The yak is a herd animal found in the mountainous regions of central Asia. The yak tend together in herds from 10 yaks to 100 yaks, most of which are female. There are only a few male yaks per herd. Although there is a large domestic population of yak, there are only a few wild yak remaining. The yak is still used in many parts of central Asia, for pulling heavy farm machines and transporting large loads through the mountain passes. The average male yak can grow to about 2 meters tall, with the female yak being about 1/3 the size of the male yak. All yak have very long hair to keep them warm. The yak belongs to the same cow family as the Asian water buffalo, the African buffalo and the American bison. However, the yak is slightly more like the American bison in appearance as both the yak and the bison have long hair in order to withstand the colder climates, the bison of the North American winters and the yak of the mid Asian Mountains. The yak breeds in the warmer months of September and after a gestation period of nine months the female yak gives birth to a single yak calf.
The wild yak was once numerous and widespread on the entire Tibetan plateau north of the Himalayas. Currently it is found in remote areas of the Tibetan plateau and adjacent highlands, including Gansu Province, China, with a few having been observed in the Chang Chenmo Valley of Ladakh in eastern Kashmir, India. Wild yak distribution is highly clumped, with most animals in widely scattered herds, concentrated in the areas with little disturbance by humans. A survey conducted in 2003 found increasing populations of wild yak compared to previous surveys taken 10 years earlier.
Yak Milk is golden in color and very rich in fat at 7-8%. It has a sweetish taste. Milk production from yaks is seasonal. Hybrid yaks tends to yield more milk. Milk can be rendered into powder, butter, yogurt, cheese and Kurut. Kurut is made from curdled milk, called Kaimal, thick, sweet and yellow with a flavor like almonds. Yak cheese is a hard, Swiss style cheese that fetches high prices in Kathmandu. Tea is made with yak Milk and is a staple part of the diet 9f Tibetan yak herders. Milk is also added to mushrooms to make a milk-mushroom stew. Butter is the principal product from yak Milk. It is a staple food for herds men and locals. Tea can be made from butter.
Yak have a thick wooly layer under their long fur which they molt every spring. A single yak can produce 1 – 1.5 lbs of wool per year. This wool is comparable to Cashmere and is spun into yarn to make clothes, blankets, mats and fabrics. “Wooly” yaks are a variation that has more wool and hair than other yaks.
In winter a wild yak can survive temperatures as low as – 40 degrees (F). A wild yak doesn’t reach full size until 6 to 8 years of age.
In wild yaks, births usually occur in June and a single calf is born every other year.
Dried yak dung is used as fuel in the treeless Tibetan plateaus.
The Sherpas of Nepal call the males of the species of “Yak” and the females “Nak”or “Dri”.