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Bison Fiber: Wool From Native Animals

Bison down fabric is a luxurious byproduct of the buffalo meat industry.

Bison down fabric is a luxurious byproduct of the buffalo meat industry.

Before massive government-sponsored buffalo hunts brought the American bison close to extinction in the 19th century, the animal was a mainstay of Native American economies throughout its wide range.


Supermarket on the Hoof


Native people used the bison in so many ways that it has been referred to as the supermarket of the Native Americans.  Bison meat was a staple, but they had a use for every other part of the animal as well. 


Buffalo hides provided shelter, clothing, and – in the form of rawhide – material for containers and other useful items.  The hair of the bison was twisted into ropes and used for stuffing and padding.  Bones and horns were made into tools, weapons and utensils, and the hooves were boiled down into glue.  Even the tails were used to make fly switches and ceremonial objects. 


Today the bison population is stable at about 350,000.  Less than a third of these live the wild existence of their ancestors.  The rest are being raised like cattle for human consumption. 


The Bison Advantage


Ecologically, bison is much superior to beef.  Bison are hardier than cattle; require less water; are less prone to illness and rarely need antibiotics – which makes them easier to raise organically; require less feed per pound of animal; and are generally free-ranged, which allows the grassland to recover.  Nutritionally, they pack a punch, too.  Their meat is flavorful and very lean, and higher in many nutrients than beef.


But let’s talk about bison fiber.


Some producers are taking a hint from the Native Americans and offering bison products that utilize other parts of the animal.  Bison down is an example.


Bison grow a heavy, shaggy coat to protect them from severe winter weather.  Buffalo fleece is very complex compared to that of most animals, containing up to five distinct types of hair fibers.  When spun into yarn, buffalo down results in a very warm, soft, durable fiber said to feel like cashmere only softer.  Buffalo down does not dye or bleach well and is available in various natural hues of brown.


Where to Get Buffalo Fiber Products


Following are some sources of buffalo down yarns and other products:


Buffalo Gold produces bison yarn and kits for making your own buffalo scarf or lace shawl.  Their products are available from retailers listed on their website.


North Star Bison offers bison down gloves and other accessories, a bison fiber throw rug and other bison products.  


Kendig Cottage has bison down roving for spinning or felting, as well as a 25% bison/75% bamboo yarn.


American Buffalo Designs features bison yarn and fashion accessories, and will soon be offering very attractive bison wool sweaters, pillows and throws.


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