What is Qiviut?
Qiviut (kiv'-ee-ute) is the soft down under-wool produced by musk oxen. Qiviut is one of the unique adaptations of musk oxen which makes it possible to survive the freezing arctic winters. Musk oxen do not migrate like caribou but they will range over a great swath of territory. Summers are spent in lush river valleys where food is abundant. During the harsh winters musk oxen will habitat high wind-swept tundra, where snow is scoured from their environment and they can access the meager sustenance left behind. 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 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 more fine (skinnier!) than the finest cashmere and is not itchy or scratchy like wool.
Average Fiber Diameter (AFD) is the single most important characteristic for determining commercial value and end use. AFD is measured in microns. The average qiviut fiber is approximately 12-14 microns. The finer the diameter of the fiber, the higher the value that is placed on the fiber. The staple length of qiviut varies between 3.5-7 cm long. The longer the fiber the easier it is to spin into yarn. Qiviut is 8x warmer than sheep wool and is not itchy or scratchy like wool.
How we collect the Qiviut
How is it collected? Qiviut sheds naturally between April and the end of May. Here on the farm we will comb the qiviut off the animal starting mid-April. All of our animals are brought into the barn where, in most cases, we put them in a combing stall and jump in there with them with a long toothed hair pick. The remainder stay in our squeeze chute where panels can be removed and we can get to all parts of them while they munch on grain. A combing session can last from ten minutes with an animal to as much as hour depending on how relaxed everyone is. We will gather anywhere from a few pounds to as much as nine pounds per animal with an adult average of four and a half pounds.