by Wildcat Dianne
August 25, 2010
Upon arriving on the farm, we had to keep Katie in the back of Ed's truck with the window open since dogs are not allowed on the farm at all. We went into the gift shop to get our tickets for our half-hour tour and had time to wander around the educational little museum and gift shop before our guide came to get us. All proceeds from the gift shop go to the farm and the Natives who create the knit goods from the qiviut. I would have loved to have bought some of the qiviut they had on sale at the Musk Ox Farm but at $30 a skein, that would have been a major budget blower. I was resigned to looking at the works of art and touching them. The qiviut was softer than I expected and the work the native women does is done with small needles and the attention to detail is exquisite. I did add to the Christmas tree ornament collection by buying a musk ox felt ornament for $7. It was for a good cause.
A few minutes later, our guide shows up, and she is one of the Musk Ox Farm's owner's daughters. Now we know we are getting a real inside tour of the place. Ed, Larissa, and I are in a tour group with an elderly farming couple from Ohio and their friends who were locals. During the tour, "Farmer Brown" kept asking questions about the musk ox that were strarting to annoy the crap out of me. "Can the meat of musk ox be eaten?", "What does it taste like?" Come on now you were told that the musk ox here are raised for their wool, not to be musk ox burgers! Our guide has never eaten musk ox, and she ended the subject and gave us the tour we were there for, and I learned a lot in such a short time.
Musk ox usually are seen roaming in Greenland (the species there is smaller), Russia, and Arctic Canada. The Musk Ox that we were seeing that afternoon came from Russian stock, and they can handle some extremely cold temperatures. Our guide said it can get -30 below in the Palmer area in winter, but the thick outer and soft undercoat make it easy for the musk ox to survive extreme winters. Female musk ox can weigh up to 600 pounds while the male musk ox can reach heights of 6 feet at the shoulder and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Musk ox are pretty docile critters, but if there are female in heat and the males are horny, they can become very aggressive. When the female musk ox give birth to their young, they can become very protective and charge people or predators and cause some major damage. Both the male and female musk ox have huge curved horns on their heads, but the farm owners and their interns file down the horns so that they don't harm people or other musk ox with sharp ends.
Now to harvest musk ox wool is a feat in itself. It is a long and tedious process that is done every spring as the musk ox are starting to shed their winter wool coats. Our guide showed us the long metal pick that reminded me of a bigger hair pick that is used to get the wool from the musk ox. The farm folks have to go to the undercoat and slowly comb out the wool. This is done about three to four times per musk ox through the summer, and the underwool is then spun into qiviut for the Natives to knit the hats, scarves, and other items sold at their shop in downtown Anchorage. The long process of harvesting the musk oxen underwool along with the processing it into yarn and the long hours of making products for sale is why it is so expensive to buy qiviut products, but looking at them makes one envy the talents of these native women. The musk ox do not stink as bad as a cow or other livestock and the wool gets a light wash before being made into qiviut. As we were walking along the farm, you could not smell the musk ox except for a faint smell. Musk ox also do not have musk oil glands that would give them a more pungent smell. During our tour, I walked next to our guide as she spoke and asked her questions as she picked up clumps of musk ox wool that would be used for the spinning process. Nothing goes to waste on this farm.
Our guide kept the tour to the half-hour we were granted at the beginning due to feeding times and other chores that needed to be done on the farm. She told us that they were having a raffle of a qiviut afghan that the native women had knit that was worth $10,000, and for $5 a ticket, I felt that was worth the cause to keep the musk ox farm going. The drawing is in October, and if I win the afghan, I will not be putting it on my bed for Amanda and Marty to roughhouse on or teethe on. If I had my way, it would be under bulletproof glass with armed guards in the house!
Tours of the Musk Ox Farm are conducted from 10-6 seven days a week from the end of May to August, but special September tours are available by reservation. Admission tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for children and children under 4 can get in for free. You cannot touch the musk ox during the tour and you must not wander from the group at anytime or disturb the musk oxen's routine If you ever are in the Palmer area during the summer, this is a must see and educational experience for all wanting to learn about one of the history of this magnificent beast.
From journal A Couple of Wicked Wooly Trips Outside of Anchorage