By DOUG GRAVES
LEBANON, Ohio — Not too long ago, Norwegian field horses roamed the 30 acres now owned by Jamie and Nathan Sorum of Lebanon. Watching an episode of “Dirty Jobs” on television four years ago changed their Warren County landscape forever.
Exit the horses. Enter the relatively unknown yaks.
There are just three known yak farms in the state, and the Sorums’ yak farm (called OH Yaks) is the largest. “We found these guys on ‘Dirty Jobs,’” Jamie said. “(Host) Mike Rowe was at a yak farm and we fell in love with them.
“We started reading about them and learned about their versatility, how they were personable if they were socialized with people.”
In Tibet and throughout the Himalayan region, the yak is considered sacred in many places by order of the Dalai Lama. Most yaks found in the United States come from out West and have adapted to Midwest conditions. Stout and durable, yaks are the animals used by tote heavy equipment up Mount Everest to climber rescue stations.
“At one time we looked at all the land here in Lebanon, and we needed something that eats grass,” she said. “We thought about getting sheep, cattle or even goats.”
The couple made a trip to northern Michigan to a yak farm to learn more about the animal. By December 2014 they had their first five yaks roaming the property.
“Yaks appear the more attractive way to go because they seem to be cool to be around. They’re quite friendly,” Nathan explained.
Up to this point, OH Yaks has only been a fiber business for the Sorums. The processed yak fur is as soft as cashmere and highly coveted by textiles people. However, they’ve researched the meat from this animal as well.
“Bison and buffalo meat is 90 percent lean, but the yak meat is 97 percent lean and tends to cook up better than the other two. It is definitely a redder meat,” Nathan said.
Including the newborns, the Sorums now have 30 yaks roaming their property. They’ve had as many as 36. “They’re very easy to raise and need more minerals than most other animals,” he said. “We’ve learned by trial and error, as there’s not much research out there on the yak.”
The couple feed their brook pasture hay, grain and garlic. The latter is to help keep the flies away.
“Yaks are good for the small farmer,” Jamie said. “They require less pasture than cattle do and they fit two per acre. They’re personable and easygoing. They have so much character; they become quite friendly when you spend the time with them.”
Predators? Not this animal. The yak are equipped with heavy-duty horns and have a good sense of taking care of themselves and each other.
The Sorums have an attention-getting Yak Shack near the roadside. It’s a 180 square-foot shed filled with socks, sweaters, hats, gloves, bath rugs, dog beds and spools of fiber from the yaks.
“Getting the fiber from the animal is labor-intensive,” Jamie said.
They also have yak meat in a freezer inside the Shack. “It’s really a labor of love,” she explained. “We won’t ever get rich on it. We can break even on it.”
If all goes as planned, the Sorums will start a small-scale meat operation with their animals within a year. “It takes years to establish a sustainable yak pack, requiring careful breeding, socializing, learning personalities and planning to do it as humanely as possible.”
Tame as any beloved canine or feline, the Sorums know their herd by names – Nancy, Ivan, Suzy, Peggy, Lenny and so on.
“Our theory is we give everything a name, as everyone has a name,” Jamie said. “We treat them as well as humanly possible.”