May 2021: I am about half way to the number of initial fiber samples I need to have a good cross-section of the U.S. yak herd. If you own yaks I would love to have fiber samples from you. I am right in the middle of moving to Oregon from Nebraska so shipping will need to be arranged with me directly. I will have a place you can ship fiber but I will need to know it is coming.
A few points of interest I am seeing as numbers come back from the lab. Yaks seem to get coarser as they age. Where and when the sample is collected seems to possibly have an influence on the quality of fiber. None of these potential results are particularly surprising at the moment. Nutrition, health, age, and environmental factors tend to play a part in all fiber animals. Just how much those effect the yaks though I don't know.
The fiber straight off the yak does seem to trend coarser than I expected but I have such a small sample size and not many are repeated year after year yet so I don't know what that means for the fiber production.
Us caretakers of the animals have a lot of influence over the quality of the fiber. This is true in sheep and wool, goats and cashmere, alpacas, llamas, and yaks. The quality is increased by keeping the fiber as clean as possible, the animal healthy, and sorting out the less than ideal fiber. Now, I will say that all fiber has a use of some sort. It just may not be a nice scarf or sweater you wear up against your skin. The rougher and coarser fibers make great ropes, felt, rugs, and hard wearing outwear to name a few ways to use it. The super soft fibers are much better for things that will not get a lot of hard wear like outerwear gets. Soft fiber is so fine that it can break and therefore pill.
I will be sending another batch of samples of yak fiber to the lab here in the next month. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to make my office/lab mobile for my move but I am working on that. It should be quite the adventure to travel my own Oregon Trail route with my kids, pets, and job in tow.