Wednesday, April 04, 2007

summer break

Seems like each summer, knitting stops. I'm working on article 2 of a two-part series on muskoxen for Agroborealis, this one to concentrate on qiviut and animal husbandry for muskoxen. There's only been one real how-to book produced on care & feeding of your Ovibos moschatus, and that was a good 20 years ago and is in serious need of updates.


Donna said...

Interesting story, thanks for the link. I was not familiar with that publication. I see that you mentioned how the herd originally grew from 30 to 100 animals, but I didn't see a discussion about how the herd has since shrunk again to under 40 animals. Is that something you might discuss in the second article? To me it puts the success of musk ox domestication in question.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

The herd was split: some went to the Musk Ox Farm when Teal formed the Muskox Developement Corporation in Palmer (BIG hullabaloo when the university and Teal split on what to do about the animals; several muskoxen died during the winter of the split--very bad scene), and some are at the Large Animal Research Station here in College. Others were shipped out to Nunivak and elsehere in its former wild range. There's also another private farm, Windy Valley Farm in the Matanuska Valley. So yes, the one herd has shrunk, but there are now more "domestic" herds, and animals have been released to the wild as well.

Donna said...

Right, I'm aware of all of that. But Teal's herd had 100 animals or more when it was in Unalakleet and later when it was moved to Palmer. Now there are 40 or less, and this is not from sending animals to other farms or from releasing them into the wild.

There are some serious problems with infant mortality, from what I understand. And the farm manager told me that animals from other places have been added to the Palmer farm over the years, so the number has shrunk even more than is immediately apparent.

Of course, the folks at LARS are biologists, so their input on health topics would probably be the most reliable.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

There were some pretty serious losses to the herd when the university and Teal had their breakup. From what I'd read and heard from the researchers here, Teal had numerous problems in the first few years, losing many in the process. I didn't realize the herd had dropped that much. But their herd is fairly stable and healthy now, or at least that's what I'd heard. I asked Milan Shipka (Cooperative Extension Livestock Specialist) about herd populations: the Musk Ox Farm's herd is now around 30-40 animals, but Windy Valley's is up to 20-30, and LARS is about the same.

Infant mortality is a problem; they don't know much about what's going on, but are working on it. Shipka's been studying reproduction in muskoxen and only recently discovered a few interesting things, and Perry Barboza is another scientist here doing interesting research on muskoxen.

Domestication isn't in question, however, as the herds are maintaining their size to the point that they can cull their animals, according to what I gathered when I asked this week. I haven't yet talked with the LARS farm manager (phone tag), but plan to.

This second article is split into two main parts: an overview of qiviut and research on hair follicles and methionine, and a discussion of research relating to their biology. I'm not getting into their husbandry that much. (There's just only so much one can cram into a magazine article.) One thing to keep in mind, though, is that domestication has only just barely begun. Really, all that's happened to this point is taming. The fact that taming is even possible is very auspicious.

Going through Pamela Groves' book, it became apparent that, in the 15 years since it was published, there's a lot more information out there now. It needs an update.

Still researching away--it's proving very interesting, but slow going. The next article should be out in May or June. Thanks for the input, Donna--I have simply GOT to get your book, too!

Deirdre Helfferich said...

Just checked--the herd had about 100 animals before the university and Teal split in 1976. The herd was moved over several places (sort of a hasty procedure), and that winter and the next was hard on them. I haven't found out exactly what happened, or exactly how many animals died that first winter or from what, but the trauma of the sudden move and the lack of ideal quarters definitely had something to do with it, rather than the general farm practices. The shrinkage, in other words, was pretty dramatic.

I'll have to look into this in more detail, so I don't go spreading rumors...

Deirdre Helfferich said...

Apparently, the move was extremely traumatic to the herd, and they lost more than half the animals.