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Yaks in the Himilayan region
*Images sourced from Wikipedia and Brittanica
Yaks are native to the Himilayan region in Asia and are a staple animal for the people that live there. Yaks provide food, fuel (dung), milk, and clothing from the fiber. They are one of the most multi-functional, domesticated animals on the planet.
In the native Tibetan language, yak is actually pronounced “yag” and is the term to describe a yak bull. A female yak is referred to as a “dri.”.
The worldwide yak population is estimated to be a little over 14 million with the United States contributing only 7,000 to 8,000 of that number.
In the mid-nineteenth century, yaks were exported to parts of Europe, North America and other parts of Asia for research and to use cold pastureland.
Reproduction and Growth
A female yak will typically reach breeding age at approximately 16-18 months of age. It is not uncommon to see bulls mounting at around 6 months of age but sperm isn't usually produced until after 2 years of age. Bulls will typically begin mating when 3-4 years old. They will often stray away from the herd (not always observed in a pastured environment) and can smell a female in heat miles away.
The gestational period for a yak is 258 days. Yaks are self calving and the average calf weighs 20-30 lbs. They are quite small compared to their beef counterparts which can weigh 50-90+ lbs.
At maturity, a female and male yak will weigh 600-800 lbs and 1,200-1,500 lbs, respectively. It can take 6 years for a yak to reach its full weight.
Yaks can be cross bred with other bovine species (cows and bison for example). In most cases, it will take intervention by a human to ensure successful fertilization occurs. A female yak will only mate with a bull yak when given the choice. When crossbred, male offspring are sterile. Due to the small stature of the females, care must be taken because the calf can be too large and become breeched.
*Image sourced from IYAK.org
Yak, The Other Red Meat
The “faks” you’ve likely heard about yaks are all true! The health benefits compared to similar meats is well documented. Yak meat has many of the same nutritional characteristics as grass fed beef and bison with some exceptions. Yak is high in “good” fats and low in “bad” fats. Yaks store fat subcutaneously as a measure to retain heat due to the harsh climates from their native range. Because of this, their meat isn’t marbled like beef. When processed, the fat is easily trimmed away yielding a low fat product (approximately 95 to 97% fat free). An analysis published on IYAK (International Yak Association) shows that yak meat has a higher moisture content than their competing cousins, beef and bison. This explains why yak meat, despite its leanness, retains its juiciness when cooked.
The meat is also low in calories and cholesterol. Believe it or not, yak is lower in cholesterol than the famed chicken breast. It also has a much deeper red pigment due to its high myoglobin content. Yak meat is also high in iron.
Pound for pound, yak is one of the healthiest red meats in the world!
Yaks are typically viewed as dairy animals in the Himalayan region. The milk has twice as much butterfat content than the dairy animals we are accustomed to (breed dependent) in the United States. At approximately 6-11% butterfat content, it makes some of the best dairy products in the world.
Analogous to the hair and fat layer adaptation, a female's teats are small and tight to their body to protect them against the cold. It can sometimes be difficult to milk a yak.
From a galaxy far, far away to a fantasy world in Wilderland, yak hair has been unknowingly hitting the big screen for decades. Yes, I'm referring to our furry friend Chewbacca and those bearded hobbits. Yak hair, as it turns out, isn't just for costumes in Hollywood. The fiber has proven to be as soft as cashmere and warmer than sheep's wool.
There are two types of hair that yak produce; a course outer hair, and a fine down fiber tighter to their skin. The hair is often times harvested by combing. If the hair goes uncollected, the down will be shed in early summer.
The hair is used to make many different products such as hats, gloves, clothing, and costumes.