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American Yak - Their History, Their Versatility, and Their Value

March 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 310

Yak, Bos grunniens or Bos mutus, are long-haired mammals, and are part of the bovine family. Some studies have suggested that they are more closely related to bison than to cattle. American yak originally came from those which were herded in Tibet during the first millennium. Bos grunniens, or "grunting ox," is generally used for domesticated yak. Bos mutus, or "mute ox," is used for yak which are still in the wild. We are so used to the mooing of cattle that we don't realize that some bovines are quiet. Bison have a very soft grunt, which they use very sparingly to alert the herd to start moving, or the mothers finding their calves. Domestic Yak are also nearly silent, and use their grunting sparingly. It is said that wild yak are practically silent, thus their designation as ''mute.'' Although the domestic population is very large worldwide, the wild population very small. Starting in the 1990s, a concerted effort began to preserve the wild yak of the Himalayas.

Today, yak can be found on nearly every continent, although they are still mainly found in the Himalayas, the Tibetan Plateau, Afghanistan, China, Russia, and now the USA. The word "yak" which we use in English comes from the Tibetan word "gyag;" Tibetans distinguish between male and female with the words gyag for males, and dri or nak for females. In the USA, males and females are both known as yak, although the cattle terms "bull," "cow," and "steer" are now applied to yak as well. The plural of yak is normally yak; however, the word yaks is also used from time to time. There seems to be no definitive consensus about the use of "yak" vs. "yaks."

American yak generally live in high altitude states, and yet they can also live in low elevations and warmer climates. Their thick coats consist of two layers; the one next to the skin is fine fleece, valued for its softness, warmth, and durability. This layer brushes out when the warm weather arrives, leaving the longer "guard" coat, which is considerably thinner, and acts as an insulating layer against the heat. Even in the middle of summer, yak can be seen lying in the full sunshine, happily chewing their cud, even when shade is within their reach. However, it is to be noted that in combination with the fat layer being next to the skin, and the almost complete lack of sweat glands, yak can become overheated. When they become heated from running, it is only by panting heavily that they can cool themselves. Yak are very sure-footed, and can live even on the most rocky mountainsides, where cattle will not, and often cannot, graze.

There are five color types of American yak.

1. Imperial: Black with a Black Nose.

2. Black: Black with a Gray nose.

3. Royal: Black and White, also known as piebald.

4. Trim: Black with white trim. The white is usually on the forehead and feet, and occasionally on the tip of tail. The color of the coat can be Imperial, Black, or Golden.

5. Golden: A honey brown color

Golden yak are very rare in the USA, but the other colors are fairly well equally distributed. Royals can be predominantly black or predominantly white, and just about every combination in between. Another designation is Woolly, where the hair is considerably longer and thicker, often reaching the ground.

Traditionally, yak have been used for milk, meat, butter, as pack animals, for riding or driving, and for their hides, their fleece and the tail hairs. Their dried dung can be used as fuel, and is critically important especially on the barren steppes, where nomads have no wood for fuel. As domesticated pets or herd animals, the advantage to the dung is that it is nearly odorless, their urine not the offensive scent of horses or cattle, and cleaning up after yak is quite easy.

Yak milk is one of the richest of all the bovines. Yak butter is highly prized as an ingredient in that most popular of Tibetan drinks, Yak Butter Tea. The butter is also used as fuel in lamps, and also in making sculptures for religious festivals. The meat of yak is very low-fat and prized for its rich flavor. Because most of the fat layer is under the skin of the yak, thus giving them excellent insulation for the cold Tibetan winters, most of it not found in the meat.

The variety of uses for American yaks

Yak are used for a variety of things in America, just as in Asia. As the population of yak grows, the meat is becoming more popular and affordable. Yak milk, butter, and yogurt are still very expensive, but this may change at some point in the future as well. Their fleece is becoming increasingly popular for clothing, either spun by itself, or added to silk or cotton. Since it is nearly oil free, it has almost no odor, and is as soft to the touch as cashmere. The long tails of yak, which look very much like that of a horse, are traditionally used to weave shoes or sandals. When a yak hide is tanned with the hair on, it makes a very warm rug or blanket. Because of the impressive horns, often in the shape of a harp, yak skulls can be seen decorating the walls of more businesses and homes in the USA.

Many yak are being kept as pets, since they are docile, willing to please, and can be ridden or driven. Steers make the best pets, especially if they can be bottle fed for 3 to 4 months. Cows and bulls, even though friendly enough, tend to be more aggressive in protecting their herds. Yak cannot be ridden by adults until the age of 4; however, little children greatly enjoy sitting on them when the yak are still too young to ride, but are old enough to attend parades, fairs, and other functions. They will stand tied while they are brushed, and do not need to be bathed. Even the most persistent mud brushes out completely, and after a thorough grooming, they look as if they had partaken in a total spa treatment. Yak love attention, they love treats, and certainly draw attention whenever they appear in public.

Yak bulls are increasingly used to impregnate young cattle heifers. Because yak calves are tiny when they are born, just around 20 pounds, there are almost never any birthing problems. However, birthing large calves is a common problem in "maiden" cattle, resulting in the loss the calf, a prolapsed uterus, and occasionally even death of the cow. Thus, if they can be bred to a yak for their first pregnancy, this cuts down on most of the calving issues. Cattle-Yak crosses produce excellent meat as well as milk, albeit in smaller quantities.

The American yak is truly unique and wonderful. What other domesticated herd animal can be used in such a variety of ways? Yes, we see the occasional bison or longhorn steer being ridden in parades, and sometimes even being used to pull carts. But bison and cattle don't posses the multi-use coat of a yak. Cattle, even when raised from a young age on a bottle, still are somewhat stand-offish, though on rare occasions will be friendly. It takes an expert to handle even the friendliest bison, whose volatile temper is well-known. However, a trained yak can be pretty much guaranteed to remain even-tempered, sweet, and cooperative their entire lives. And no wonder; yak and humans have had a very close domestic bond for countless thousands of years!

Annie Whitney has a small herd of yak at her ranch in Northern New Mexico. She is also a Relationship and Internet Sponsoring Expert, specializing in helping others generate Leads & Cash Flow. You can learn more about her yak by clicking here => American Yak

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