Yaks are a member of the bovine family with the species name of Bos grunions. They were domesticated in Tibet approximately 3,000 years ago and today more than 12 million of them can be found in five Himalayan countries where they inhabit steppes of 15,000 feet. Yaks are known as the “grunting ox” and can climb as high as 20,000 feet, yet they can be successfully raised at very low elevations as well. Their respiratory rate however increases with heat and low altitudes and decreases at higher, cooler climates to help them adjust to the altitude.
What types of Yaks are available? North American yaks are divided into four types: black (imperials), trims (black with some white trim), royal (black and white with a white blaze face) and golden. Some people have bred them with a concentration on wool and as a result, some people refer to a fifth type as wholly. However, in North America, they all fall into the first 4 categories. With their horse-like tail and long skirts, these hardy animals require no special permits and are compatible with existing agricultural operations.
What are they used for? Yaks have been used in Tibet for practically everything, with nothing going to waste from the animal. In North America, uses for Yaks include breeding stock for meat, cross-breeding stock to make more resilient cattle, pack and draught animals, wool, hide, milk and cheese production, game hunting and as a low maintenance exotic live stock.
Are they hard to fence? Yaks are very easy to fence, requiring no special consideration. Barb wire or electrical tape fencing works very well. They are content in a small area and mix well with other livestock. Simply provide them with adequate food and water and they are very content where ever you put them.
What and how much do they eat? Yaks are very efficient food-converting animals and eat about a third to half of what an average beef animal does. They are browsers and grazers and do well on a variety of pastures with no supplemental feed required. A mineral block is about all that is additionally required. A mature yak can do well on as little as 6-10 pounds of grass hay per day. They alternate their day between browsing and lying quietly chewing their cud.
What is their personality like? Yaks are very intelligent animals, each with its own distinct personality. They learn to come when called and have a highly developed sense of sight and hearing. They make good watch dogs curiously investigating any activity in their vicinity. They can be halter broken upon weaning and learn and retain behaviors such as trailering, packing, pulling, and being groomed. Interestingly, they make a grunting sound when agitated, hungry, or calling their young, unlike other bovines. Otherwise, they make no sound at all.
Are their horns dangerous? By holding their horns when training them, they learn not to throw them around. Their horns then become handy handles onto which to tie things, and hold on to when grooming them. They groom themselves, scratch, clean their hooves, and even open grain cans with them.
Are they good pack animals? Quiet and gentle, 500-600 pound yak cows make excellent packers. Without them, the famous Trans Himalayan trade between Nepal and Tibet would have been impossible. One yak can carry up to 150 pounds of load and walk trails too rough for horses, needing no additional food other than browsing. Their small split hoof is easy on trails and their excellent hearing alerts you to any activity. This hoof and their ability to browse, make the yak very compatible with the environment. They carry loads equivalent to a pack horse, yet need no special feed, do not disturb the trails, and lay quietly at night, chewing their cud. They can be trained and desensitized in several months, can carry a full pack by two years old, and have a useful life of 20 years.
What is their wool like? The soft under-hair of the Yak can be combed out in the spring. This very fine hair with a short staple is cashmere-like and can be blended with silk for easier spinning. Each yak can produce two to three pounds of under-hair which can sell for up to $16 per ounce when spun. The coarser outer-hair can be woven into ropes, belts, or bags.
What is their meat like? With a dressing percentage of 45-55%, Yak meat has a deep rich red color with the fat located on the outside of the carcass where it can be easily trimmed. This makes for low marbling which creates the meat’s unique tenderness. The taste of Yak is best described as beef-like, but more delicate in flavor. High in protein, with one sixth the fat of beef, Yak is of a quality of excellence to be appreciated. At present pure yak meat sells at a price equivalent to or higher than bison.
What is their milk like? Yak milk is a rich creamy color with a high fat content of 5-7 percent. Being so high in fat, it is usually processed into butter, cheese, or yogurt. An average cow will produce 110 kg. Milk in a lactation period of an average of 149 days.
What are their breeding characteristics? Yaks can breed by the time they reach two years old. Yaks generally breed in the early fall, calve 257 days later in the spring and reach maturity within 4 to 6 years. They live an average of 25 years.
How much do they cost? With only a little over 1000 breeding yaks in North America, they command a good price. Prices vary depending upon the age and training of the animals as well as the area where of the country.
FAQ Regarding Yak