In what may be one of the world’s only examples of such a business, Alaska’s Musk Ox Farm raises the burly, prehistoric beasts not only to bring their population back from the brink of extinction, but also to harvest their downy undercoat which is a remarkable super-wool material.
Begun in 1964 by BMOF (Big Musk Ox Fan) John Teal, the farm set out to simply save the ancient species from utter annihilation. Teal noticed that the population of Alaskan Musk Oxen, a beast that has been around since the Pleistocene era and is surprisingly more of a sheep than a cow or buffalo, had dwindled to catastrophic levels. Combined with the alarming poverty of the nearby native settlements, Teal knew something had to be done or the oxen would soon die out. Thus he began domesticating them and raising them in his newly established farm.
As a product of the animal husbandry, Teal’s farm also began collecting the soft but sturdy hairs that were shed from the oxen’s undercoat each spring. Known as qiviut, the woolly material is actually eight times stronger than sheep’s wool with none of the uncomfortable scratching. Each year, the shed hair is combed from the oxen’s body before it can hit the ground and given over to a local collective of artisans who spin it into yarns and cloth, providing much needed income to the local population.
Visitors can take a tour of the Musk Ox Farm and actually get up close to the animals, who are markedly friendly for having survived wooly mammoths, sabertooth tigers, and general extinction for millennia.