!

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

The top of my head, your biggest problem we have right now is over population and concrete and asphalt. We don’ t have an equal distribution of food resources. Part of that , well 90% of that is political. We do have the capability of feeding the world on the ground that is in production now, but the biggest problem is the best farm ground in the world is habituated by cities.

Like in the state of Montana.

asphalt, any time it rains on it, it runs chemicals off and it runs bad chemicals

where we jump back to how can water be organic when there’s urn off on the  the Kootenai river, by the highway. how can that be organic

local CSAs

starting one here

anytime you can help raise yourself

a food bank  or someone else,

is a wonderful thing, don’t over build, don’t put in pavement, don’t pave your driveway

my personal thoughts,

anything that will help another is a good organization to be involved with.

Those were awesome answers. You’ve been just a wonderful guest. Full of concrete ideas and full of practical knowledge, things I didn’t know and Im sure other listeners probably don’t know.

In the online listen even Stephen king talks about his ideal reader, I think all my listeners or avatars are going to like that.

Every time I go to Kalispell they’re building more houses, on this incredible rich farmland, that whole new development where they’re just south of the new Cabellas

That was a perfect answer!!!

Thank you so much for sharing.

don’t take any people

One more quick note

there’s always coffee, they’re usually beer and hard liquor we always try to have made in Montana beer or liquor here. We’re sure here.

I’ve been to Malta…. I went for a job interview up on the German Hutterite Colony. It was a long time ago, back in 2003… I just remember there was a baseball game, and we went up toe the colony and I met the kids and parents and the elders, but I wanted to be closer to home, that’s long way from home…

Yeah we’re not nowhere, but you can see it from the hill!


About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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