Friday, December 11, 2009

Yakking about Yaks

Well we went and did it.  Just sent them the money for the yaks.  The shakes set in for a while, this morning.  Now we're really committed.  Not only do we own the yaks, but we need to hustle to get our butts out of Florida by the time Yonkers' new calf is born, probably in late March or early April.

Well since you probably think I'm insane, I should write a little about Yaks.  Maybe then you'll have a clue why we decided to do this.

Here's a pic of Sherpa, Yazoo's daddy.  Pretty, isn't he?

The yak, or Bos grunniens is an ancient long-haired bovine from the Himalayan region.  If we want to get picky, in the Tibetan language, Yonkers isn't actually a "yak" since that means a male.  She's actually a "dri" or "nak".  The name for the species in Tibetan is "gyag".  Oh and just to round out our little language lesson, a wild yak, as opposed to a domesticated one is called a "brong" or "drong".  Isn't Wikipedia helpful?

Yaks seem to do best between altitudes of 10,000-18,000 feet, so our land, at about 6100 feet is close enough that they should be fine.  I've found several yak ranchers in Colorado, so things are looking good there.

They're used for milk and milkfat, meat (don't even think about it!) wool and as beasts of burden.  I'm told that the milk is a rich creamy color that's not quite pink, and has a very high fat content - about 5-7%.  Anthony Bourdain says that yak butter tea (which is made it seems from tea and yak butter, go figure) is surprisingly tasty, so I'll be looking forward to trying that at least once and I'll let you know it goes.

I've wanted to learn cheesemaking for some time.  Since I love fresh mozzarella, I'm planning on that being one of my first projects.  In Italy they use domesticated water buffalo to make mozzarella, so I figure yak mozzarella should be doable.

I'm looking forward to packing with our yaks too.  Parts of our land is are a bit steep and rocky, and if we're going to move anything heavy around, teaching our yaks to help carry it will definitely help.  Fortunately yaks tend to be very nimble, and can go places that would be dangerous for horses.

 According to Wiki the wild drongs make terrible pack animals, so it seems that in domesticating them, humans have made some changes in them.   Humans tend to do that kind of stuff.  In this case it seems to be a happy change, though.

Quantum wants to teach the yaks to plow - yeah, the old fashioned way!  This way we don't pollute the air with gasoline from a roto-tiller. 

The fiber makes a smooth, soft down - and they say it's not itchy!  Amongst a myriad of other things, I guess I'm going to need a loom and a spinning wheel.  About 20 years ago a friend who had a goat farm taught me a little about weaving.  Guess I'm going to have to relearn that.  I could sell the stuff, and it seems to get a good price, but I think our family probably need at least one warm comfy robe each, for the cold winter days.

Yak dung is used for cooking fires.  Somehow I think I'll forego that one.  I'd much rather put it into the ground as compost.  They also use the butter for oil lamps.  Given the choice, I'll use normal oil and put the milk into my cheese.

So those are the possible benefits.  Now on to taking care of them:

Yaks eat about one third the amount of food that the average beef cow does.  That means that we can keep them on far less land than if we had regular cows.  They seem to be easy to fence, and they don't need shelter except during the worst weather.  When we visited our land last March, we saw bobcat tracks, and Quantum says the "dirt guy" (the guy who is supposed to do our driveway) saw cougar poop.  And we definitely have bear.  In fact the local name for our stream is Bear Creek.  With that in mind, I think we'll have to build them a barn for nighttime, though the lady we're buying them from says that a yak cow will have no problem chasing away mountain lions.

Another plus, they "calve easily" according to every site I've found.  No doubt calling a vet out to help birth your calves is expensive, so I'm going to appreciate that.  I just finished reading All Creatures Great and Small, a story about a country vet in Britain in the 1940s, and his book starts with a description of him with his hand up a cow, trying to turn the calf around.  I could very happily live without that experience if I can help it.

Yonkers is 9 years old, and has given birth to seven calves so far.  Five of those have been heifers (females) so we're told that the baby is about 70% likely to be female.  All their cows have "Y" names, so I'm thinking of naming this one Yeti.

The sellers want us to be there for the birth and meet our cow beforehand.  Yak mommies get very protective of their babies, so making friends with her is pretty important.  We'd vaguely planned to make the move in March.  Now we have to.  No pressure, sure.

Can't wait to see pictures of her and little Yazoo.  They're Imperials, by the way, meaning they're a piebald (like a pinto) black and white, as opposed to the more common browns. 

Horns, now there's a potentially "sticky" problem.  However I'm told that by handling them, the yaks learn to use them to be guided by, much like a bridle on a horse.  I'm a little scared that there could be a challenge between our puppy, Zen, and the yaks.  Going to have to spend the next couple months really working on Zen's obedience training.  Zen is a pit bull mix.  (We suspect there's some boxer and lab in there too.  We call him a North American Wigglebut.)  He's a great dog, sweet and gentle as heck, but with a very dominant personality, and thus far, watching the Dog Whisperer hasn't helped us make him behave as much as I'd like.  The neighbor downstairs doesn't help because she calls animal control the moment he makes the slightest noise.  I'm sure that'll come up in a blog real soon.

Back to horns, I honestly have no clue how well Yonkers is trained on that.  The folks we're buying from haven't really given us a lot of info regarding her.  Probably because we're not asking the right questions.  LOL!  A couple city-slickers starting our own farm.  I already know that a lot of our learning experiences are going to be based on the mistakes we make early in this.  Oh boy, won't that be fun?  They have about 8 yaks, and their herd bull is as tame as one could ask for.  Yonkers has never been used for milking, however.  That means I'm either going to have to teach her to be comfortable with being milked or I'm going to give up the idea of her as a milk cow and focus that intent on Yazoo and Yeti.Why in hell did we buy these yaks?  Shouldn't we have waited?  Probably.  But the price was good and it "felt" right.  I guess we'll just have to see.  To this point, taking leaps of faith has put us in the right direction.  The land was a complete leap.  We bought it sight unseen except for a few photos, a glimpse at its general location on Google Maps and a few talks with the realtor.  When we finally visited it last March we were astounded.  It was all that we'd hoped and more.  Dead gorgeous.  I should probably blog about our land.  I promise to do it soon.

And just Quantum and I meeting and falling in love…that was another leap of faith and will probably get blogged about soon.

Meanwhile I'm taking a leap!  Please gods, catch me!

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