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Thunder River Farm

Suri Alpacas and Tibetan Imperial Yaks

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About Tibetan Yaks

Yaks are members of the subfamily Bovinae, the same as bison, cattle and water buffalo. There are two species of yak: the wild yak and the domestic yak. The wild yak is protected and found only in Asia at elevations above 13,000 feet. They were domesticated by the Qiang people on the Tibetan Plateau at least 4,000 years ago. Since then, the domestic yak has spread throughout Asia and into Europe, reaching North America by the early 1900s. Now a century later, the domestic yak is valued as an alternative livestock choice for a growing number of people in the United States.


Domestic yak range in size from small adult  cows of 600 pounds to bulls topping 1,700 pounds. Unique among bovines, yaks have long hair on their bodies and the entire length of their tails, as well as dense, wooly undercoats which are shed every year in the Spring. This double layer has waterproof qualities, making them impervious to the harshest cold and snow.


In North America, yaks are raised primarily for meat and fiber. Some are used for packing. Yaks can also be milked, ridden or trained to harness.


Yaks share with the bison anatomical features not found in cattle. Besides the obvious hump, there are differences in the skull, skeleton and muscling. Like bison, yak have 14 pairs of ribs where cattle have just 13. This extra set of ribs helps to accommodate the larger lungs which enable domestic yak to thrive from sea level to elevations over 12,000 feet.


Yaks are considered easy keepers, with fencing, nutritional and maintenance needs similar to cattle. Calves average 30-40 pounds so cows rarely need help with delivery. Yaks should be provided with shade and access to ponds or stock tanks in hotter climates. Shelter from the elements is advisable in all regions. Some yaks require hoof trimming, and 'woolies' need brushing out when they shed their coat.


Many people prefer yak's lean and tasty meat. Spinners, fly-tyers and braiders buy the fiber that owners are willing to collect. The hides make beautiful rugs and durable leather. Composted yak manure is appreciated as an excellent soil amendment. The milk, rich in butterfat, is said to make delicious cheese. 


Source: International Yak Association 2016

Updated November 29, 2016