Yak (Bos grunniens)
The yak is a ruminant from the Himalayas, where he lives at altitudes between 3000-5000m. Wild yaks climb up to 6000m and live in regions where the average temperature is under 0°C for eight months a year. Since vegetation is rare in these high mountains, yaks walk long distances in between pastures and climb to the most remote places.
The yak has always been very closely associated with the life, culture, and religion of the pastoral people of the Himalayas. Yaks provide them with milk, meat, wool for garments or tents, fibre for ropes, leather, bones and horns for making tools or craftworks, dung for heating and cooking fuel, as well as draught power for packing, riding and ploughing. The yak used to be called “the boat of the plateau” - for millennia they were the only means of transportation in the high mountains, carrying goods from North to South over Himalayan passes of over 6000m, walking during months over long distances with very little food.
The domestic yak cow has a height at withers of 100-115cm and weighs about 200-300kg; the bull is around 130-155cm in height and weighs 400-600kg. Yaks have pronounced withers and a hairy tail like a horse, which they lift straight up in the air when they are excited or galloping. They have a long “skirt” of coarse hair on the lower part of the body, which protects them from the cold, a mane and a mostly curly fringe down to their eyes. The down hair can be combed out in spring; it has a beautiful lustre, is very warm, and it can be spun into yarn or worked into felt.
There are yaks of all colours. In Switzerland you can find black yaks with grey muzzles (the original colour of the wild yak), black yaks with black muzzles (called “imperial” in the US), black yaks with white marks on their forehead (called “trim” in the US), silver-grey animals, white animals, black-spotted white animals and dark brown animals with a white crest, white feet, white tail and white marks on the head. The horns are quite long and slightly turned backwards. Genetically hornless yaks exist and are found mainly in Mongolia.
Yaks are mountain animals adapted to extreme cold, high altitude and difficult terrain. They can live outside year round - a simple shelter is enough. Yaks are very enduring, have strong limbs, small solid hooves with hard edges that give them hold on icy slopes and move freely in difficult and precipitous terrain that cannot be reached by horses.
In the cold of winter, yaks manage their energy and can stay motionless for hours in the snow protected from the cold by their thick down coat. They analyse the situation before engaging in any energy consuming action. But when spring comes, you can see them with their tails in the air jumping, playing and galloping in the steep slopes, fighting for play or hierarchy. Even though they seem very calm, when something worries them they can react very quickly and have a ferocious temper. They can jump very well.