Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Yaks?

Don't have a clue how to copy a picture of Jasmine and Gracie to put on this page so if you want to see them you'll have to go to the sale page on the web-site and take a peek. Christy, the ranch manager says the photos do not do them justice.

What am I yaking about? Well, we purchased two yaks way up in Kalispell, MT. They will arrive the beginning of May. And since some of you have asked why we are investing in such an adventure, I'll give you a little background. As I was researching yaks, I came to the realization that our livestock had to start making ends meet. Tougher times are ahead with grain prices sky rocketing and it will become worse as the farmers pay dearly for fuel to run their tractors. I hate to think about this fall when summer's increase in production hits the market as expensive grain. It's not only grain but hay also that will be a whole lot more money. So I've got to seriously re-think our animal projects, become smarter in the way we do things like raising some sunflower seeds and greens for the chickens, and figure out how our stock can start paying their own way.

I'm going to have fewer chickens, since right now I have too many eggs. A better quality of chickens because these didn't lay worth a hoot in the winter. I may even invest in a solar light to put in the coop since light goes through the pupil and stimulates the pituitary gland to produce eggs making our fewer chickens produce more. Some chicken breeds need less light than others to get this job done. I've got some chickens on order right now from a different hatchery than the one I've been using and we'll see how they perform. Previously I used McMurray. I found that their sex link breeds laid well for me but none of the other traditional egg breeds. They've gone to show lines, not high producers. I want good conformation but more than that heavy production with economical feed consumption.

Our three year old goat, Chicory has blood lines that should command a decent price for her pure blood kids and she was a wonderful milker last year due do her heavy milking genes. Contessa, her daughter, will have to be a good milker and throw nice kids this year though she isn't pure blood but her dad was no slouch having come from the same breeder as Chicory. Contessa's kids may not bring as high a price but we'll keep her for now to see what she throws. Katarina, her sister, will have to go down the road when I get her fully tamed and trained at the milking stand. She is a really nice doe but not the quality of her sister.

I've gotten side tracked here in our discussion and I'd best get back to the subject of this post, yaks. It was research that sold me and made me decided I should try my hand at a more serious adventure. One that included giving workshops but we'll talk about that later. I'll tell you about the yaks. We've contacted seven breeders and visited with a few of them on the phone. At first I just wanted ONE yak as a gift for my husband as he is a very hard person to buy something for. I thought we'd probably get a steer and raise it for meat. Then research entered the picture and I learned that you can't have one yak or they will become depressed, possibly not staying in their pen or pasture. So we brain stormed. A cow and a calf won't do either, we learn. The yaks have to be of companionable age.

After hours of research, of which there wasn't nearly enough to satisfy my questions, we decided on two yearling woolly yaks. Yes, I know they are all woolly but these have an increased production of yak wool. I don't know how much increase in wool yet but we are interested in selling the wool. The Internet sells it for $20 to $24 an ounce cleaned and de-haired, ready to spin. What it costs to get the wool de-haired, I can't find YET. I may have to save wool for a few years and who knows maybe I'll take the cleaned and de-haired wool, spin it, and knit hats for sale. All this could change in the future as prices and demand change so I'll leave the decision to then. I did find some yak yarn that sells for $30 to $36 a skein. That's above my expenditure range for yarn.

I heard that yaks only produce a couple pounds a year. Even if I got only $5 dollars an ounce in the raw state. It would be $160 dollars a yak and that is $160 dollars more than a beef who produces nothing. Something more to off set the cost of raising the animal. As the yak matures, it the wool yield is greater. The whole idea of woollies is to have more wool so that's what we chose. They have extreme woollies too but none for sale that we found in the neighboring states. If we had bulls, I'm sure our production would go way up since a mature cow averages 600 to 800 pounds - 4.5 feet at their hump and a bull weighs up to 1600 pounds - 6.5 Feet at their hump. A huge difference in body surface area to comb wool from. Just so you can compare, a calf averages 30 pounds when born. Those of you who are very observant noticed that I said comb. Yes, you comb the yak when they start to shed to remove the wool. The long guard hair does not shed. This is the hair that hangs down off their belly and tail. Combing does take more time as it must be done daily in the spring when they are shedding. Sheep on the other hand are sheered once a year. Add in that sheep produce far more wool in a year than a yak and you can see why the high price tag for yak wool.

That is one of the big reasons why we bought halter broke, gentle yearlings. We don't have a chute to put them in and lock their heads so we can comb a wild beast. If you have Netflixs, go to Dirty Jobs season 4, episode 2 and you will see the star of the show at the Springbrook Ranch combing yaks and bison. This is the same ranch our yearlings are coming from.

Even though the long hair does not shed, in some countries it is sheared off every couple years as it is very strong and can be braided into ropes etc. I think it would make a cool braided headstall. Those that I've seen are made from horse tail. Why not yak? I did read that yak hair makes the best theater wigs. I'd of never of thought of that.
The wind is now coming out of the West. A good sign that colder weather is blowing in. "Do you have harsh winters?", was one of the questions asked by sellers. Good they replied, you'll need them. It is nasty, cold weather that causes the woolly undercoat to develop. Our area is eager to please such request. We just had snow which closed the roads around Cheyenne, WY This long stretch of clouds at sunrise is another good sign weather is changing. If that isn't enough, all I have to do is put sunflower seeds in the bird feeder and the sparrows and finches will tell me when a storm is approaching. They empty the feeder in a hurry. Sunday evening due to high winds that produced a blizzard. It wasn't too nice here either. It kept our oldest daughter from traveling home until the next day. This weekend we are expecting snow again. I know it is April but we can get snow into June and in the mountains July. Yaks don't mind though as they are a high altitude, wind, cold loving animal. Their long guard hair provides a comfy bed and their woolly undercoat being warmer than Merino wool by 15% 20% lends them excellent protection. In fact, it is the heat that is their undoing. Think of wearing a heavy down coat in the summer and you'll understand why. We don't have humid or hot summers at 5000 ft. this far north making them ideal for yaks. They can handle an altitude of 10,000 ft. because of their unique ability to retain oxygen. This unique quality makes their meat high in Omega 3's. Something most meat, except a few fish, are low in. But I'm getting side tracked again. Let's finish talking about their wool. It's warmer than Merino, equal to cashmere in softness, and several tests show it is stronger than sheep's wool. The down side is the staple is only and an inch long. Not many places have the equipment to process this short a fiber and de-hair it. Yak's hair is silky enough though that it isn't prickly so a little in the wool I'm told is not uncomfortable. A whole lot more than I can say for its relative the bovine. I once combed my daughter's FFA steer in the spring to collect the wooly undercoat, then spun it into yarn. It's called Poor Mans Wool, just so you know, and you'd have to be desperate to wear a garment made from it without de-hairing. The yarn looks like a woolly caterpillar. Cool looking but pricklier than all get out. Not so with yak as the hair is soft. I'm not worried about spinning yak wool though because they say it has a lovely crimp that lends ease in spinning. I love working with camel down which also has an inch staple so I'm not concerned. For you allergy suffers, yak down is hypoallergenic. The second selling point of yaks is that they eat less than a beef. One site said 1/2 the amount of bovines and the others said 1/3 less. I'd guess it would be whether you are feeding a cow or bull. Either figure means that yaks are more efficient at feed conversion. For those of us who have studied cow manure for livestock management reasons, you've noticed quite a bit of forage that has gone undigested. Yaks are said to find food and do well where beef would starve. Not that I'm sanctioning testing that theory mind you. That would be cruel and miss my point of having yaks. Disease resistant and hardier than cattle puts them ahead in my book also. If need be we can use yak manure for fuel in our stove. Our county, like Tibet has very few trees. Lots of coal but hardly any tree cover. I'd rather have coal but it's nice to know yak manure is available if I become desperate. The large herd of bison on the ranch just a mile north of us would supply a similar product. Bison manure was what the Plains Indians used to cook over. The Tibetans use yak.
Yak meat, no fat, doesn't it look juicy? Third, the yak produces an exceptional meat that is better for you than beef. The down side is that yaks take longer to mature, 5 - 6 years. You don't have to wait that long to butcher one as I'm told three is when many find their way into the freezer. During this time they receive no grain. Yaks are far more intelligent and intuitive. That can be good or bad as John, the rancher we visited, said he couldn't even think the word butcher or he swore the yaks wouldn't come into the corral until a day that thought didn't enter his mind. LOL Yak is higher in vitamins, much higher in Omega 3's than beef, lower in cholesterol, calories, and the meat is not gamey or greasy. I'm told the fat is on the outside of the meat, similar to pork, or bison. We brought a little hamburger home from our trip last weekend and cooked it on a high heat over the barbecue grill to seal in the juices, cooking the meat to medium rare. It was juicy and flavorful. Not at all gamey just like they said despite not having been fed any grain. I've a chart I found by Midwest Lab Inc., a USDA accredited laboratory.
4 ounces of Meat


Calories 154

Cholesterol 49 mg

Fats 6.10 g

Protein 24.7 g


Calories 300.71

Cholesterol 89.31 mg

Fats 19.42 g

Protein 29.3 g

Beefalo (Beef/bison cross)


Calories 195.58

Cholesterol 89.31

Fats 6.84 g

Protein 31.4 g


Calories 220.09

Cholesterol 93.84 mg

Fats 8.69 g

Protein 33.2 g

Beefalo (bison/beef cross)

Calories 212.53

Cholesterol 65.57 mg

Fats 7.14 g

Protein 34.6 g

Yak is the lowest in calories. The lowest in cholesterol. The lowest in fats. Hand over the yak is what I say. The hamburgers were yummy and moist, no fat was added like in beef hamburger.You do have to cook them for a shorter period of time or they will go tough so those of you who like well done. Well, how to I put this politely. How about, you don't know what you are missing as meat should never be cooked that long. It looses its tenderness and flavor especially yak.

Fourth reason, they are just cool looking and have a great personality. They also sell for a good price. $400 and up for a newborn. $400 being ones without registry and fancier breeding. Gracie and Jasmine are papered. The reason we were told you should buy registered is that you then know who the parents are.

Yaks have NOT been exported from their countries of origin in one hundred years. Our U.S.A. yaks come from European zoos.

In fact, I think it's Jasmine that's line can be traced directly back to a zoo in Europe. Because of this small gene pool, it makes line breeding an issue if you don't know who your yak's parentage is.

Fifth reason for buying yaks is they make great pack animals. They can carry the same approximate weight as a horse. There is a business in Steamboat, Colorado that offers pack trips with yaks. Don't know if we will pack our yaks, has a nice ring doesn't it - a pack yak, but we might train one to pull a cart and let the kids ride them. After all they ride them in Tibet.

Sixth, is that we want to try their milk. I can't find out much about it other than butter and cheese is made from it, few drink it. No one we contacted, drank it or made something from it. I do know it is high in butterfat. We shall see because in a couple years, I'm going to milk our girls.

So there you have it. The reasons why we are investing in yaks.

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