top of page
  • Krysta Voskowsky

Musk Ox Farm

Musk Ox Farm Surprises and Delights Skeptical Teenagers

For the bright young athletes of Northwest Territories, an up-close interaction with an ornery Musk Ox didn’t seem like the most fun thing to do today, but at the insistence of Coach Chuck, the team shuffled onto the big tour bus headed for Palmer’s Musk Ox Farm for a tour on Wednesday morning.


Now, if you’ve ever been a teenager, parented one, or otherwise been on the receiving end of a dubious eye-roll when suggesting, well, anything, it turns out modern teenagers–even the ones who hail from icy remote villages above the 55th parallel– still bear healthy skepticism when it comes to educational field trips that their adult handlers insist will be “fun.” Between the promise of a super special Musk Ox Farm trading pin and the persistent encouragement of their coaches, the teen athletes of Northwest Territories reluctantly agreed to suspend the deep sighs and eye-rolls to learn more about these giant Arctic creatures, and in record time, all signs pointed to the entire team genuinely enjoying themselves.


Dani Biersteker, Education Director and wildlife biology expert, led the tour with positive energy and approachable humor from the start, and the momentarily reticent teens quickly revealed excited curiosity.

How do you comb their hair? Do their horns change color? What do they eat? How old is that one? Did they do that to the fences!? Peppered with earnest and thoughtful questions, Biersteker launched into her zone of genius and answered every single one, encouraging everyone to get close, but not too close. Certain members of the herd are more socially inquisitive than others, like playful Fenugreek (m) and herd sweetheart Acadia (f), but they’re not exactly looking to snuggle.


Don’t let their soft hair and adorable fuzzy noses fool you– these animals are still strong, wild creatures who prefer to make their own independent life choices sans unsolicited input or interference from humans.The musk oxen on this non-profit farm in Palmer, Alaska may hang out on pastures surrounded by secure enclosures, but they’re hardly domesticated, as the deep dents in the side of the white feed truck will attest to. Musk oxen are native to the tundra, and both males and females aren’t afraid to knock noggins and bluff charge to assert dominance. According to the Smithsonian Institution, researchers have fossil evidence proving that Musk Oxen have inhabited the circumpolar north for roughly 90,000 years, but not long ago, these majestic animals were almost wiped off the face of the earth.

In the 1940s, wild musk oxen were on the brink of extinction, leading founder John Teal to spend the next decade immersed in research that would result in the birth of Alaska’s official Musk Ox Project. With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the University of Alaska, and countless volunteers, Teal’s Musk Ox Project established Alaska’s first domestic musk ox farm in Fairbanks in 1964. Due to the continuously rising cost of transporting hay and other crucial supplies to rural Alaska, the farm was eventually relocated to its current, more convenient location only 45 miles from Anchorage.


For over 60 years, this non-profit farm has worked 365 days a year to “bring geographically appropriate agriculture to rural communities in the far north.” Thanks to the 501(c)3 Musk Ox Development Corporation who runs the farm in Palmer, herd numbers have grown steadily over the years and modern musk oxen are now living longer than ever. Focused on promoting gentle musk ox husbandry, qiviut production, and education to the general public, the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer has transformed a humble easement of land in the Mat-Su Valley into a fascinating place where curious humans of all ages get the chance to experience a personal interaction with these majestic animals.


Despite their initial resistance to an educational field trip, it was clear by the end of the farm tour that the teen athletes of Northwest Territories ultimately loved the experience. “Only two of our athletes have ever seen a Musk Ox in real life,” noted Coach Chuck, “so this was a really cool experience for them. Dani, our tour guide, was so knowledgeable, I think we learned a lot,” he said. “They’re smelly!” One teen girl piped up from the back of the group with a wide smile across her face. “Yeah! This is really fun!” another teammate exclaimed, kicking a frozen musk ox turd in his friend’s direction. In true kid-fashion, his friend giggled and kicked it back, which started a rather hilarious multiplayer round of turd futsal that had all of us – even the adults and stoic older teenagers– laughing out loud as we made our way back to the gift shop, because none of us are too cool for poop jokes.


As Team Northwest Territories thanked Dani for their super special Musk Ox pin and gifted her pins of their own, the whole team chatted excitedly as they climbed back onto the bus. Team Alaska arrived then and filed in to join the next tour, and a few stragglers stopped to browse the selection of hand-spun qiviut yarn (eight times warmer than wool and softer than goose down), colorful Musk Ox stickers, handmade musk ox horn jewelry, and gorgeously illustrated children’s books featuring friendly musk oxen inspired by the real ones we just met outside.


Bummed you missed your chance to meet the Musk Ox herd? We’ve got good news! In response to high demand, the Palmer Musk Ox Farm has extended their complimentary tours for 2024 Arctic Winter Games athletes, cultural participants, media, and credentialled adults through Thursday and Friday of this week.

“It has been such a joy to meet so many incredible athletes from around the world, their coaches and keepers,” said Mark Austin, Executive Director of the Musk Ox Farm. “We packed the farm over the past three days but there were definitely some spots left unfilled. If there are any athletes who would still like to visit the farm (and pick up a Musk Ox pin!) go to our website: muskoxfarm.org and book a tour using the discount code: AWG. Athletes must bring their AWG Badge for free tours, and credentialed adults may join tours based upon availability.”


Grab your friends and head over to the Musk Ox Farm–just 2.5 miles away from the Palmer Train Depot–anytime Thursday or Friday between noon and 5pm, and experience the scenic walking tour (and these unique arctic mammals) for yourself.


Comments


bottom of page