Bison Fiber Part 1

Last fall we attended the Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park in South Dakota, an annual event for maintaining the herd of 1,300 bison. As many as 20,000 spectators gather on each side of a large viewing area where the bison are herded past by cowboys and cowgirls on horses, and in vehicles. Breakfast is available in the morning while the crowds are gathering and waiting for the herding to begin.

Cowboys and Cowgirls round up the bison herd

The bison are guided into corral areas where they are staged for testing, branding and sorting. There are bleachers where you can watch as individual bison are prodded through gates and into a final pen for inspection. They were very unhappy about this, letting it be known by kicking and jumping. A cowboy style lunch is available while this is going on.

Bison waiting in a fenced area
Unhappy bison edging closer to the final inspection pen

Throughout the rest of the weekend there is an art fair, food and music, but unfortunately it rained most of the weekend. We spent one afternoon doing some sight seeing in the area. I found a yarn shop, so naturally we had to go there. I do not need any yarn or fiber, but it seemed appropriate to buy a bag of 100% bison fiber. I also bought a smaller amount of bison fiber blended with sheep wool and alpaca.

Bison fiber I bought at a yarn shop in South Dakota

I planned to blend the plain bison fiber with some wool and alpaca fiber I already had. However, when I took it out of the bag, it felt very course. I did a little research and found that bison have some very soft downy fiber next to their skin, some course outer hairs, and some parts in between. My fiber was not the downy soft stuff. Blending it with the other fibers would make the combination softer than the bison alone, but less soft than the wool and alpaca. I decided I did not want to do that, and instead I would spin the bison by itself. My bison yarn will be used for something where it is not necessary to be soft, but rather where its durable quality is a benefit.

I carded the bison fiber in my drum carder. This involves pushing it in the side and turning a crank handle so the fiber gets pulled in and wraps on to a drum with spikes. More fiber is added until it is full, and then it is peeled off. The result is a rectangle “batt” with the fibers somewhat lined up for spinning, instead of in a jumbled mess.

Pushing the bison fiber into the drum carder
Peeling the fiber off the drum carder
A batt after carding
5 batts from 4 ounces of fiber

I was able to make five batts from four ounces of fiber, which I plan to run through the drum carder one more time to make the fibers even more orderly for spinning into yarn. The texture is quite different from the sheep wool I am used to spinning, so I have no idea how it will turn out, which is part of the adventure. I will post more later after I have spun the yarn.

Published by Meg Hanson

Hello. I am a recently retired empty nester. My husband and I moved to Jewett Lake in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, after living most of our lives in the Minneapolis area. I have no trouble keeping busy with knitting and spinning of wool, selling yarn and handmade goods, reading, walking, watching movies, surfing on the internet, traveling, doing bookkeeping for our family cabin, and spending time with family.

7 thoughts on “Bison Fiber Part 1

  1. What an intriguing challenge, Meg!
    My North Dakota family had a buffalo hide that was used as a lap blanket in the horse-drawn sleigh during the winter. When we sold the family farm I kept a piece of the buffalo hide and showed it to CA students in my American history classes. The wool was curly and lighter in color than I would have predicted. Perhaps it was the downy undercoat you described?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Is there enough to make a reusable shopping bag? That wouldn’t need to be soft but should be sturdy. You are such an adventurous person! I am so happy you are part of my life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not sure if the color is the same before and after washing, or if what I have was washed already when I got it. Interesting. After I spin the yarn I will for sure wash it. We’ll see what happens.


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