YouTube video shows qiviut harvesting at UAF

Jan Rowell visits with Freya, a 1-year-old muskox that was abandoned in the wild and raised at LARS. Freya is ready to have her qiviut combed for the first time.
Photo courtesy of LARS
Jan Rowell visits with Freya, a 1-year-old musk ox that was abandoned in the wild and raised at LARS. Freya is ready to have her qiviut combed for the first time.
Nancy Tarnai

A new YouTube video from the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers the public a peek into the world of harvesting qiviut, the fiber from musk oxen.

“I wanted a way to show people how we get qiviut from musk oxen,” said Jan Rowell, assistant professor of animal science in the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

“It’s very different from other species,’ Rowell said. “I’ve tried to describe it in words. With a video you can see and appreciate what happens.”

Musk oxen are not sheared like sheep and they don’t shed sporadically like dogs. The qiviut comes off in blankets each spring, which Rowell calls a synchronous shed. This occurs naturally for animals on the tundra but domestically, the process is helped along by combing.

“It has to feel wonderful when that blanket comes off,” Rowell said.

She expects the YouTube audience will be fiber artists, teachers, students and anyone else interested in animals. Rowell is researching musk oxen as an agricultural species. “We want to see if it is a feasible species for Alaska,” she said.

The animals, which were native to the state, then went extinct and were reintroduced, are completely adapted to the climate. “It never gets too cold for them,” Rowell said.

While musk oxen are sometimes raised for meat, they are valued much more for their fiber: Yarn made from qiviut sells for up to $90 an ounce. It is perfectly suited for hats, gloves and scarves.

“It’s an amazing fiber,” Rowell said. “It’s like cashmere or a super fine merino. It’s light, incredibly soft and warm.”

It’s not easy to process and it can be challenging getting quantities of it to market, Rowell said. The university sells qiviut through a website and at the gift shop at the Large Animal Research Station where the musk oxen live. Proceeds help support the program.

The current herd consists of 22 animals. Adults produce four to six pounds of qiviut each year.

Rowell is not done with YouTube, as she is planning to produce several more videos, including one on how to spin the fiber.

“YouTube clips are excellent educational vignettes,” Rowell said. “It’s the way we learn now.”

LARS will host an open house June 1 with free admission.

In addition, LARS tours are offered through Aug. 31 at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Cost is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $6 for students. Children 5 and under get in free.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Jan Rowell, 907-474-6009,