Yaks originated in the Himalayan Mountains and were domesticated thousands of years ago. They are used for wool, milk, butter, meat and for packing, and are a vital and valued part of the Himalayan culture. They thrive in conditions of extreme harshness and deprivation due to various adaptive mechanisms developed over thousands of years. Exports of yaks to parts of Europe, North America and other parts of Asia began in the mid-19th century.
The yak’s scientific name is Bos grunniens, the grunting ox. They are a member of the Bos genus, and are closely related to cattle and oxen. However, they do not “moo” or bellow like a cow; they grunt!
Yaks are intelligent, docile and sociable animals. They are observant and aware of their surroundings. They have a highly developed sense of sight and hearing. They are a herd animal and the mothers are protective of their calves. Excited yaks will run with their tails up. They are extremely versatile and can be used for packing/trekking, as show animals, for pets and for pulling carts and plows.
The yak’s physiology is well-adapted for high-altitude living. They have a larger lung and heart index than cattle, as well as a greater capacity for transporting oxygen through their blood. The rumen of yaks is also larger relative to their body size than cattle, which allows them to consume greater quantities of low-quality food and to ferment it longer to extract more nutrients. Due to increased feed conversion efficiency, yaks consume the equivalent of 1% of their body weight daily while cattle require 3% to maintain condition (The Yak Book, 2nd Edition). Yaks have also adapted to graze more quickly and closer to the ground than cattle, as a result of the unpredictable weather in high alpine environments.
Domestic yaks can live up to 20-25 years. A mature yak cow will generally weigh between 600-800 pounds while a bull will weigh between 1,200-1,500 pounds. Their hair and thick undercoats provide ample insulation from the cold. They also have a thick layer of subcutaneous fat, which provides additional cold weather protection.
Yaks are versatile and multipurpose animals. In the US, they are used for meat, fiber, and dairy products, and less commonly for packing and trekking.
Why do we raise them?
At Sierra Valley Yaks, our current focus is on producing a high-quality meat product for local customers, butchers and restaurants and fiber for local artisans. With our background in the dairy industry, including interning at an organic dairy, and various dairy production and cheese-making courses, we are interested in exploring opportunities with artisanal cheese, butter, and other dairy products. In the short time we have had yaks, we have found them to be extraordinary animals. Each of our yaks has their own unique personality and they are a joy to be around.
Yak meat is a higher protein, lower fat alternative to beef, bison, pork and chicken. It has a slightly sweeter taste than beef, and is juicier and less gamey than bison. It has a rich scarlet color due to its high myoglobin content. We are excited to introduce this delicious and highly nutritious meat product to the burgeoning food movement in the Truckee/Tahoe/Reno area, and beyond. With increased attention paid to humane production and food created in an environmentally-conscious manner, consumers can remain confident in choosing our locally-raised meat.
Yaks produce a high-quality, versatile fiber that is not widely-available in the US. It is extremely durable yet soft and pliable. Similar to wool, the fibers maintain warmth when wet. Yak fiber is also hypoallergenic, making it ideal for those who are allergic to wool. We are excited to begin producing fiber for those who are looking for exotic, unique fibers.