The word yak originates from Tibetan. The word yak is used for both sexes for bull and cow.
The scientific name for a domesticated yak is “Bos grunniens” used by Linnaeus in 1766 for the first time. The word Bos in a scientific name indicates that yaks and cattle belong to the same genus.
The term Bos grunniens is only used for domesticated yaks, for wild species Bos mutes is preferred.
If you are looking for a detailed guide to commercial yak farming, read this article below.
Yaks are bulky, heavy animals with round hooves, sturdy legs, and extremely long, dense fur that usually hang down to the belly. The color of the wild yak is generally black to brown, while the domesticated yak is different in color in different areas.
Yaks have dark horns on his broad forehead. Female horns are smaller than male horns. Yaks have a short neck. Both sexes have a hump on their shoulders, but this hump is more visible and larger in males.
Its weight ranges from 350 to 550 kg in the case of males, while the weight of females ranges from 225 to 255 kg. Wild yaks can reach up to 1000 kg.
Yaks do not make moaning sounds like other cattle do. They often grunt like their scientific name “Bos grunniens,” the grunting bull.
History of Yak Farming
The fossil record from about a million years ago shows that yaks were present on the Tibetan plateau. The yaks covered around 2.5 million square kilometers of area.
This was the center of the yaks from where they spread in the north and south of the world. The presence of yaks in other parts of the world was relatively small in number.
Currently, the total
Yak population is approximately 14.2 million
of which more than 13 million are in Chinese territories.
These domesticated yaks had been preserved for thousands of years with the primary purpose of milk. These yaks were also the source of meat and fiber.
Due to its strong physical appearance in some areas, these were also being used to transport cargo. In Tibetan, dry yak droppings are being used for the purpose of the fuel, as this is the only fuel available in the high altitude of the Tibetan.
In 1908, a naturalist and a boy scout gave the idea of yak farming. He brought about nine yaks to Canada. The Canadian government conducted years of the experiment for the yaks’ reproductive tendency.
In 1997, yaks first appeared in the National Western Peduncle Program. This was the advance of yak agriculture while raising awareness in people about another livestock animal, the ox growls.
Farming in the Modern Age
How can yaks survive in winter? This is why American carnivores in the United States turned their heads towards yak meat.
About 30 years ago, there was no concept of yak meat in the United States. There were only a small number of exotic yak farms in different areas of Europe and Canada.
It is estimated that more than 7000 animals are raised in different areas of America. Farmers supply meat to restaurants, butchers, buys lean and bovine meat.
Now yak meat sells for $ 10 per pound, while total sales in 2011 were estimated at $ 278 million.
Shelter for Farming
Yak management is related to livestock management. The useful life of yaks is much longer than that of cows. They can live up to 30 years, but their growth rate is very slow compared to cattle. Yaks are herbivores and browsers.
The thick layer of yaks serves the purpose and binds extreme environmental conditions such as high altitude with low temperature. They can be handled in temperate areas with proper handling and care.
In warm regions, the open shed increases the comfort level of the animals, whereas, comparatively, in cold areas, two or more side shelters would be sufficient to survive the wet, windy and cold weather.
Proper yak shelter improves fiber production as well as feed conversion.
Most of the yak farm follows traditional patterns depending on the weather and season. This also depends on the topography and the weather.
Yak farming also differs in different areas according to the interest of the population, as in some areas, the sale of milk is more compared to butter, cheese, or wool. There are three yak farming systems which are as follows
- Semi seated
All these systems depend on the type of grazing with different grasslands in cold and warm seasons.
This is the oldest and most traditional system in which the yak herd with the herd man roams in entire areas.
This was most common from the early 1950s to 1970s. In this system, some farmers make fences on different pastures to feed the herd.
Supplemental feeding also grew. Supplemental feeding is also grown in the winter season, like oats. The herd size is being adjusted according to the availability of land for grazing.
This is something developed by China in the 1980s. In this system, farmers take land for government pasture for rent. This area depends on the size of the herd.
This contract is generally valid for about 50 years, and the rent is very small. This system has been shown to have more potential in rangelands, as well as farmer responsibility.
This system also encourages farmers to adopt new practices in yak cultivation. In this system, supplemental feeding is easy, and disease control is easier compared to other systems. Rotary grazing is also an important factor
Seasonal cycle activities of yak farming
- Cull unwanted or surplus stock
- Slaughter the animal for meat
- Count the whole herd
- Repairing and maintenance of the pens
Middle of winter
- Dry the pregnant animals
- Work on body conditions of the yak
- Provide supplementary grass according to availability
- It could be hay or silage
- Take preventing measures to reduce the death rate
- Supervise the new bulks
- Protect the calves
- Adjustment of herd
Middle of summer
- Dipping for external parasites
- Processing of milk
- Arrangement of mating
- Harvesting and storing feed supplements for winter season mostly for weak and sick animals
The grassland which is being used by the farmers of yak in plateau divided into two categories which are as follows:
- Summer season
- Cold season
The grazing of the yaks in that area depends upon the two factors.
- Local climate
- Land characteristics
In the summer season, grazing is usually at a higher altitude. Therefore, farmers are generally far from home this season. June, July, is the yak calving season when high-quality forage is available in sufficient quantity.
In this season, yaks restore weight loss and can gain weight due to good nutritional forage.
In November, the quality and quantity of forage decrease, making yaks graze on winter pastures. Grazing land in winters is generally close to the farmers’ house, so more shelters will be available for yaks.
In this season, the yaks lose weight due to the poor quality and quantity of forage in the grasslands.
In addition to snow disasters, the mortality rate increases this season, but this can be controlled by supplemental feeding and adequate shelter for the herd when needed.
Utilization of Pasture
During the summer season, the herd moves from one Pasture to another after every 2 months. This movement of the herd from one land to another depends on two factors.
- Herd size
- State of the grass in that land.
The movement of the herd from one grazing land to another is the same each year. The distance between the two grazing lands is not more than 20 kilometers.
There are two methods by which this movement is performed.
- The first method of moving from one grazing land to another is to move people and the herd with all of the people’s belongings and tents together. In this method, the herd does not have the possibility to graze on the road. This method is used when the distance between other grazing lands is short, and the herd can be easily moved at once.
- In the second method, the people with their belongings and tents moved to the other land in the first step. After properly camping at the other side, the herd moves there. This is a night method that is generally used when the distance between the other grazing lands is long.
As the number of yak increases day by day, the pressure on grazing land is increasing, more precisely on winter grazing land. The winter grazing area is smaller compared to the summer grazing area.
On the other hand, the number of animals in the yak herds increases day by day. Due to this reason, winter grazing land is often being outclassed. This overgrazing causes the degradation of the earth’s resources.
This overgrazing also affects the income of the sheep, since the wool and meat of the sheep, decrease day by day, while the meat and milk of the yaks increase day by day.
the imbalance in the use of land resources created an imbalance in the proportion of yak and sheep in different areas.
In some areas, the yaks died due to alkaloid poisoning. The researchers discovered that this poisoning was due to a plant that was not very palatable.
Yaks generally avoid eating that plant during grazing. This plant was over-cultivated due to overgrazing, and the animals consumed it in lethal amounts that killed the yaks.
Approximately 20% of annual culling is recommended for yak farming to obtain the highest yield in limited resources. Changes in the herd depend on the following factors.
- Survival rate
- Reproductive rates
- Age of animals
- The optimal age for slaughtering
Changes in herd structure are being made to increase the production of meat and milk from smaller animals, as well as less use of grazing land.
The different factors that affect this cycle of production expenses in yak cultivation are the following:
- Length of the growing season
- Nature of pasture
- Availability of feed
These play the most important role while managing the herd structure of yaks, but even a small or only change in one factor can make a huge difference in the production of herd or expense of herd.
The areas where yak farming takes place, equipment for silage, or hay are not easily accessible. Therefore, there is not enough hay or silage available in those areas.
A small amount of hay is produced in those areas which are only offered to the sick or weak animal only at the end of the winter season when the grass is not enough to meet the demands of the animals.
Animals stay in shelters mainly in the winter season, and different mineral licks and hay are offered to yaks to reduce weight loss, increase milk yield and growth.
In different grassland areas, due to the shortage of leguminous plants, protein deficiency is a serious problem in the yak.
Protein supplements and the use of urea molasses block are primarily recommended for optimal yak production. But the cost problem is still there in this case.
Penning and Equipment
Pens are usually used for the enclosure of yaks during the night. Pens can be of different size for different purposes such as:
- Mud pen
- Feces pen
- Turf pen
- Wooden compound
A Mud pen is being built near the shepherds. Its main purpose is for hybrid yaks. It provides additional protection from wind and sunlight.
The mud pen is constructed of layered clay on wooden boards. Its size could be up to 30 x 20 m. Mud pens are generally built together and joined by a mud-walled passage or a wooden fence. These feathers end in a tunnel that is used for restraining purposes at the time of vaccination against yaks.
The feces pen is a temporary pen built only in the winter season to stack fresh yak feces near the camp.
The turf pen is semi-permanent and is built for the purpose of housing the yaks in the winter season. This pen built according to the orientation of the sun, as well as taking into account the shelter from the wind.
The wood compound is used to confine calves at night or for hay enclosure. The equipment used for the assistance of herdsmen is as follows:
- Dipping pit
- Tunnel like passage
- Simple crush
The yak herd’s grazing schedule is different for different seasons and groups. For the lactating group, the grazing hours would be different depending on the herd’s milking schedule.
The thumb rule for grazing is “go early and back late in fall and summer while going late and back early in winter and spring.
In the case of the mixed herd, yaks remain on pasture land day and night during the summer season. They do not return to camp, but the herder may return twice a week.
In the summer season, the herd has to regain weight loss during the previous winter and spring season.
Therefore, the herd can graze day and night, since they have to give milk, meat, and calves again. Calves are fenced in at night. In case of twice a day milking the time schedule is as follows:
|0500 – 0700||Animals grazing near the campsite on the grass with dew.|
|0700 – 0900||Yak called in for the first milking. Calves released from their overnight wooden enclosure then allowed to graze with their dams and to nurture until second milking.|
|0900 – 1300||Yak driven to far-away pastures at higher elevations and allowed to walk slowly and gradually back downward while grazing.|
|1300 – 1500||The herd is driven to a watering-place, allowed to rest and ruminate.|
|1500 – 1900||The herd is driven back to a point about halfway up the hill and allowed to graze at will.|
|1900 – 2000||End of grazing; return to the campsite with drinking water on the way.|
|2000 – 2100||Yak tethered at the campsite, second milking.|
|2100 – 0500||Yak cows released to graze near the campsite.|
In the case of three times milking the time schedule is as follows:
|0500 – 0800||First milking of cows.|
|0800 – 1300||Yak cows allowed grazing freely and having access to water at a distance from the campsite. Calves remain tethered at the campsite or are tied together in pairs and allowed to graze near the camp.|
|1300 – 1500||Yak cows were driven back to the campsite, second milking (without tethering).|
|1500 – 1900||Calves allowed grazing with their dams, away from the campsite in good weather and near the camp if the weather is poor. Calves are given the opportunity to nurture and also to drink water.|
|1900 – 2100||Grazing period ends; calves are separated from their dams after another opportunity for suckling. The calves are then tethered to a long rope at the campsite (see Figure 8.5). The cows that have no calves – the “half-lactating” females and those that have lost their calf and are not fostering – are milked for the third time.|
|2100 – 0500||Calves remain tethered overnight. The cows may either be tethered or not, depending on the topography of the land and the ease with which they can be driven back to the campsite in the morning.|
Calves usually suck their mother’s milk, but artificial feeding is also practiced in the event of a death in the dam. When a dam loses its calf, and its maternal instinct is very strong, it is easier for her to raise a calf that has lost its mother.
Artificial feeding is also practiced with a bottle. The bottle is made of yak horn without tip. The duration of this suction and the time should be the same as for normal suction.
It causes normal rumination and grazing behavior. Calves should not suckle each other as it causes blockage in the abomasum.
During the first ten days, the dam’s milk is fed to its calf, while the shepherd does not milk the dam on those days.
During which the calf sucks the colostrum in the first three days. Yak calves generally begin to smell the grass on the seventh day, but no rumination is observed before the 12th day.
The yak calves are weaned at the sixth month of age to decrease the separate yak and calf.
In case the calf continues to try to suck the milk, a 20 cm piece of cut wood sharpened at both ends is inserted through the nasal septum between the two nostrils. This piece of wood is only removed when the calf stops trying to suck.
Milking of Yaks
The female yak has very large nipples. These teats are squeezed much more forcefully to extract milk. Milking is usually done at camp. The yak will be tied with the rope at the time of milking.
Those yaks that grazed all day produce more milk than the yak that was tied for part of the day. The yak remembers where they were tied at the time of milking, but they learn quickly as when the yak moves to the other side of the camp. They learn a new position quickly.
Another milking procedure is practiced in which the shepherd goes to the yak with a bucket and rope. The shepherd ties the front limbs of the yak with the rope he is trying to milk.
The calf hits the yak’s udder and stimulates the milking reflex, and milking begins with the hand. This procedure is repeated after mid-milking to stimulate the reflex again.
Milking speed affects milk yield and yak grazing time. Milking the yak should be done as soon as possible. Milking time per yak should be no more than six minutes per yak. During milking, the milker must remain silent as yaks are very sensitive to voice and smell.
Natural mating is practiced in which five to six yaks to one hundred females are gathered in one yard. This allows selection and competition in bulls. Artificial insemination is done for hybridization between different species.
Illnesses during pregnancy and abortion are very rare in yaks. The diagnosis of pregnancy is not carried out by the man from the herd. The men of the herd consider the yak to be pregnant if they show no signs of heat on the expected date after mating.
Yaks show signs of heat once in the season; this affects the proper assessment of pregnancy. This can also lead to unnecessary sacrifice. Pregnancy can be diagnosed by rectal palpation. This is the most accurate and easiest method for detecting pregnancy.
At delivery, the yak seeks refuge where the calf can be delivered. When the baby is born, the mother licks her calf, while the baby begins to suck the mother. The men of the herd pay special attention and care to protect the young from attacks by predators.
In the case of the assisted delivery knife is used to cut the navel cord. In the case of normal delivery, this cord broke on its own when the yak stands after delivery.
Males older than a year and a half are being castrated, which are not being selected for breeding. The proper season for yak castration is early summer or late fall.
In this season, the risk of infection is reduced for the purpose of castration. Yak bulls have to restrain properly then the scrotum is washed with an iodine solution. The scrotum is squeezed to close the ends.
Bulls are free after castration. The wound usually heals within a week. The entire operation is just 10 seconds.
In some areas, the testicles are completely removed.
Diseases in Yaks
Most diseases are the same in yak and cattle because they share the same habitat, but incidence and severity may differ
Here are some Bacterial diseases reported in yaks such as:
- Calf scour
- Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia
- Chlamydia Infection
- Foot and Mouth disease
- Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis
Ticks, fleas, lice, and mites may be present on yaks, so proper control of the ectoparasite is important for yaks.
Market of Yak
Milk, meat, and leather are obtained from the yaks. Milk is used as the herd owner for tea with milk and for making butter. Cottage cheese is also made from yak milk.
People like yak meat, yaks, are usually slaughtered in the winter season when they are in good condition.
The yak skin is also processed and dried before tanning. The thick hair of yaks is used for many purposes to make ropes to garments to tents. Yak feces is mainly used as fuel by the herdsmen
|Breeds||Weight||Origin||Current Population||Largest Recorded||Cost Live Animal $||Cost of Meat / lb|
|Plains Bison||700 - 2200 lbs||United States||3,000 - Yellowstone||3,800 lbs||$ 2500 - $5000||$ 10.00 - $30.00|
|Woods Bison||790 - 2400 lbs||United States||7,000 - Canada||$ 2500 - $5000|
|European Bison||1800 - 2200 lbs||Europe / Russia||7,500 ( 2019 )||4,200 lb||$ 2500 - $5000|
|American Bison / American Buffalo||880 - 2200 lbs||United States New York - Colorado||545,000||3,800 lb||$ 2500 - $5000||$ 10.00 - $30.00|
|Water Buffalo||1700 - 2600 lbs||Asia||130 Million||2650 lbs||$ 1500+||$ 20.00 Lb|
|Cape Buffalo / African Buffalo||660 - 1900 lbs||Africa||900,000||2,000 lbs||$ 4,000|
|Domesticated Yak||2200 lbs||Russia|
|14.2 Million - most in China||2,205 lb||$ 2500+||$ 18.00 Lb|
|Wild Yak||2200 lbs||Russia|
|15,000 - 20,000|
Northern Tibet Grassland
International Yak Association
Yak farming is an ancient work which was started from about a million years ago. The commercial farming of yak is not like cattle farming.
The yak farming was done for milk, meat as well as wool purpose. Farming of yak depends upon the season and pasture land where yaks can graze easily on the whole year. The commercial farming can be done in those areas only where enough pasture is available.
Supplement feeding is necessary for the winter season to cope with death rate, but supplement feeding to yaks will be costly in those areas in the winter season.
Milk and meat of yaks are sold commercially in different areas, but cost-effectiveness is an issue that is yet to be solved.