Present day domestic yak are part of the bovine family, which also contains everyday domestic cattle, and are called Bos Grunniens. They are descended from wild yak caught that were crossbred with domestic cattle and tamed by ancient people of the Himalaya Mountains of Asia. The history of Asia's yak industry is at least 5000 years old. Because of the yaks value as a beast of burden and its products of extremely rich milk, valuable wool and hair, hides, horns, and incomparable quality of meat, the taming of yak led to progress, prosperity and economic development.
The people of Tibet, as well as in other areas of Asia, are virtually totally dependent on their yak herds. And like the native Americans and the bison, these indigenous peoples utilize the animal to its fullest. The hair is used for spinning, weaving and felting as well as to produce ropes and rugs. The milk is fully utilized for its dairy potential used as milk, yogurt, and butter and yak meat is a main staple of their diet. The horns, hides, and bones are also utilized, in fact, even the yak dung is used as it is burned for fuel.
Yak were first imported to North America in the late 1920's, however, close to 100 years later, there are still only a few thousand animals in America today. To the people that raise them, yaks offer not only economic opportunity, but a source of pleasure and enjoyment.
Yaks have a classic 'old world' appearance, They have handlebar horns, large shoulder humps like bison, horse-like tails and long 'skirts' of hair that hang down their sides almost to the ground.
A mature, full grown yak cow will weigh in at 600-800 pounds and stand four and one half feet tall at the shoulder. A yak bull will weigh from 1200-1500 pounds and stand five and one half feet tall at the shoulder. It takes about seven years for a yak to fully mature and reach full size. Yak bulls are typically ready and able to breed by the age of three while the heifers can conceive at the age of two. Yak will readily crossbreed with other bovines with the resulting offspring having the better qualities of both species. The gestation period of a yak is eight and one half months.
Considered to be easy keepers yak require no special fencing or feed. A yak only eats about one-third 1/3 the amount of hay or grass that a commercial cow eats, allowing three yaks to graze on the same pasture as a single beef cow. Additionally, yaks do not need a finishing ration, which then eliminates, hormones and steroids, however a good mineral block is considered mandatory.
Due to the fact that yak calves, born after a 8 1/2 month gestation period, are somewhat small, 20 - 25 pounds at birth, calving is easy with problem births being very rare. Disease resistant and cold hardy yaks are are perfect for cattlemen, small acreage owners, or exotic breeders providing a source of breeding stock, crossbreeding stock, meat, fiber, milk and dairy products, hides, horns, and make excellent pack or show animals..
Yaks are divided by color into the following categories: