“One sock, two socks, red socks, blue socks,” was the beginning of my children’s favorite book. It was a book about matching and making pairs. Socks, mittens and shoes. I carried the theme of the book to laundry day. My kids loved to play the matching sock game. Whoever got the most sock matches won the game. It was an easy way to get that whole basket of socks paired up.
    I have a thing about socks. If I could afford to wear a new pair every day, I would be in heaven. Since I am on my feet all day, my feet need to feel comfortable, and my socks must satisfy my feet.
    First, my socks must match. If there is a green strip on the toe on one, the other sock must have it too. Secondly, no holes. I grew up with darned socks. Bless my grandma for taking that task on, but it always made the socks lumpy. Third, they must feel good.
    If my girls are not working, they change out of the working socks and have these little ones that are thin and low. I simply can’t wear those. Since they have been doing their own laundry, they no longer roll their socks off their feet into donuts, but for years they did and that drove me nuts. Now, they try not to turn their socks inside out, but often I find one or two.
    My socks must always be dried in the dryer. To put them on the line to dry makes them too stiff. The fluffy lint inside the socks is what helps keep my feet happy.
    This winter has been hard on my feet. It has been cold and my work boots make my feet sweat. So, my wet socks get cold and then my feet start to hurt. I sadly can’t get all my work done in one spell, since I have to go into the house to warm up. Then I have to heat up my feet by the vent in the laundry room. Then I put on another pair of socks or a double pair and head back out again.
    In early December, I ask what everyone would like and what do they need. Everyone always needs socks. This year I received a box of three Smartwool socks. I looked over the package and noticed they were 57 percent Merino Wool, 40 percent Nylon and 3 percent Elastane. Made in the United States of imported yarn. What? Now that is not smart wool.
    The United States is home to thousands of sheep. Wool breeds, meat breeds and dual purpose. I also know many sheep are living in Colorado, where these socks were made. In fact, I just heard on This Week in Agribusiness that there are sheep ranches and farms in every state.
    We own 15 Targhee sheep and a bunch of new lambs as of January. So, we tend to be a little protective of U.S. wool. The breed is dual purpose known for a nice carcass, and their wool is soft, too. But, I think Merino is best known for the softest wool.
    We shear our sheep once a year. My daughter, Anna, and I took two classes to learn how to shear. We bought the shears and had the best intentions, but it is hard work. I don’t need to feel pain from wrestling sheep, so we have a shearer come out. He can move fast and efficiently and doesn’t nick up their skin. Later, we skirt the wool to pick out the vegetable matter, otherwise known as hay, and pull off any manure tags. Then we roll it up into a bag for safe keeping if it is nice or put the wool into a big gunny sack if the shearer is going to purchase it.
    Fleece from a ram is pretty big. This brings me to a story I heard at the Targhee National Sheep Show in Montana. The story was of an older shepherd who told of bringing a bag of wool to a mill to have socks made. To his surprise, that bag of wool from his ram made over 200 pairs of socks. Not little thin ones either. Now that’s the kind of socks I like. Thick and fluffy and warm all day long. That is smart wool.
    While looking through a sheep magazine, I noticed an Olympic athlete wearing a patriotic sweater with mittens and a hat that was made from U.S. wool. The wool was from sheep grazed on an Oregon high desert ranch. They were made by Ralph Lauren, an official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.
    I watched Team USA march into the South Korean stadium for the Winter Olympics during the opening and closing ceremonies, looking forward to seeing all of the athletes wearing these wool items. I couldn’t help but think that there were many others whose hands helped make these items. Pride in these wool sweaters, mittens and hats comes from not only the farmers and ranchers that raised the sheep, but every single person working the mills spinning, dyeing and knitting all of these wool products. Those workers put love, hope and best wishes into each one of these items our athletes wore.
    As I watched the end of the closing ceremonies, I thought about these amazing athletes that worked so hard to get to South Korea. I was proud of all of them, but especially Team USA who looked beautiful in very smart looking, U.S. wool Olympic gear.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 135 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.