The Big Ones, Part II: Bison (aka Buffalo)

First, of course, etymology!  Did you know that “buffalo” is the colloquial name for the  North American bison (Bison bison)?  I did not!

Early French explorers called them “les boeufs,” meaning oxen or beeves (plural for beef – and a new word for me). The non-French-speaking settlers later changed (or butchered, the French would undoubtedly say), the pronunciation to “la buff.”  (I  imagine French speakers cringing as they read this.)  After a few more name changes, we got “buffalo.”  (Pic source)

The bison has some similarities to the  musk oxen:  They are not domesticated animals, and they are very large.  The bison bull will weigh about 2,000 pounds (907 kg), and the bison cow around 1,100 pounds (499 kg).

According to Blue Castle Fiber Arts, “There are five distinct types of fiber on the bison, but the most prized is the soft undercoat or down.”  Not surprisingly, the microns vary:  from  12 to 29 for downy hair and 21 to 110 for guard hair.  The stable is short; it is only one-inch.  The yarn made from bison down is, like qiviut, shrinkfast.

According to The Buffalo Wool Co., the yarn: has a solid core with a micron count of about 15 (but this would be for the down, not guard hair): its crimp creates thousands of insulating air pockets; is hypoallergenic, gets softer with wear; will halo; has a moisture regain of about 30% (thus is moisture wicking); and can be machine washed and dried.

I have never knit with bison yarn (though my birthday IS coming up).  Have you?!


As an aside, there are “real” buffalo – such as the African water buffalo (Syncerus cafe), to the left (pic source) or the Asian buffalo (Bubalus arneebelow (pic source).



About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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15 Responses to The Big Ones, Part II: Bison (aka Buffalo)

  1. grenouille78 says:

    Funny. I got up this morning planning my post on buffaloes (which you already saw) and wondered to myself whether you could make yarn from buffalo hair, remembering how the zookeepers had told us that people used to request the shed fur from their muskox. And look here! You can! 😀 Now to find some of that…


  2. Stephanie Libbon says:

    Why does this make me think of the time you had me smell the yarn you spun and dyed, but the fiber came from a randy goat?! 🙂 And speaking of vile smells/tastes, I read somewhere recently that the artificial raspberry flavor found in many foods actually comes castoreum which is extracted from the anal glands of beavers…. Now I ask you, who was the person who decided it would be a good idea to smell the anus glands of a beaver, decided they smelled like raspberries, and then decided to add it to food?!

    Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2012 07:10:16 +0000 To:


  3. LauraLee says:

    I have not knit with bison yarn, although those I know who have swear by it.
    Think I’d like to try it, at least once.


  4. Fascinating word journey. I’ve never met beeves either. (Although my browser spellcheck does surprisingly allow for it!) I have another question, what’s a micron? 😉


  5. kiwiyarns says:

    I have heard that it is indeed very nice. It would be a lovely treat for your birthday!


  6. Pingback: Ranch Ground Buffalo Empanadas « LauraLovingLife

  7. Northern Narratives says:

    I have seen bison but no bison yarn 🙂


  8. ethgran says:

    I bet it feels marvelous!


  9. Thank you (though both my information gathering and knack for retaining odd sorts of info used to drive my daughter nuts, (She was in high school while I was working on my doctorate.) As an adult, it just seems to make her grin. I haven’t knit with bison though I have fingered it. 🙂


  10. It’s on my wish list too. 🙂


  11. I would think so, as felting and/or fulling involve shrinking. That said, I haven’t (yet) worked with bison fiber.


  12. HannahDavis says:

    I know I’ve told you this already but I love these posts! So informative! And now I want to make something with bison yarn!


  13. Pingback: Bisons’ return to Mexico | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  14. knotrune says:

    If it doesn’t shrink, does that mean it doesn’t felt?


  15. I had no idea it was possible to knit with bison yarn and now I must admit I would rather like to.


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