Nunn couple raises playful yaks as alternative livestock
Yak meat is known as the other red meat, and is the leanest option for red meat.
It is often described better tasting than buffalo and elk because it’s not gamey. The meat is lean, tender and juicy because of its high percentage of Omega 3 oils, Conjugated linonleic acids, oleic acids and stearic acids. It s also lower is saturated fats, cholesterol, triglycerides and calories than beef.
When Nunn’s Mary Jo Brockshus and Brad Peterson go out to the pasture to check on their yaks, they might get to see them dance.
“They do this thing called the yak dance,” Brockshus said. “When they get all fired up, their tails go straight up in the air, and they kick up and do a thing where they jump around.”
They’ve been known to spend springtime afternoons chasing jackrabbits from their pastures. They’re kind of like furry cows with horns and goat-like playful personalities.
Peterson and Brockshus are learning more about the animals, which are almost like pets at this point, even though they originally bought them for meat and will eventually still eat them.
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“They’re way curious,” Peterson said. “Each one of them has their own little quirks of whether they’re hyper or laid back and easy going.”
They can be kept in small pens, compared to their bison counterpart, but yaks are a little mischievous.
“They can be escape artists,” Brockshus said. “But they want to be with their buddies, so even if they get out, they stick around.”
Though they’re playful, it’s important to interact with and get them used to humans. Like any livestock animal, they can be dangerous if not domesticated properly. Females range in size from 600-800 pounds, and males are 1,200-1,600 pounds, and both have large horns. When they feel threatened, they’ll swing their massive horns like baseball bats.
The Nunn, Colo., couple originally decided two years ago to raise yaks because Brockshus was worried about her high cholesterol, and yak meat is a leaner red meat with natural Omega 3’s.
“First, we went to bison and elk (meats), and then that got a little bit harder to get,” Brockshus said.
Then she and her husband, Peterson, thought maybe it would be best if they raise their own meat on their 40-acre farm near Nunn.
“We thought, well bison, but we don’t have enough room for bison here,” Brockshus said. “We needed something smaller.”
So they settled on yaks and have since become experts in the somewhat rare livestock animals.
The first yak was registered in the U.S. in 1992, and the herd has grown since. There are not many yaks in northern America — most yak experts think as few as 5,000. Jandy Sprouse, International Yak Association president, said there are currently more than 2,500 registered yaks in the U.S.
They can be used for packing, like donkeys, and milked, ridden or harness trained, as well raised for meat and fibers, according to the yak association, a nonprofit organization that promotes the breeding and health of yaks.
Normally, in North America they’re raised for meat, fibers and breeding purposes, because they can no longer be imported from Asia.
They’re pretty easy animals to care for. Peterson said they eat about a third less food than cattle and their hooves are less abrasive, so they’re easier on the ground. They also can eat snow for water.
“We feed twice a day, constant water and we provide them with some wind cover and shade,” Peterson said.
Brockshus and Peterson originally started raising yaks for the meat, but they are holding off on slaughtering for a bit as long as everyone behaves — they’ve renamed one particularly rowdy yak “First to go.”
In the meantime, they want to grow and further domesticate the herd while learning about the fibers for cloth.
They have seven female yaks in the field right now, and possibly as many as five pregnant cows — they’ll find out in a few weeks. They brought in a bull to grow their herd.
The two youngest yaks, which are 4- and 6-months old, are friendly to humans, and although most yaks don’t like dogs, the calves will “tolerate” their dogs.
When Brockshus or Peterson go out to the pen, the little ones run over, expecting a little treat and probably a good petting. One of them loves to lick people, like a dog.
The couple thinks it’s important to instill this attitude in their yaks from a young age.
“Because they have horns, you want to humanize them as much as possible,” Peterson said. “If you get something that’s 1,500 pounds, you want him to be as gentle as possible.” ❖
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