Yaks, native to the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, Nepal, and the surrounding areas, were first domesticated over 3000 years ago (a long, long, time ago, frankincense and myrrh were big in those days). Truly the economic engine of the indigenous, nomadic peoples, yaks provide wool, hides, milk, butter, meat and transportation. Yaks rely on their sure-footedness and agility to carry salt and grain through the other-worldly terrain of the Himalayas. Maybe it was a Yak that "jumped over the moon". Even their dung is collected to heat gers (yurts) and other shelters. Yaks have big horns (Really-BIG-Horns), a low slung body, a buffalo like shoulder hump, a tail like a horse, and long hairy kilts (the naks wear skirts). Yaks look both familiar and exotic at the same time. With thick undercoats to insulate them from the cold they are superbly adapted for high altitudes and cold climates. Wild yaks, bigger than their domestic cousins, are endangered and officially protected.
Yaks (bos grunniens) are members of the Bovidea family and are cousins of domestic cattle (bos tarus/bos indicus) and bison (bison bison). They do cross -kissin' cousins- readily with bison and cattle. The first generation males are sterile and the females fertile. As ruminants (four chambered stomachs), they are highly efficient grazing on grasses and forbs.
Yak heifers can be bred as early as 18 months, and gestation is 258 days (8.5 months). Yak bulls are dependable for breeding at age three. Calving is usually real fast! Hardy yak calves grow quickly on the cow’s rich milk. Wild yaks usually calve every other year but domestic yaks, with access to plentiful pasture, reproduce every year, and occasionally have twins.
There is a great deal of good information available on these majestic beasts and we won’t attempt to reprint it all here. The International Yak Association and The Yak Book 2nd Edition are excellent sources of information. To find out why raise yaks, the ultimate alternative livestock, click the "Y" Yaks tab.