Of all commercially raised livestock, Yaks were the last to be domesticated. They are prized for their resilience and versatility. Originating from the Himalayas, they thrive in harsh climates and high altitudes. They have since been acclimatized to more human-friendly environments through several thousand years of intentional breeding. Domestically, they are growing in popularity because of their calm demeanor, tolerance of physical contact and as excellent sources of wool and dairy, but more importantly, for their lean and nutritious meat.
The nomadic Qiang People of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau first domesticated Wild Yaks (Bos mutus) around 4,500 years ago. Fully matured Wild Yak bulls have trouble living at altitudes below 10,000 ft and are massive, topping out at around 2,200 pounds, so we can only speculate as to how they were first tamed. Presumably, they were captured as calves and brought down to environments that were more hospitable to humans.
As the Qiung wandered across Asia and into the Middle East, they allowed Wild Yak bulls to mate with their captured herds, which resulted in Bos grunniens, now referred to as Domestic Yaks. There is even a third species of Yak called Feral Domestic Yaks, who were taken to pasture by herders, then wandered off and were never recovered, yet managed to survive due to their natural resilience.
As westerners traveled through the Asian highlands in the mid-1800s, a British captain named Samuel Turner took notice of the animals and had a pair shipped back to England in an attempt to appease the first Governor-Central of India, Warren Hastings, a Far Eastern Culture enthusiast. In 1854, twelve yak were imported for display at the Museum of Natural History in Paris and just after the turn of the century, Yaks started to appear in North American zoos.
It wasn’t until 1908 that Domestic Yaks were looked at as viable ranch livestock, thanks to naturalist and Boy Scout founder, Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton was of Scottish and Canadian decent but grew up in England, where he came across domestic Yaks in the northern English prairies. In order to establish a Canadian national game park, he needed a breed that could withstand harsh Canadian climates. He immediately thought of the hardy Yak.
Hybridization studies took place over the next several decades but didn’t make it beyond a 1932 study conducted by the Alaskan State Department of Agriculture which concluded that Yaks raised as livestock was “worthy of more attention.”
North American Domestic Yaks managed to survive in small numbers on Canadian and American exotic game ranches, most notably when Jerry McRoberts imported 35 yaks to Nebraska in 1987. They remained inconsequential until 1997, when a rancher from Montana named Larry Richards brought Yaks to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, enlightening ranchers to benefits of adding Yaks to their herds.
Appearance & Ease of Care
Domestic Yaks are smaller than their wild counterparts. Cows (females) weigh in at 600-700 pounds and bulls (males) approach 1400 pounds, with both measuring a relatively short 5-6 feet at the shoulder. Both males and females have horns that protrude outward from the sides of the head and have horse-like tails. They have long, fibrous hair with a woolen undercoat that can be harvested for clothing and rope. They have naturally minimal odor which results in textiles that are naturally odor resistant. Their dried manure is still used as a fuel source in Mongolia due to it's low odor. Historically they are black or dark brown with grey muzzles, but have since evolved into having white trim and patterning. On rare occasions, they can be have a entirely golden coat.
Yaks are quiet creatures that communicate through grunts and head-shakes rather than moos. If their caretakers have established themselves as the leader of the herd, Yaks are non-aggressive and quick to realize that their caretakers are friendly so they will follow commands well. Even though Yak prefer cold, high-elevation environments, they quickly adapt to all types of climates by learning to wade in streams and pools as well as panting to keep cool. They require less acreage to grow compared to beef cattle at a ratio of 4:1, not to mention their ability to thrive in mountainous terrain where beef cattle cannot.
Lean, Nutritious Meat
With less that 5,000 breeding pairs in North America, Domestic Yak are still a very small percentage of ranch livestock but are quickly growing in popularity thanks to studies into the raising and processing of Yak meat.
Studies comparing Yak ribeyes and ground to similar cuts of beef and bison have shown Yak to be a great alternative to conventional red meat. It has a sweet beefy flavor with no gaminess and does not leave you with a greasy mouthfeel. At an approximate 95/5 lean ratio, what little fat it does have is high in healthy unsaturated fatty acids, about 3x more polyunsaturated fat -- but less monounsaturated fat -- and a lower amount of saturated fat than beef. It has a low sodium content and comparable amounts of iron to beef and bison. Yak meat contains comparable amounts of Omega-3 acids to turkey breast and comparable amounts of Omega-6 acids to skipjack tuna. It's cholesterol level is closer to tuna and turkey than to beef or bison.
With it's high protein and high ratio of unsaturated fats, yak meat is considered by some to be the healthiest meat available, especially when raised entirely on grass and foraged diets, just like the ones we grow at Diamond Mountain Ranch.