Dawn Brown, M.D., has joined the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Laboratory in San Angelo. Brown started April 5 as manager of the commercial lab, which is in the process of expanding to become the nation’s largest commercial wool testing lab.
“This lab is an opportunity for our nation’s wool and mohair producers to have increased global marketability of their fiber,” Brown said. “The lab’s enhanced testing capability and capacity will aid in creating better revenue for a very deserving group of growers. I’m excited and honored to be joining the team at this dynamic time in our industry.”
The Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory has been analyzing wool, cashmere, mohair and alpaca fiber samples of sheep, goats and alpaca for quality and yield since 1985.
Already one of just two academic wool labs in the country, the lab at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo is now transitioning to also accommodate the testing needs of the domestic commercial wool trade.
“We are excited to have Dr. Dawn Brown join our center and head up the development and implementation of the commercial wool testing lab for the U.S. sheep and wool industry,” said Ronald Pope, Ph.D., AgriLife Research animal fiber scientist, San Angelo. “Dr. Brown brings experience from the medical field and has in the past decade been involved in production, marketing and processing areas of the wool industry. In addition, she has exhibited a strong passion, boundless energy and sound knowledge to take on this challenge.”
Winding road to wool
After a neck and shoulder injury, Brown started to knit and spin wool as part of her healing process. What started as a way to help her rehab damaged nerves ultimately led Brown to a new career in fiber.
“I tell everyone knitting is a great form of physical therapy, but it can also be a ‘gateway’ to sheep and goat ranching,” Brown said.
Although she didn’t grow up in the fiber industry, it is in her roots. Both sides of Brown’s family were sheep producers as far back as the 1870s. She feels that her passion for wool and mohair are in her DNA.
Brown, who was an OB-GYN, had to step back from the surgical side of her practice after her injury. She ultimately entered nonprofit medicine, providing rural women’s healthcare in an underserved area of northeast Arkansas. This opportunity fulfilled another passion – advocacy for healthcare services in rural communities.
While living in Arkansas, Brown and her husband, Paul, started their own sheep and goat farm, and befriended a fellow transplanted Texans who ran a wool mill. In 2014, when those friends retired, it coincided with the Browns’ move back to Texas.
The Browns purchased the mill equipment and brought it along with the sheep and goats to the rural community of Independence near Brenham. Independence Wool, their artisan, small-batch yarn spinning mill, has provided more than six years of experience operating wool processing equipment.
Friend of Texas A&M AgriLife
After moving back to Texas, the Browns took advantage of the resources offered by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and AgriLife Research to help grow and improve their business.
“In 2016, I came to the center for a wool classing course with Dr. Pope and toured the wool lab,” she said.
The next year, Paul Brown became a certified classer as well. This training became the foundation for sourcing wool for their milling operation and was the start of Dawn Brown’s path as a determined domestic wool ambassador.
A tour of Independence Wool was featured as part of the 2020 Texas Sheep and Goat Expo, which was held virtually.
The Browns have a herd of about 100 angora goats and an ever-increasing flock of natural colored rambouillet sheep at their farm in Washington County. Family members will take over the day-to-day operations as Brown dedicates herself to her new position with Texas A&M AgriLife.
“At my stage in life, I consider this a true ‘bucket list’ career opportunity,” Brown said. “I’m proud to be a part of such an impactful and goal-oriented organization.”