The Musk Ox
The name Musk Ox is deceiving, as the animal does not produce musk, nor is it related to cattle. Skeletal and behavioral studies show a closer relationship to sheep and goats. Attempts to rename them have failed though we feel the most appropriate name is the Eskimo name, Oomingmak, meaning "the Bearded One."
Although the musk ox was indigenous to Alaska, they were hunted to extinction in the 1850's. In the early 1930's, they were reintroduced from Greenland in hopes that they might be domesticated, but the project was given up in 1937. The remaining animals were turned loose on Nunivak Island where they became wild.
In 1954 an anthropologist named John J. Teal Jr. began a decade-long research to determine the suitability of domesticating musk ox for its underwool, Qiviut. He envisioned an arctic economy well suited to the lifestyle of the Native Alaskans, based on an animal indigenous to the environment. In 1964, he was permitted to capture 33 calves from the Nunivak Island herd, and with the help of W.K. Kellog Foundation grant, the vision became a reality.
Over the years farming procedures were developed, and selective breeding practices implemented. On the farm, an adult musk ox weighs between 600-800 pounds and stand four to five feet tall at the shoulder.
Each spring the cows give birth to one 18 pound calf, which will remain with its mother until it is weaned at approximately 2 or 3 months of age. By the end of spring, when the days get longer and warmer, the musk ox begins shedding its fine Qiviut. It is then brought into a small stall in the barn for hand- combing by the herdsmen. Each animal yields around four to six pounds of qiviut a year.
In 1986 the Musk Ox Development Corporation, a non-profit entity, established their present farm in Palmer, located 45 minutes from Anchorage. The location of the Musk Ox Farm in picturesque Matanuska Valley surrounded by the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains is optimal for a summer tourist attraction that begins each year on Mother's Day. Tour guides present the natural history of the musk ox, as well as a history of the domestication project started by John J. Teal Jr, on regular tours given every half hour throughout the summer season.