Yak Information and Facts

2022-12-12 | Published By: Bold Himalaya

Yaks are long hair and horn high-altitude Himalayas mammals that can survive in cold places and mostly higher elevations on earth.

Introduction of Yaks

They can ascend to 20,000 feet (around 6,100 m). Because of their disease susceptibility and thick coats, yaks prefer to dwell at high altitudes. Yaks can't survive below 10,000 feet above sea level regularly.

Yaks often have huge lungs because they need more oxygen at higher elevations. Yaks can weigh as much as 1,200 lbs (550 kg). The males of the species are typically referred to as "Yak" and the females as "Nak" or "Dri" by the Sherpas of Nepal. However, "Yak" refers to the entire species as outsiders.

Yaks have made it feasible for the renowned Trans-Himalayan trade route between Nepal and Tibet to exist. One yak can travel across treacherous paths and snow-covered high Himalayan passes while carrying up to 220 lbs (100 kg) of cargo.

Yaks are used as beasts of burden and to plow fields, provide meat, milk, and butter, as well as wool for clothing and dung for fuel. They are utilized to manufacture a variety of objects from their bones.

Yak hair creates tents, sacks, ropes, and blankets. Nothing goes to waste; the horns are used to decorate roofs and doorways. The fresh blood of a yak is frequently used as medicine by locals in the isolated mountains.

They think that blood can treat a variety of illnesses. As a result, people travel to the pastures twice a year to drink fresh yak blood that has just been drawn. One glass of blood costs them roughly $1. Yaks are portrayed as the high-altitude gods' messengers in Tibetan mythology.

Yaks and cows are hybridized. The male and female hybrid progenies are dzo and dzomo (female). They are easier to manage than yaks and can survive at lower elevations.

Types of Yaks (Domestic and Wild Yaks)

Domestic Yaks

Domestic Yaks raised for domestication tend to be smaller; males typically weigh 600–1,100 pounds, while females weigh between 400–600 pounds. Male wildlife can weigh up to 2,200 pounds. Domestic males can reach a maximum height of 44 to 54 inches at the withers, while females can reach a maximum height of 41 to 46 inches at the withers. Females have a tiny, hairy udder, along with four teats.

The male scrotum is comparable in this regard. The large size and hairy coatings provide insulation from the cold. Domestic yaks can have a variety of coat colors, including black, white, brown, and pied.

They could have white, grey, and brown spots or speckles and be grey, black, or brown. Domestic yaks have shorter faces than wild yaks, but they have skinnier narrower foreheads.

Wild Yaks

The wild yak is found in herds of up to 300 animals, mostly made up of females and their young and only a few males. Before the mating season, most males live alone or in smaller bachelor groups of around six. At that point, they usually rejoin the more fabulous herd. However, they can turn hostile while protecting the young or during ruts, when males frequently fight among themselves to maintain supremacy.

They typically avoid people and may flee. Non-violent displays and aggressive actions like bellowing and horn-scraping are also standard during ruts. Bulls will continually attack one another while keeping their heads down or engaging in horn combat.

During the channel, males frequently wallow in dry soil and scent-mark with feces or urine. Wild yaks normally have very little color variation in their coats. The majority of their coats vary in color from jet black to dark reddish brown to dark brown.

Then there was the rare instance of the wild yak with the golden-brown coat. Wild Yaks have short, broad, and convex foreheads. Its forehead is bigger than the domestic yak's, although its head is not as long.

Characteristics of Yaks

At its withers, the domestic yak is a huge animal that can weigh more than 1,000 pounds and stand between 3.5 and 4.5 feet tall.
Yaks are large animals with broad foreheads and nostrils. Yaks have real horns, just like all bovids.

A yak's horns project upward and laterally from the top of the animal's head. While horns are constructed of a boney interior structure coated by a keratinous covering and are retained throughout life, antlers are made of bone and shed annually.

The yak's coat can be any combination of white, black, brown, or these hues. It usually has long, skirt-like fur around the ventral torso and legs, and a shorter top. The yak's tail is made up of long hairs, just like a horse's tail is. This contrasts with the bottoms of cows and bison, which only have a tuft of lengthy hair at the end.

Bovids are even-toed ungulates, which means that each of their two toes is visible as a split in the middle of the hoof. In contrast, horses, zebras, and other odd-toed ungulates have one or three toes (such as rhinos).

Yaks are incredibly sure-footed, especially when carrying huge loads down rocky, narrow paths. They stride boldly up mountain roads with a fall of a thousand meters and through raging streams.

Yaks are social animals that prefer to live in herds. They are prone to panic. When one yak waves of panic frequently, the herd does the same. Sometimes, herders purposefully scare the yak in the lead so that it will clear the path and behave as a snow plow.

Yaks typically sleep while standing. They can feed near the ground thanks to their large nose and square tongue. They are more adept than other animals at digging for grass beneath cold snow. Some yaks spend so much time grazing alone that they develop semi-wild characteristics.

Uses of Yaks in the Himalayas

● In the Himalayas, yaks are undoubtedly the most significant species of mammal. They supply food and hair that can be used to make tents, garments, and other items, as well as carry goods, valuables, and household items. Some farmers use yaks to plow their fields, and some nomads travel on their steeds. In a place with no trees, yak dung is used to start fires (many Tibetan houses have piles of drying yak dung next to the walls).

● Fabric is made from the hump hair and undercoat. Capes, jackets, and hats are constructed from the skin with hair. Boots and bottoms can be made of thick leather thanks to the thick hide. Eaten is yak meat. Butter from yak milk is used to make tea, light lamps, and make cheese and other dairy products (See Below). Yak skin is even used for boats in Lhasa.

● The coarse belly hair is spun into ropes, turned into tent covering, and woven into blankets and other items. Yak hair rope with black and white braiding is quite expensive. One nomad explained to National Geographic why he preferred his yak wool tent to a house, "If the yaks are in distress, you can hear them at night from within a tent. And during the day, everything is visible. It's too dark in a house."

● Herders make a consistent living by selling yak fur and hair. The plush undercoat is spun into "Chara," a type of felt used to manufacture purses, blankets, and sweaters made of "yak cashmere." Tibetan medicine makes use of the yak heart. Bones can be used to make glue. Yak tails' white tips were removed and used as decorative tassels by the Chinese. The tails are employed as flyswatters in India.

● Yak hair is used to create the wigs worn by Bunkaru puppets in Japan. In the United States, yak hair was frequently utilized for Santa Claus beards in the 1950s. There is yak cashmere.

● Once a year, a yak race takes place in Qinghai. The yaks don't run; instead, they stop along the road to munch grass, which slows down the race.

Products of Yaks

The yak provides for almost all of the needs of the ranchers and their families. Yaks produce milk, hair and down, draught power, and manure for fuel during their lives. After slaughter, they have meat and various goods from their organs, non-consumable body parts, and hide. The herders and their families use the majority of these items. However, some are also marketed. Most articles can generate income, as can the sales of pack animals and animals for breeding.

Yak production is financially beneficial when yak herds are close to hill towns and villages since there is a quick market for the goods. Currently, most goods sold by the yak are primary or nearly primary goods. Thus, the economy based on the yak needs to reap the benefits of processing or producing more complex goods.

Butter and different kinds of soft cheese, which the herders make, are sold or bartered for other essentials. In some cases, as in some regions of India (Chapter 11, part 3), they are used to pay grazing field rent. The beginnings of advances aimed at opening up new markets for pastoral people may be seen in factories constructed in China and Nepal for the production of yak leather items and textiles, as well as factories erected in Nepal for the production of hard cheese made in the Swiss style.

These changes result from national efforts to improve the quality of life for those who live in these isolated mountain regions and boost the local economies. We briefly explain their history and, for the most part, contemporary uses. What follows is generally applicable to areas of China that produce yak. However, yak herders in most places likely use the same traditional techniques for creating and utilizing yak products.

Milk and Milk Products

Despite the low milk production of individual yak females, there are a large number of them. Therefore, a significant amount of milk is produced overall. Milk is typically consumed in sections of the nation where yak is most prevalent and in areas with alpine pastures.

Outside the main territory, in areas where yak have just recently been brought, there is no tradition of using milk from yak or hybrid offspring produced by mating yak males with local cattle females. These "local" hybrids have only a tiny amount of milk and are primarily utilized for draught (as distinct from the combinations of "improved" dairy breeds of cattle and yak cows).

Yak milk is now highly valued in China and, as a result, makes up a significant portion of the herders' revenue.

Raw Milk

Whole milk is typically consumed by the sick or frail, though it is also given to young children and the elderly. Some of this milk is consumed raw since it is thought to be more nutrient-dense that way, but most of it is boiled first because it is advised for health and hygiene reasons. According to the findings in Chapter 6, yak milk output has a high solids content of roughly 18%, including about 7% fat. Since whole milk tastes relatively sweet even without adding sugar and has a pleasant, sweet-smelling aroma, herdsmen never add sugar when drinking it.

The beverage known as "milk tea," a concoction of tea and milk, is mainly made with raw milk and is consumed throughout the year. The shepherds and their families consume this frequently. The beverage is yellow and contains 20% or more milk during the warm months when plenty of milk is available or when served to guests.

The light tea that herders and their families choose to consume contains only 5% milk, making it milky white with a hint of yellow. The Milk tea is made by steeping tea leaves (cut from a tea brick) in water and boiling it for a little while. Then, the needed amount of raw milk is added, and the boiling process is repeated for a short time. Some folks might salt the food a little. Although no sugar is ever added, milk has a mildly sweet flavor. The main dish in Tibet is Zumba (also known as tsampa).

It is typically formed into balls for eating and is produced from roasted oat, barley, or a combination of the two flours. Tibetans may add some Zumba to the brew for themselves and their guests to make it both a snack and a beverage. Herders consider milk that has been boiled with mushrooms to be a delicacy.

The milk-mushroom stew typically contains salt, and boiling is supposed to protect from poisoning if the incorrect mushrooms have been used. Although skimmed milk is also used in place of whole milk to enhance the amount of butter made from the milk supply, whole milk is often used to make tea. In pastoral areas, it is customary to utilize raw milk to raise small yak calves, lambs, or children who have lost their moms or are unable to adequately suckle milk from frail mothers. Sometimes, in addition to meat, pets like cats and dogs are provided access to yak milk. Additionally, raw milk is sold to factories that make milk powder, butter, and other milk products.

These factories were recently erected. In towns and villages, some milk is sold for immediate consumption. In highland areas, it can be bartered for food grains.


The main byproduct of yak milk is butter, a staple sustenance for the local population. Additionally, it is the leading milk product sold by herders. The percentages of water, protein, and fat in raw butter range from 12 to 15%. (About 3 percent of old butter is water.) Herders pay close attention to butter production since it is thought to be a good indicator of the caliber of yak milk.

Yak butter is often made in China using one of two methods. The butter is either pressed in a hide bag or traditionally churned in a wooden bucket, which is still the most common process.

In some places, milk separators are in use, which lessens the labor-intensiveness of making butter. The best butter is made from cream that has been separated in this way before being churned since it has lower water content and longer shelf life. Butter is a common ingredient in many cuisines, including Zumba, pancakes, and fried items.

Additionally, depending on the region, it is put into milk tea and eaten salted or unsalted. In some places, butter is used for raw milk in tea when it is unavailable. Some people reportedly prefer butter, especially herders in the pastoral regions of Tibet and Northwest Sichuan.

Melted butter and toasted flour can also be combined in equal parts. Once kneaded, the mixture is kept till use. When necessary, this dough is either blended with nuts like peanut, sesame, walnut, soybean, or Chinese dates or melted into salted or sugared water and eaten that way.

These components flavor the cuisine and make it a favorite among Tibetans when serving visitors.

Hard cheeses

Nepal was one of the first nations in Asia to develop a cheese business, and up until the 1980s, it was the only nation in the world making yak cheese. It has been more than 40 years since the yak cheese industry in Nepal was established.

The milk of Nak (a female yak) and Chauri (a female hybrid) is currently used to make hard Gruyére cheese in the Swiss manner. Yak cheese production is now being attempted in Bhutan, Mongolia, India, and Pakistan.

Yak Chhurpi

Yak milk mainly makes churpi (a hard, dried cheese). Churpi made from skim milk is prepared and stored in untanned bags. Outside of herding communities, these items have no commercial value.

Milk cake

Although skimmed milk is occasionally used, whole milk makes up most of this product. It produces something like "milk residue," but it is firmer and has a cake-like appearance. It is one of the dishes served to guests and is typically eaten with butter and sugar, which the herders find to make it even tastier.


In pastoral areas, whey is mainly used to make cheese, butter, and buttermilk residue. However, in agricultural and rural settings, pigs can be fed with it. The traditional method of manufacturing leather also uses whey.

Sour milk

During the year, but particularly during the warm season when milk is produced in significant quantities, sour milk is a favorite among herders and their families. A pail is filled with freshly boiled milk, which is then combined with a small amount of sour milk until the temperature drops to 40°C at 50°C. Then, to keep the pail warm, it is covered and wrapped with wool.

The milk will have soured five or six hours later during the summer season and longer throughout the winter. Skimmed or whole milk can be used to make this product; the former has a richer flavor and color.

Meat and Meat Products

The meat of the yak is a valuable source of protein for the herders and their families, but it is also sold. The heart is consumed even in places and nations where religious taboos prohibit animal slaughter, but professional butchers, not the animals' owners, perform the killing. Every year, many yaks are killed, usually right before the start of winter when they are at their healthiest.

While much of the meat is frozen in nature's "deep freeze" and stored that way, some of it is consumed fresh. Additionally, dried meat keeps longer than frozen beef.

Although a few yaks may die or be killed. The herders and their families consume meat for four to five months after a sheep is slaughtered. As a result, yak is not intentionally destroyed in the spring or early summer because they are in poor health and very lean at that time. Therefore, herders rarely consume meat from April through July, though dried yak meat is still accessible.

Fresh Yak Meat

Yak "beef" is of the highest grade in the autumn because the animals were in excellent health then. The herdsman's procedure of butchering and eating is pretty straightforward. The carcass is divided into large cubes and briefly cooked in fresh water.

The supper is more lavish when guests are present: Both sheep and yak rib meat that has been boiled is presented; it is put on a platter and eaten with the hand.

Using a Tibetan knife and salt, the heart is consumed. At the same time, milk tea is consumed. A steamed bun with chopped yak meat may have been seasoned with salt, sauces, and grease. Because the flour combination has not been fermented, the bun's casing is thin. Yak meat from frozen, defrosted packages tastes identical to fresh.

Air-Dried Meat

Before winter, the upland ranchers slice yak meat into 30 cm-long, narrow strips roughly 4 to 5 cm wide and hang it to dry from ropes made of woven hair. It only takes a few days to dry. The meat that has been air-dried will last for one or two years if it is hung in a tent or kept in hiding bags; this is a longer storage time than the meat that has been naturally frozen.

The meat is quite dry and flavorful after being air-dried. Some dried meat is consumed whole, except by ripping or cutting the strips into smaller pieces. Milk tea is consumed in addition. There are two primary ways to prepare dried meat. One method is to roast it by burying the meat in a yak dung-fueled stove until the meat begins to smell good. Then it is removed, cleaned, and divided into bits.

The other approach involves soaking the dried beef for several hours before boiling it. Typically, salt and condiments are not added.

Smoked Meat

In contrast to air-dried beef, smoked "bacon-beef" is made from fresh meat strips that are first salted for one or two days in a container before being smoked over the stove in the herdsman's tent.

Once more, you may eat this either raw or cooked. The flesh used to make the smoked meat is taken from yak that has died of old age, sickness or were murdered by wolves. It is produced throughout the warm and wet seasons.

Corned Beef

Salted "bacon beef," sometimes known as corned beef, is a delicacy in the yak-farming regions of Yunnan province, China. Meat strips from frozen are massaged for one to two minutes. Salt and other seasonings are added once the meat has softened. The meat is rubbed until it is moist, at which point it is placed in a jar and covered with paper or cloth to seal it.

The salted meat is removed from the pot after 18 to 21 days and allowed to air dry for roughly seven days. The most excellent corned beef is reddish in color, savory, and delicious. It can be served with Zanba and milk tea after being boiled, steamed, or fried.


Blood and meat are the two primary varieties of sausage stuffing. The yak's cleansed big or small intestine is used as the casing for the sausages. When the yak is killed, sausage is created, especially the blood sausage. 


The leather from yaks is mainly used to make shoes and boots but also to make bags, belts, and saddles for horses. Although the yak possesses thick grease deposits in the skin's layers that help the animal survive in the frigid Himalayan climate, manufacturing yak leather is difficult.

Yak leather has a denser fiber structure than regular cow leather because of the unfavorable life conditions (cold, wind, snow) that Tibetan animals must endure. As a result, yak leather must only be half as thick to be as robust and heat-insulating as bovine leather. Because of the more significant production costs, as a result, good yak leather is costly leather. Age and gender are other factors that affect the leather's quality.

The fibers are thicker, coarser, and more irregular with age (much like in cattle). However, as the skin becomes uneven and fibrous in deeper layers, this is a pretty ugly situation for the leather quality. China is the biggest exporter of yak leather. The hides can come straight from the nomads or from slaughterhouses. Yak skin ranges in size from 2.5 to 4 square meters. Comparatively, a cow's skin is around 5 square meters.


Yak wool is a gorgeous long fiber that typically has a diameter in the 18-micron range, making it incredibly soft and firm. All things being equal, it will last longer even though you give up a little softness compared to cashmere.

Yak wool, like the majority of natural wools, is prized for its ability to wick away moisture and regulate body temperature. Due to the unique mix of these qualities, it is used in various high-end performance equipment. Three natural hues of yak wool are available: platinum grey, dark chocolate, and light milk chocolate. 

these colors will vary slightly from year to year and batch to batch because they merely blend the tints closest to the goal color. For instance, if your yak is white, its wool will fall within platinum grey. A yak could end up with either hue if it is between two shades of brown.

Surprisingly, the colors appear uniform, albeit the grey shows a little more mélange. As yak wool is more difficult to dye than other fibers like cashmere and sheep's wool, it is typically exclusively marketed in natural colors.

Yaks: Mountain Adaptations

Yaks live in high-altitude regions, especially the abrasive Himalayan mountains. While many animals would not be able to survive in these climatic conditions, years of evolution have helped this bovid become a creature that prevails in an otherwise tricky environment by strengthening its resistance to freezing temperatures and preventing low oxygen levels.

Temperature Adaptations

Himalayan yaks are adapted to frigid climates and can endure periods of -40 degrees Fahrenheit because of their exceptionally thick coats, which are good at holding heat. Yaks don't get much from evaporative cooling since they don't have enough sweat glands, and their fur traps too much heat.

Yaks may suffer in somewhat warm situations because of their exceptional ability to insulate and survive cold temperatures. Managers who keep these animals as livestock may relocate their herds to higher elevations during the warmer months to keep the animals from suffering heat stroke.

Oxygen Adaptations

Overcoming the thin atmospheric conditions that might result in low oxygen levels in the body is one of the biggest challenges of living at high elevations. Yaks have larger lungs and blood rich in red blood cells and hemoglobin to make up for this.

With each breath, the lungs can be expanded to accommodate more air, and the body can carry oxygen more effectively, thanks to an increase in hemoglobin and red blood cells.

Yak Facts

● Although a small, fragile wild yak population remains, most yaks are domesticated.

● Animals that herd is yaks. Herds can number in the hundreds, though they are frequently much less.

● With a decreased proportion of adult males, the herds mainly consist of females and their young.

● They spend a lot of time grazing on mountain plains, where they consume grass, herbs, and wildflowers.

● Yaks are the only mammals to live at such a high elevation.

 ● Like other cow species, the yak has several stomachs, which it uses to extract all the nutrients from the vegetation it eats efficiently.

● Yaks can break through snow to reach vegetation buried beneath it because of their complex, big horns. They'll also defend themselves by using their horns.

● They have a thick undercoat protected by outer hair that almost reaches the ground and is often dark brown to black.

● A yak can endure winter temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees F).

● They will bundle up with their calves in the warmer center throughout the night and during snowstorms to avoid becoming too chilly.

● In June, yaks typically give birth. Every other year, a female yak gives birth to a single calf. The mother will look for a remote location to offer delivery. The calf can walk within 10 minutes of being born, and the pair will re-join the herd.

● Although moms can be very protective of their young and can bluff charge if they feel threatened, yaks are generally very friendly, and there hasn't been much recorded hostility from yaks against humans.

● Contrary to popular opinion, when properly cared for in pastures or paddocks with sufficient access to fodder and water, yaks and their dung have little to no discernible smell.

● Yaks grunt and are not known to make the distinctive lowing (mooing) sound that cattle do.

● The Tibetan Wolf has traditionally been the primary natural predator of the wild yak; however, in some regions, reports of Brown Bears and Snow Leopards preying on Yak have also been made.

● The destruction of their habitat and excessive human poaching put wild yak in danger.

● Down is the term used to describe the undercoat that yaks naturally shed each winter. This one is one of the silkiest, softest, and warmest natural fibers. Compared to cashmere, which results in overgrazing, it is just as smooth and far more sustainable than cashmere, which results in overgrazing.

● Yak down is incredibly rare and a sustainable, renewable fiber.

● Each yak produces only approximately a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of fiber annually. A little German Angora rabbit could have nearly the same amount.

● Yaks are quicker than they seem to be. Yaks are not only utilized as racehorses during traditional festivities in some cultures, but their wild counterparts are also very agile for such enormous animals.

Yak Lifespan, Babies, and Reproduction

Although females can go into estrus up to four times a year, mating usually occurs in the late summer or, depending on the local conditions, even into September. Between 257 and 270 days pass during gestation, and a single calf is born in May or June.

Twin births are uncommon. Females choose a remote area for delivery but immediately reunite with the herd because calves can usually walk within 10 minutes of labor. Most females only give birth every other year, yet, births may be more frequent if food is abundant.

They start having children around three to four and reach their peak fertility around six.

Yaks for trekking

The yak is a valuable companion when hiking through the Himalayas. You may load bags, tents, cameras, and other everyday needs on its back. The yak can traverse the plateau's mountains.

It makes sense that the yak merits the "boats on the plateau." Himalayan yaks serve as load-carrying animals in addition to being animals that assist with agriculture. When traveling in the Himalayas, they come in handy for hauling bulky goods and gear.

Especially on Mount Kailash Kora and from Everest Base Camp to Advanced Camp, yaks are used for trekking.


How many yaks are left in the world?

Only 10,000 wild yaks survive now, down from as many as a million just fifty years ago when they roamed the Tibetan plateau due to interbreeding with cows, habitat loss, and human-caused poaching.

Where do Yaks live?

The alpine tundra, grasslands, and chilly desert parts of the Tibetan plateau are where the Yaks reside. These altitudes range from 4,000 to 6,100 meters.

What are yaks used for?

At least 12 million yaks have been domesticated and raised for tractability and excellent milk production. In addition to being utilized for meat, hides, and fur, yaks are also used for threshing and plowing. On the treeless Tibetan plateau is yak dung, which has been dried.

Are yaks dangerous?

Even though moms of yaks can be very protective of their young and can bluff charge if they feel threatened, yaks are generally pretty friendly animals, and there is very no evidence of their acting aggressively against humans.

What do yaks eat?

Yaks graze on grasses, herbs, and lichens primarily in the morning and evening. They also consume ice and snow as a source of water. Wild yaks, however, must travel a great distance to find enough food because there isn't much vegetation nearby where they live.

Yaks: good pets or bad?

Yaks are valuable farm animals in their range, but they might not make suitable pets. Yaks are more prone to violence than domestic cattle and cannot survive in warmer climates.

What distinguishes the yak from the cow?

Since "cow" refers to a female and not a particular species, a yak can be considered a cow. Yaks differ significantly from domestic cattle, though. Yaks can endure cold, high-altitude conditions that would be fatal to ordinary cattle thanks to a variety of adaptations (including long coats and larger lungs).