Palmer Buzz

This week begins the celebration of the traditional Lunar Chinese New Year. For Palmer, we are personalizing this with a very happy nod to our own Palmer Musk Ox. This year’s annual Asian holiday recognizes new beginnings, reunions and finally the end of the 2020 year of the Rat.

The Symbology of an Ox Year—Best practices for the Year of the Ox suggest staying calm and safe, carry on the best you can, don’t be argumentative, and be careful with how much news is in the air. The theme of the Year of the Ox is to stay solid, follow through on projects, and stick to routines. All of these attributes are ox-like; ox are considered hard workers, intelligent, reliable but never demanding praise. Both the goat and the ox are valued animals in agriculture.

The Palmer Musk Ox Farm—Everyone local knows about the Musk Ox Farm, up Bailey Hill on the Glenn Highway, just past the blow-hole, then left down sweet little Archie Lane, where the trees create canopied tunnel of beauty in the summer. The Palmer Musk Ox Farm is definitely a destination. Whenever you have visitors from out of state, the Musk Ox Farm is a requirement. Tours, musical and educational events are draws. Usually Mother’s Day is a big annual event plus the fall Run With the Musk Oxen, Ox-toberfest and other unique events are held at the farm, including yoga and dancing with the musk ox. While the farm may feel very local to us, it is really a very international destination. We are rich to have an opportunity to closely observe these prehistoric creatures, maybe one of the oldest animals in North America.

The History—The Musk Ox Farm’s origin is explained well on their website: “Begun in 1964 by John Teal, the farm set out to simply save the ancient species from utter annihilation. Teal noticed that the population of Alaskan Musk Oxen, a beast that has been around since the Pleistocene era, had dwindled to catastrophic levels. Combined with the alarming poverty of the nearby native settlements, Teal knew something had to be done or the oxen would soon die out. Thus he began domesticating them and raising them in his newly established farm. As a product of the animal husbandry, Teal’s farm also began collecting the soft but sturdy hairs that were shed from the oxen’s undercoat each spring. Known as quiviut, the woolly material is actually eight times stronger than sheep’s wool with none of the uncomfortable scratching. Each year, the shed hair is combed from the oxen’s body before it can hit the ground and given over to a local collective of artisans who spin it into yarns and cloth, providing much needed income to the local population.

The Critters—There are 80 musk oxen in residence on the greater Palmer Musk Ox farm. Approximately 60 female and 40 males live together; some are quite old and some are babies born last year. They roam in the rolling acreage of their large enclosed farm fields. In the summer they graze and in the winter they dig, with their hooves, to find sweet spots under the snow. Their diet is supplemented.

Small Volkswagen—A musk ox appears to resemble a small burly Volkswagen, even in the field. They have this hunky curvature to their shoulders and a blocky sloped backend. Adult weight of musk ox can be between 500 to 800 pounds. Many Palmer area folks have taken special interest in the 20 pound babies, born every spring. There are opportunities to help feed the babies in the nursery barn, adopt or sponsor the young ones. I personally remember bottle feeding Madison for several weeks, after she was weaned from her mother.

Musk Ox are Head Butters—This is one of the many wonders of these ice age animals. They don’t mess around with pokes or slaps. They charge at each other with their heads. They have heavy life-time horns. The noisy head butting is quite dramatic.

Palmer is auspicious—Having the wonderful musk-ox herd in the Palmer area is very auspicious. Despite the covid chaos, the local herd of musk ox (and their wonderful farm caretakers) are all waiting for you when things become safe.

Barbara Hunt is both Palmer writer and artist. She works hard to keep the robust pulse of Palmer, Alaska. She shares the good stuff in the weekly Palmer Alaska Buzz Column in the Mat Su Valley Frontiersman and daily on the Palmer Alaska Buzz Facebook Group.. Contact at bhunt@mtaonline.net or text 907.315.3222

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