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Oh the weather outside is frightful

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Since we just finished up over a month of seemingly never-ending snow storms, we thought what better way to start off our 4th year with yaks than by starting a semi-regular blog. If you haven't already figured it out, the theme for this one will be snow. And lots of snow. And then maybe an atmospheric river thrown in for fun. If you have been wondering what yak ranching in the Sierra Nevada is like, then please keep reading.

This is Ferdinand the Royal Bull
Ferdinand the (Royal) Bull

It's early March 2019 and so far, it's been a whopper of a year. At one point in February, we had over 5 feet of snow in our pasture. Winter means a pattern of morning and evening feedings, a total of 720 lbs of hay per day. When it's deep out there, we plow a "food highway" so it's easier on both us and the yaks. We purchase feed from several local ranches so they are raised on Sierra Valley forage all year long.

The "food highway" is the only way to feed when there is a lot of snow.

Many people ask us how the yaks do in this weather. Simply stated, they do just fine and seem to shrug off the snow and cold, both literally and figuratively. In other words, they are made for this! Yaks have numerous anatomical and physiological traits that equip them for life at high altitude and cold weather. Yaks cope with cold primarily by conserving heat. Heat conservation is facilitated by a thick coat of coarse outer hair and an undercoat of fine down. The proportion of down in the coat increases greatly before the onset of winter. Calves have a coat composed almost exclusively of down fiber. Normally, yak accumulate a layer of subcutaneous fat prior to winter. This also helps heat conservation and provides an energy reserve. And, the large rumen volume relative to body size allows them to generate body heat through digestion. Our climate and elevation is one of the primary reasons we decided to raise yaks in the Sierra Valley.

Winter also brings a number of challenges to yak ranching. The abundance of steadily-falling snow keeps us busy. We plow a lot of snow to access our hay barn, to provide feeding areas, and to keep gates accessible. The yak stay in their winter enclosure, which is underneath the trees, for most of the winter. On the other side of the enclosure fence is Spring Channel, which is one of our year-round creeks and fresh water sources. Due to the amount of snow this season, we have to keep access to the creek available because our regular water trough can get buried or frozen.

This is Sprite drinking out of Spring Channel
Sprite, a yearling heifer, drinking out of Spring Channel.

Sprite standing on a frozen trough.
And Sprite standing on the frozen water trough.

Because there was so much snow, our fencing was mostly buried for all of February. The yak tend to congregate in the plowed areas, but occasionally, they get bored. This is one of our bulls, Kayak, who seemed very aware that there wasn't much fence between him and our front yard!

In just a few short weeks, our pasture was transformed. We had a few inches of snow on Super Bowl Sunday, and three weeks later, we could walk right over our fences.

Our steer, Hopper, at the beginning of February.

And Hopper a few short weeks later chest deep in snow!

We currently have 50 yak plus Glory (our honorary yak, also known as a cow). As we gear up for spring, our honey-do list continues to expand. This includes frost seeding legumes, installing a lot of fencing, constructing more covered hay storage, re-configuring our working pens and many, many hours of fiber combing...although none of this will happen until all this snow melts!

There's always something enticing to climb on.

Winter also means experimenting with cold-weather yak recipes. Some good ones include a short-rib ragu, sloppy joes, and cube steak (all prepared in the Instant Pot), and seared filet on the raclette grill. We hope to share some recipes in future posts.

On a happy note, we celebrated our wedding anniversary this past doing 9 hours of snow removal on the property. Nothing says married bliss quite like Nine. Hours. Of. Snow. Removal.

Thanks for reading our blog and if you have any questions about our ranch or our animals, please shoot us an email at

See you in the spring!

Jenna and Greg Gatto

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