Home Community The Musk Ox Farm | Palmer, Alaska

The Musk Ox Farm | Palmer, Alaska

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Finding our self-inside on yet another cold but sunny day my family of 3 decided to look what we can go do in the Valley area that the little one would like and after searching google we found the Muskox Farm. It was right down the road from us and looked interesting. We have seen stuffed Muskox in the school but realized we have never seen a real one or knew anything about it. So we called the farm and got a tour set up.  

The first day we went to go tour the farm it turned out to be extra windy and had a lot of snowfall and ice out, so we had to reschedule. The next week the weather was a little nicer, so we loaded up the kid and one of his friends and made the quick drive into Palmer to visit the Farm. Pulling up you see a nice building and a few smaller barns and right in the parking lot we got our first view of a small herd of Muskox following a feed truck that was out in the field. I don’t know why we expected them to be bigger, but we did and were kind of blown away by how “small” they are. Kerry our tour guide showed up and brought us inside the main building that has a cute little gift shop as you walk in. She gave us a basic rundown of how the tour would work took us to the back of the building where they are working on a new exhibit area but have had to slow down due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. They do have a full-sized taxidermy Muskox in the room that Kerry explained the different layers of hair and the horn structure to us and had us walk across a soap mat to clean our feet before we went out on the farm. 

 I will not give you a play-by-play of the tour but I will tell you that you get to see a lot of muskox wondering about the farm and while you can’t touch them. Trust me you will want to pet them or at least touch one as they are so cute and just have so much personality you do get to get really close to them.

After our tour Kerry agreed to give me an interview so I could share some information with everyone. 

Why should Alaskans come to the Musk Ox farm?

Alaskans should come to the Musk Ox Farm because it’s a truly one-of-a-kind Alaskan experience, and our local communities should take advantage of the unique gem they have in their own backyards! Musk Ox is an arctic animal that many will never get to see up close in their lifetimes, and it’s a true gift to have them here. You get to come and experience these remnants of the last Ice Age and leave having learned more about a musk ox than you ever thought possible. Oh, and did we mention musk ox babies? That alone is a reason to visit! 

We also just recently renovated the original Colony Barn that we had been operating out of since the early eighties. Even if you had not visited before the renovation, it’s worth a stop in to see our new, beautiful home that houses our gift shop, museum (coming soon!) and hay loft that we saved from the original barn. 

Where did the farm start, and where is it located now?

In 1964, our founder, John Teal Jr. started the farm by collecting musk ox from Nunivak Island and launching the project in Fairbanks. After the herd moved to a few other northern Alaska locations, we landed at our current location in Palmer after Teal’s passing in 1984. Why Palmer? It turns out, shipping bales of hay to the wilds of Alaska isn’t very cost-effective. So, what better place to be than on the road system, in the center of Alaskan agriculture…and hay! Once settled in Palmer, the farm became a nonprofit organization, with a mission to continue our founder’s original vision of domesticating a geographically appropriate animal in the Far North.  [see History of the Farm]

How can Alaskans support?

Alaskans can support not only by supporting our organization but also by taking an interest in climate change action. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on the planet, and these changes will have an impact on wild musk ox populations. Yes, they have managed to survive for millions of years through dramatic change – but adaptations to your environment take time. Musk ox were built for the Arctic, and it’s so important that they have access to healthy, natural habitats for the future survival of their species. So, how does supporting our organization make an impact? We provide a connection to musk ox that resonates with our visitors for years to come. When people care about musk ox on our farm, they care about musk ox in the wild – and in turn, start to pay attention to other species and the issues they may be facing. We see our musk ox as Arctic ambassadors! By visiting the farm for a tour, purchasing qiviut in our gift shop, or donating to our nonprofit – you are not only helping us care for our animals and maintain our facility, but you are also allowing our organization to remain strong enough to continue our work for years to come. 

What is your mission as a Musk Ox farm?

The Musk Ox Farm promotes gentle musk ox husbandry, qiviut production, and education to the public.  

What is the history of the farm?

Now a nonprofit organization, our journey began in the 1950s with our late founder John Teal Jr., anthropologist and Arctic explorer. Teal’s vision to domesticate musk ox within the regions they were indigenous was not only an attempt to demonstrate that farming a geographically appropriate animal was a more sustainable agricultural practice, but could also boost local economies by providing Alaskan artisans the materials necessary to make knitted goods through harvesting the animals’ [qiviut] underwool. Over sixty years later, the farm honors this original vision by striving to continue domesticating the musk ox for qiviut production, demonstrating the economic opportunities of the fiber, and educating the public about these magnificent ice age creatures.

What is Qiviut?

Qiviut (kiv’-ee-ute) is the soft down under-wool produced by musk ox. Qiviut is one of the unique adaptations of musk ox which makes it possible to survive the freezing Arctic winters. Their outer layer of hair, known as guard hair, protects them from insects and sheds water away from their skin. Beneath, qiviut grows between their toes, up to their nose, and everywhere in-between, keeping them warm in the coldest of Arctic chills. Qiviut is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and is one of nature’s finest fibers with a micron count (diameter) that is approximately thirty percent finer (skinnier!) than the finest cashmere, and is not itchy or scratchy like wool!

Here on the farm, we gently hand-comb the qiviut off of every single one of our musk ox in the spring when they’re naturally shedding it. We then get it spun into yarn, which is made into garments!

What does your “Discover Musk Ox” program entail?

The Musk Ox Farm has developed supplemental materials for educators to use in their classrooms! The materials explore the natural history of musk ox in Alaska, domestication of the musk ox, benefits of musk ox farming and how musk ox are a sustainable resource. These materials are designed to introduce students to the world of the musk ox and the Musk Ox Farm. In addition to acting as an introduction to the musk ox, these materials also serve as a means to sharpen a student’s math, reading, writing, as well as to hone critical and creative thinking skills.  

These materials can be used to prepare students for a visit to the farm, or as a stand alone classroom resource. We also work with local schools and homeschoolers of all ages, providing an educational experience catered to the educational needs of the students. For more information on our educational programming and resources, you can contact our education director Dani Biersteker: dani@msukoxfarm.org

What is the importance of Musk Ox in Alaska?

Musk ox plays an important role in their Arctic ecosystem, Alaska included! They provide food for bears and wolves, their droppings enrich the tundra soil, and the qiviut they shed is used by other birds and mammals to keep warm in their dens and nests. They are also a food source for those living in areas of Alaska where musk ox are wild, and of course, their qiviut is used to create garments for humans to enjoy and keep warm in our long, cold winters. 

How can people visit the Musk Ox?

We are open year-round for tours! Tour times and availability varies based on the season, and of course the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic. We are currently booking tours by reservation, and we would love to have all of our beautiful local Alaskans come out to see us and our herd! Winter is one of the best times to visit, because our entire herd is moved to the front pastures where your tour will take you. And, seeing the musk ox in their element is a true treat. Book your tour online at muskoxfarm.org/visit – or call (907) 745-4151.

So all and all this was a great way to spend the day as a family and get out and learn something new about the great state we live in with out having to travel a long distance. 

Quick fact, Muskox are not related to cows at all but are related to goats. 

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