By Caitlin Switzer
REGIONAL—Few country and western songs have been written for them, and rarely are they ridden, wrangled or roped. And yet, they may well be THE livestock staple for the Colorado ranchers of tomor- row—because few animals are as well-adapted as the yak for efficient, high-country ranching opera- tions.
Wikipedia notes that yaks are native to South Cen- tral Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and stretches of Russia and Mongolia, but the ruminants have been proven to thrive in Colorado as well. Just ask Bob Hasse, whose family has been successfully raising yaks in Montrose for more than a decade. Because yak meat has excellent flavor and is 95-percent fat free, it is highly sought after by today’s foodies.
“It’s a very good niche,” Hasse said. “You can make more money with yaks; you are looking at a longer time frame because we butcher at three years, but they consume 80 to 85 percent of the forage needed for cattle. They take a little longer, but they are cheaper to raise, and they are a lot of fun.”
Despite last summer’s drought condi- tions, Hasse said his 150-yak operation on Spring Creek was not heavily impacted.
“We have quite a bit of pasture,” he said, “and we had a decent second cutting. Yak meat is a great product—we just need a lot more people to start raising yaks so we can keep up with demand.”
Because of the overwhelming demand, Hasse said that most of his product is shipped to high-end restaurants on the East and West Coasts.
Although the Hasses are currently the only yak operation in Montrose, there are several in Ridgway. In Crested Butte, rancher Shannon Holder has also learned to love raising yaks, and now has a herd of 16. Because the herd has increased in size, Holder moved some of her yaks to addi- tional pasture in Crawford this past sum- mer.
“They are the most versatile, hardy and fun animals in the world!” she said. “They all get named, and I try to spend enough time with all of them that they are nice enough to be pets. My two-year-old son actually recognizes each one and knows them all by name.”
Although seven of her yaks are mature, Holder said that she seeks only homes where the animals will live happily. She prefers to sell her animals as breeding stock or companions, but understands their role in the food chain.
“We make all kinds of dairy products from yak milk,” she said, “and I am not opposed to them being meat, as long as they have happy lives before they go.”
In their traditional habitats, yaks are used not only for producing dairy products, meat, packing and trekking, but for fiber and leather as well. To learn more about yak ranchers in Colorado, visit the web site of the International Yak Association,