Lots of Yakity Yak, Yakity Yak at The Ranch
The inaugural Rocky Mountain Yakspo was held at The Ranch Event Complex in Loveland, Colo., on Oct. 7, 2017. Beginning bright and early at 7 a.m., the schedule of events at the everything yak expo had something for everyone. A series of one-hour seminars kept the bleacher seating full while, in the pens, placid yaks quietly munched hay or slept.
Yaks have a lengthy, rich history in their native Tibet. In the U.S., uses include harness work or riding, fiber, meat, milk and cheese, and some are kept as pets.
Temperament varies by individual but yaks are generally peace loving, stoic creatures. Compared to cattle, they present little drama. Cattle ‘moo’ when stressed. During many hours of Yakspo, only once did any of the yaks verbalize, and then it was only about half of one subdued call; actually more of a bovine purr.
At 10 a.m., Amy Archer shared secrets of yak cheese making. Next, Timothy Hardy, DVM, presented a tutorial of scientific data about yak genetics. Temple Grandin, DVM, of Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Science, incorporated slides into her Animal Handling seminar.
Grandin, world-renowned for her animal handling expertise and innovations, told the audience that, unlike believed 50 or so years ago, all animal species have emotions. Core ones include fear, rage, panic, seeking, lust, caring and play.
For example, rapid and sudden movements around grazing (prey) animals cause them to flee. Loose, rattling chains always elicit panic from cattle.
Grandin noted that animals think in pictures rather than words. Likewise do people with dyslexia or, like her, autism and so are usually very good around animals.
Concluding the day’s talks were veterinarians Rob Callan and Tim Holt, who shared combined expertise on yak health preparedness.
Judging of animals began at 8 a.m. and results were announced during a set break of music provided by Lois and the Lantern. Yakspo concluded with a no-host dinner at Nordy’s.
The crowd, which included spectators as well as animal owners, was a friendly group willing to share information and experiences about the species that they all admire.
Erick and Sue Egger own Sleeping Giant Yaks in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Erick, a veterinarian specializing in surgery, kept a tiny Chihuahua tucked under his jacket to keep it warm as he shared his yak story.
Egger retired from CSU’s vet program six years ago. He and wife Sue, a former vet tech and now a registered nurse, bought 40 acres about 10 minutes outside Steamboat to realize their yak dream. Their herd of nine includes bull Batu (Nepalese for “peace”).
The Eggers’ black and white steer, named SGY Fred, is a gentle soul. The impressive but laid-back fellow spent a good deal of time in his pen relaxing under a sign that read “Have you hugged your yak today?” Dozing Fred seemed to be a living advertisement for his ranch’s name, Sleeping Giant.
“We love our yaks,” Sue said. “It’s really fun because ours are very tame.”
Their 25-year-old son, Bradley, stopped by at the event. Although he resides in Severence, Colo., he sometimes goes up to the ranch to help build or repair structures. He’s also an occasional assistant trainer although he admitted he’s had no other animal handling experience.
Grinning and pointing at his mom, Bradley said, “She just told me what to do.”
Egger has been training Fred and another steer, Zack, in harness. The trio attended a week-long 2015 oxen driving seminar by The Tillers in Kalamazoo, Mich. Egger is in the process of converting a 1913 manure spreader into a fancy wagon of sorts. His ultimate goal is to have Fred and Zach pull it in a parade … once he can find a group of politicians good sport enough to be the manure spreader’s upgraded passengers.
Carlice Cutwright, 16, proudly took her 2-year-old heifer for a walk outside, even giving a little girl a ride she’d begged for. The black yak, registered as John Deere but called “Nugget,” gently toted the child without complaint. Carlice and parents Michael and Sonja own Nugget and two more yaks on their Casper, Wyo., ranch.
There was much to learn at Yakspo, from formal seminars and animal owners alike. Egger noted that, because yak cows’ teets are smaller than those of cattle, a mechanical milking machine used for goats has been modified for them.
Ruth Higdon from Smiling Buddha Yaks, Ridgeway, Colo., shared information about brisket disease, a high-altitude ailment seen in domesticated cattle. The malady causes severe symptoms including heart failure. Higdon said that because Tibetan yaks are genetically immune to the condition, CSU veterinarian Tim Holt is researching a method to get the brisket disease-resistant gene into cattle. Higdon’s husband, Peter Hackett, once lived in Nepal, where he became familiar with the subject. UNIQUE COLOR
A cow with noticeably striking and unique coloring turned out to be Carmel, a 4th generation Golden Royal yak. Owner Bob Haase of DEL YAKS, Montrose, Colo., said that there are only five yak cows of Carmel’s coloring in the entire country, and he owns them all.
Some folks shared white-knuckle tales, including Elvira Stewart and Phillip Reschke owners of Boulder Canyon Yaks in Nederland, Colo. Among their nine head were two pregnant cows nearly ready to calve when the 2016 Cold Springs Fire spread panic and destructive flames throughout the area. Residents were ordered to evacuate immediately.
However, the couple didn’t then own a trailer to move their yaks and both of their pickups were in the shop for repairs. The following day, just after they located a rig to borrow, the fire crossed Ridge Road, blocking all vehicular access.
So the pair quickly attached halters and lead ropes to their yaks and led them, a couple at a time, the one-mile to Switzerland Park in the next valley. There, police circled their cars into makeshift corrals to contain the animals. After several tense back and forth trips, all made it out safely.
One of the cows delivered a set of twins a week later. Names: “Fire” and “Rain,” The second mama yak’s calf, born the following day, was appropriately dubbed “Lucky.”
Attendance for the first such yak expo (hence Yakspo) was impressive, drawing 15 individual ranches which brought from one to 12 animals each. Some of the yaks were offered for sale with prices ranging from $1,900 to $17,000.
Organizer Grant Pound, who owns Snow Cliff Ranch in Livermore, Colo., said he was very pleased with how all went at the inaugural Yakspo and he hopes to make it an annual event.
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com
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