Yakity-Yak Adventure: Part Two
May 2022. There’s nothing like coming face to face with a drooling, snorting pile of shaggy black fur that looked like a primitive rug from Tibet. Instead, this creature was living on a ranch just an hour and a half from a glitzy gambling mecca: Reno, Nevada.
The juxtaposition of row after row of machines that blasted ding-ding-ding through darkened rooms where crowds of tourists dumped dollar tokens like they were pennies, played blackjack at felt-covered tables, and feasted and drank for free at bland buffets versus the raw beauty of the Sierra Valley Ranch with vast vistas that made me feel I was back on a Nat Geo Safari.
Sure, a Yak wasn’t a majestic elephant waving his trunk in the air or a herd of Wilde Beasts thundering across the grasslands. But there was power and majesty to that immense pile of wool that I rarely saw in Kenya or Tanzania.
But here, in California’s Wild West, only a wobbly wire fence separated me from these remarkable animals. Not a Land Rover and two guides armed with a weapon.
Jim and I met the owners, Jenna and Greg, at the top of a driveway that led to their cozy house surrounded by farm equipment and a hound that reminded me of a cattle dog I’d seen in movies. They were anxious to tell us the story of how they transformed their 120 acres from a cattle ranch to raising Yaks.
We learned the Sierra Valley Yak story walking toward a herd of Yaks gathered by the fence, hoping their owners (who were carrying a bucket filled with treats) would dispense the goodies during our conversation.
Jenna and Greg had raised cattle for fifteen years before becoming interested in Yaks for the simple reason Yaks could be raised year-round in the cold Sierra climate. I’d seen photos of Yaks covered with snow, standing knee-deep in the white winter blanket. Their family album of Yak photos reminded me of movies I’d seen about these animals in the Himalayan mountains.
Exporting Yaks to parts of Europe, North America, and other parts of Asia began in the mid-19th century. The Yak’s scientific name is Bos Grunniens – the Grunting Ox. They are closely related to cattle and oxen. However, they do not ‘moo” or bellow like a cow. They grunt.
They’re herd animals – intelligent, docile, sociable, highly developed sight and hearing – and very protective of their young, which was easy to see with the several calves nursing. Another interesting fact? When they’re excited, they run with their tails up. However, the most interesting fact was they can not only be used for packing, trekking, and pulling carts.
They can be used as pets!
“NO!” Jim scolded. “NO PET YAK!
How did he know?
I’d already chosen the Yak. Her name was Tammy – a native Black Trim Cow nibbling a treat from my outstretched hand. She’d fit right in with our five dogs and two hundred Finches. Her horns had a nice swivel, and although she needed a trip to the groomers, with a few sessions, she’d be a neighborhood celebrity. First purchase? A heavy-duty-snow machine.