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Yak, yak, yak – Tibetan animals the talk in Ohio
By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent

WEST MANSFIELD, Ohio – There are three yak farms in Ohio: Covered Bridge Yaks (West Mansfield), Heartland Yaks (Leipsic) and OH Yaks (Lebanon).
Blake and Dimi Mathys, of Covered Bridge Yaks, have raised yaks on their 60-acre farm since 2015.
“Our yaks receive a grass-only diet, hay in the winter, pasture in the summer,” Blake said, “with an occasional treat of a little sweet feed to encourage them to enjoy being around people.”
Yaks are native to the mountains and plateaus of Asia, but the domesticated variety is raised in many locations throughout North America.
“My father raised Scottish Highlanders cattle so I was more familiar with some of the unusual breeds around, and decided to give the yak a try,” Blake said. “We had some difficult time with them at first, bur finally got things worked out. They’re gentle and get along with any livestock. There’s actually a variety of dispositions. The more you work with them the easier they are to work with. They’re smaller than the regular cattle and easier to maintain.”
Blake and Dimi currently have five yaks on the premise: four cows and one bull.
“The yak fiber is something craftsmen go for,” Blake said. “We’re not into the fiber, but probably should be. A lot of people utilize their hair as it can be valuable. But right now, we just sell a few calves and process yak meat. That seems to be more profitable. We stick to registered animals. That increased the price a little bit. We cross-breed yaks with our cattle. Yak meat is really lean. The half-yak grow faster and have a bit more fat.”
The pros of owning yaks, Blake said, is they require little shelter and can withstand cold, rainy conditions. On the downside, yaks do not care for very hot temperatures often found in Ohio summers.
In Lebanon, the 30 acres of rolling grasslands owned by Jamie and Nathan Sorum were once roamed by Norwegian field horses. Today, yaks have taken over at OH Yaks farm. This switch of breeds began in 2014 after the couple watched a particularly woolly episode about yaks on Mike Rowe’s hit TV series Dirty Jobs. They purchased five yaks that year.
“We found these guys on Dirty Jobs,” Jamie said. “Mike Rowe was at a yak farm and we fell in love with them. We started reading about them. They talked about how they were versatile, that they were personable if they were socialized with people, and that you didn’t have to use them only for meat. So, we got our first five.”
The Sorums are not the couple you probably imagined grew up on farms of their own. Ohio-born Jamie and Seattle-born Nathan moved to the area in high school and only played with the idea of starting a farm when Nathan’s parents’ property was passed on to them.
“It’s really a labor of love. We won’t ever get rich on it. We can break even on it,” Jamie said.
The OH Yaks operation has so far only been a fiber business. The processed yak hair is soft and highly coveted by textile people. The farm’s small “Yak Shack” out in front of the property sells sweaters (hand-knit by Tibetan women), gloves, socks, spools of fiber, bath rugs, dog beds and just about anything you could think of that you’d want made of warm, finer fabric.
“We focus on breeding high-quality animals that we work with and countless hours to make them friendly so that we can sell them to others looking to start or expand their own individual herds,” Jamie said. “We’ve sold animals to people as pets and 4-H projects, and we’ve sold animals to people looking to augment or replace existing livestock herds.”
Yaks are a long-haired species of cattle that is native to the Himalayan region of the Indian subcontinents. These domesticated cattle have the ability to withstand the biting cold winters as well as mild summers, making them the perfect fit for Ohio’s climate. Although they’re a type of cattle, there is suggestion that they may be more closely related to bison than to other cattle. They can live to be 25-20 years old, and they start breeding at just 2-3 years of age.
Yaks cause less damage to the environment than cattle. They have nimble hooves that make them light on their feet, keeping them from damaging the grasslands as much. They do not need more than one or two acres of land. They eat less than cattle and require less work. They supply a luxurious yarn from their long hair and they produce milk. They are a greener, healthier kind of meat as their meat is 97 percent naturally lean.