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would buffalo wool be economical?  RSS feed

 
Thom Kelt
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For quite a while I've been contemplating heading up to the Yukon to do some ranching (since the land is "free" and all).  I'm currently doing a bit of planning and I'm still a ways off, but I want to ranch either buffalo or musk oxen.  I have a feeling that musk oxen may be more economical because they exist in greater numbers and their wool (Qiviut) is superb, but I kind of want to contribute towards the conservation of buffalo and increase their numbers.  If I want to do that latter, then I have to be making sure I use the whole buffalo (at least the ones that aren't going towards conservation, that is) to its fullest potential, and that would mean using its down.  It seems that buffalo wool is rather rare so I can't find much about it, so I'm going to ask here.  Is it suitable for garments and the like and would I be able to make a profit off of it?
 
Libbie Hawker
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chicken food preservation hugelkultur
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Bison/buffalo fiber is known as "prairie cashmere," so you might have some luck researching current prices by using that search term.

It is soft and nice (and I understand it doesn't shrink when washed, unlike sheep's wool) but you don't get a lot of it per animal, so I'm not sure how profitable it would reallly be. Especially when you factor in all the extra man-hours you'd have to put into harvesting it from range/semi-wild bison. Or, you'd have to harvest it at the time you slaughter the meat animals, and that means doing your slaughtering and dressing during the coldest part of the year. That might not be ideal in the Yukon.

If you want fiber production to be a major part of your business model, I'd lean toward musk oxen, just because they're usually more docile around people. Muskies also yield MUCH more fiber per animal than a bison ever will. Bison are great meat critters and are awesome at repairing land, but although their hair is nice, they don't seem like the most economical fiber animals out there.

P.s. Bactrian camels are also superb fiber animals, and are adapted for very harsh climates, including extremely cold winters. That would be another one to look into...but there's no market for their meat.
 
r ranson
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Exciting!  Per oz, Buffalo and Musk ox fibre (wool, technically comes from sheep only, but there is a time when the word was used to refer to 'yarn' in advertising to get people used to synthetic fibres) is one of the most expensive textile fibres in the world!  It is soft, it is warm, it is beautiful.

I don't know anyone that raises them for the fibre alone.  Most raise for the meat, then they process the fibre as extra income. My understanding is that per animal, the amount of fibre is pretty small and that it is mostly harvested after the animal is killed for meat.  It takes a lot of labour to sort the fibre as it comes with the guard hairs.  Because it's so expensive, people expect the highest quality, which isn't easy to produce.  It might be worth contacting someone who grows the fibre to see exactly what's involved.  It's really neat if you can get it, but I recommend gathering as much information as you can before committing to it, as I've seen more than a few people falter from lack of understanding just what's involved.  These guys might be a good starting point https://www.arcticqiviut.com/

If you don't spin yet, your first step is to learn how.  This will give you a massive advantage over some other fibre farmers as you can learn exactly what makes a quality fibre.  Diet, environment, and many other factors all combine to affect the quality of the fibre.  Being able to tell which needs tweaking makes one fibre farmer stand out from the rest. 
 
Walt Chase
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Musk Ox wool is eight times warmer than sheep wool by weight.  It is a VERY expensive product.  https://www.muskoxfarm.org/location-and-times ;

Bison wool is a "thing".  At the AK state fair last year a company was here in the vendor section of the fair selling buffalo wool products.  I can't remember the name of the company though.  Here is one company: https://thebuffalowoolco.com/ ;

Hope the info helps.
 
r ranson
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As a consumer, I won't buy from places that mislabeled.  It makes me wonder if they just don't understand what they are selling or are they (like in the case of Bamboo Silk - which is rayon, not silk), deliberately mislabeling.  It makes me doubt the quality of the product they produce.  Their product may be amazing!  But the perception I get when I see stuff like that is not.  

Musk Ox/bison wool is a weird situation.  Wool is wool.  It's from sheep.  Musk Ox fibre is SO MUCH BETTER.   It would be like saying Pig Manure Slop flavoured ice cream and expect kids to eat it.  Pig poop is great for some things like making plants grow, but it's not great as an ice cream flavour.  Likewise, wool is brilliant at specific things, but can't do the things Musk Ox fibre can.  The kind of people who can afford to buy luxury fibres like Qiviut, are aware of the nomenclature.  To me, it makes sense to choose words that market to them.   
 
r ranson
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I don't know as much about the Yukon as I would like, but many of our local spinners and weavers are from there.  Well, I say many, probably more like 20%.  But 20% of several hundred is a fair number.

What they tell me is that there is A LOT of yarn crafting going on up North.  Something about winter being excessively long.  Someone mentioned goats, but that might have in the southern parts. 

Hopefully, we will have someone chime in about fibre animals they have seen in the Yukon.

I'm curious how many oz of fibre (post processing) per animal one can get from these big beasts.  If one is going to raise animals, it makes sense to honour the animal and use every part of them.  It is a really nice fibre.
 
Thom Kelt
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Libbie Hawker wrote:Bison are ... awesome at repairing land


Would you be able to elaborate some on this?  I'm curious to know how exactly they repair land.

And regarding the fibre, it doesn't have to be a large part of the enterprise.  I just don't care for waste and not using the fibre would be, in my eyes, a glaring waste.  The only things I'm comfortable with wasting are the liver and kidneys, and any other organ used for food that filters crap out of the body.  Pollutants congregate in the Yukon, unfortunately, and it makes offal inedible.  The main focus will still be meat and leather and since meat is damn expensive up there then I think meaty animals such as bison would be an ideal choice for the market.
 
Libbie Hawker
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Thom Kelt wrote:
Libbie Hawker wrote:Bison are ... awesome at repairing land


Would you be able to elaborate some on this?  I'm curious to know how exactly they repair land.


Are you familiar with the benefits grazing and browsing hoofed animals provide landscapes, if properly managed (rotational grazing)? It's the same general principle for all hoofstock--cattle, sheep, goats, etc. Bison included.

The long and short of it is, when landscapes are subject to periodic disturbances, like pressure from big grazers, they respond with a massive rebound of fertility and diversity. Grazing stimulates the growth of grasses and many other plants. Manure and urine deposit lots of nitrogen into the soil, supporting faster and more varied plant germination and growth. There are even plenty of species' seeds that don't germinate in the absence of crush pressure, as from a large animal stepping on/compacting the soil they're resting in.

Basically, hoofstock--especially large hoofstock like bison and cattle--are an integral part of prairie biomes, and our domestic pastures attempt to mimic prairies on smaller scales. As with any other permaculture system, when you bring animals into the picture you create greater and more sustainable synergies that reduce the need for inputs and increase production. But the pressure from large grazers applies to musk oxen and bison equally. Either species will be great for your land, if you rotate them with care.

This article focuses on bison's benefits for prairie/pasture landscapes specifically. https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/northdakota/explore/putting-bison-back-on-the-prairie.xml
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