Bison Wool Fiber
Ann Braaten, Senior Lecturer, Apparel, Textiles & Interior
Robyne Williams, Assistant Professor, Apparel, Textiles & Interior Design
North Dakota State University, Fargo
Bison are molting animals which shed
their coats in the spring of each year. Native Americans have used the
fiber for rope, stuffing for insulation, and fiber art. This textile fiber
source can be utilized to add value to animals raised for breeding and for
While bison wool fiber has been used for textile products, its textile
properties are beginning to be understood. So far, the fineness of the
fiber has been measured, fibers have been microscopically analyzed and
photographed, and the moisture regain of the fiber has been measured.
Fiber from two female bison was analyzed, one animal was considered to be
dominant and the other subordinate in the herd (Miller, B.). In space
restrictive environments, animals very low in rank show an inhibited feeding
behavior, resulting in a diminished nutrient intake (Calhoune, J.B.). In
sheep, a low nutrient intake can decrease fiber diameter, making the fiber
softer and more comfortable.
Bison fiber is made up of course guard hairs and fine downy hairs. The
guard hairs are hollow and range from 21 to 110 microns in diameter, with an
average 59.0 microns (this is similar to course human hair). The fine
downy hairs are solid and are covered with fine scales. Downy fibers range
in diameter from 12 to 29 microns.
Dominant animals downy fiber averaged 21.8 microns and subordinate animal
averaged 18.8 microns. Both types of fiber were consistent in size
from the root. The fiber diameter of downy bison fiber is similar to sheep's
wool in the fine and medium grades.
Moisture regain of bison wool ranged from 13 to 20 percent. This is a
broader range than that of sheep's wool, which ranges from 14 to 16 percent.
Moisture regain is a measure of the amount of moisture a fiber will hold without
feeling wet and is used to understand the comfort level of a fiber. The
more moisture a fiber will hold, the more comfortable it is to wear.
This information will help to determine marketing strategies and potential
end-uses of the bison wool fiber. If the course hairs are separated from
the fine hairs, the fine hairs can be sold as a high quality, high price
product. If the two fiber types are left together when used, a rougher
product results. . If a fine quality, and high priced bison fiber is
desired, steps must be taken to market this type of bison fiber in a different
manner than the courser mixed fiber.
Currently, U.S. law gives the Federal Trade Commission power to control which
fibers can be called wool, and bison fiber is not included on their list.
The Consumer Protection: Product and Services Code: Chap. 2, Sec. 68(b) defines
the term ''wool'' as fiber from the fleece of the sheep or lamb or hair of
the angora or cashmere goat (and may include the so-called specialty fibers from
the hair of the camel, alpaca, llama, and vicuna) which has never been reclaimed
from any woven or felted wool product (http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/15/68.html).
This needs to be broadened to include the wool of bison.
Given the mythology associated with the American bison and the romance of the
Old West, the potential for development of bison wool as a textile material and
value-added product exists. It is up to bison producers to decide how to
utilize this resource.
Calhoune, J.B. 1963. The Ecology and Sociology of the Norway Rat, cited in
Animal Populations In Relation to Their Food Resources. 1970. Adam Watson,
Ed., Blackwell Scientific Publications, Ltd. Great Britain. p. 188.
Giest, V. 1996. Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison.
Voyageur Press, Inc. Stillwater, Minn. p. 107.
McHugh, T. 1958. Social Behavior of the American Buffalo (Bison bison
bison). Zoologica, 43, pt.1, 1, 17 - 23 (March 31, 1958). Included in Social
Hierarchy and Dominance. 1975. Martin W. Schein, ed. Benchmarck
Papers in Animal Behavior V. 3, Dowden, Huchinson & Ross, Inc.
Miller, B. May 6, 1996. Personal Communication.
Sheep Industry Association. 1996. Sheep Producers Handbook. p. 656.