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Getting more out of Bison: Spinning Hair into Yarn

Bison Hair: Discovering another way to make the most out of bison ranching.

If you've ever been around bison in the spring our summer. You may have noticed something that seemed a little odd: the bison seemingly losing their hair. Although it looks a little bizarre, it is actually quite normal for the American Bison to be shedding hair in the spring and summer months, and here's why:

Each year, bison grow thick, warm winter coats. Living in the harsh climates of the great plains, bison grow these coats to keep them warm throughout the winter snow and winds. In fact, these coats are so thick, that it has been observed that snow can fall onto the bison without even melting from body heat.
This image shows a bison losing it's winter coat.

However, in the summer months, these coats are no longer needed and so in the spring and summer, you'll find bison shedding these coats. Hair will be attached to fence lines and throughout the fields.

The cool thing is, if you have the time and desire to put in the work, great things can come of the annual hair shedding.

The picture to the right shows a young bison heifer in the process of shedding her coat.

Bison hair is surprisingly soft, and of course, durable and warm. The process for taking the hair from field to finished product is quite time-consuming, but can also be fulfilling and enjoyable.

This is bison hair after it has been washed.
Washing the hair is the first, and probably most important step. When picked up from the field, bison hair is full of pieces of grass, dirt, mud and other "vegetable matter" from the bison living its day-to-day life. Washing the hair will get most of this out – and the rest will come out in the brushing and spinning process.

All it takes to wash the hair, is hot water, Dawn Dish Soap and a basin.

Once the hair is washed, rinsed and dried (which takes longer with bison hair, since it is grown to be water resistant), the most time consuming step of brushing and/or combing the hair into useable roving is next.

Bison hair being spun using a drop spindle.
Although bison hair is soft, the brushing / combing process really brings out the full potential of this fiber, allowing the remaining vegetable matter to fall out and making it into workable material.

Spinning the bison hair is the step where you take the bison fiber and spin it into yarn. This can be done with a spinning wheel or a drop spindle as shown in the image on the right. This process simply takes the hair, and twists it into yarn.

The yarn can then be plied after spinning to make the yarn thicker or more durable. And after that step, all that's really left is another washing / rinsing step to allow the yarn to set and ensure that it is thoroughly cleaned.

Once the yarn is completed, it can then be used in any project you desire. Bison yarn can work great in crochet or knit projects such as scarves, mittens, hats and socks.

See below for finished images of the yarn!

This is a process which I am still learning and practicing, but the first effort was quite fulfilling and satisfying. I am looking forward to continue growing in this process to make some truly beautiful bison hair pieces.

Here is an image of the yarn after it has been spun and plied. 

And here is a final image of the yarn after it has been completed. 

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