The yaks are in McCreary County. That’s right. McCreary County can now boast of having one of only two registered yak farms in Kentucky.
In June, eight head of two different varieties of yaks made their way from Kentucky’s first yak farm in Menifee County to take up range at Jim Murphy’s Pine Knot farm, and the yaks are doing just fine.
If things go well, Murphy hopes to welcome baby yaks in the future. His goal? To eventually expand from his current herd of six heifers, one bull, and one steer to maintaining a herd of fifty head of meat producing yaks. Murphy hopes to establish a successful business selling yak meat to restaurants and other enterprises across the state and nation. By keeping heifers to raise young and selling males for breeding and meat, Murphy may reach his goal within a few years.
Since there are only about 7,500 purebred yaks in North America, Murphy’s shaggy, two-year old bovids are part of an elite group. With a life span of about twenty years, yak cows typically reach weights of 600-800 pounds while bulls power up to 1,200-1,500 pounds. There are eight different varieties of yaks, each with distinctive colorings and markings. Murphy’s Tibetan yaks are classified in two groups- “Royal” and “Trim.”
Yaks are very versatile. Their physical strength makes them excellent to ride, pack, and pull. As farm animals, yaks are raised to produce tasty, lean, healthy meat and dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and butter. The deep red meat is high in omega-3 fatty acids, very lean, and has a high protein-calorie ratio. The yaks’ wool fiber is similar to cashmere, and the skulls, hides, and horns are also marketable.
With a scientific name (bos grunniens-rhymes with onions) that translates as “grunting ox,” Murphy’s yaks, like all others, live up to their name by emitting low grunts instead of mooing. Their appearance is distinctive with impressive handlebar horns, shoulder humps, and shaggy skirts.
Murphy sites the sustainability of yaks as a major reason to raise them.
“Yaks are much more sustainable than beef cattle as you can raise two to three times more yak meat on the same amount of pasture,” Murphy remarked. “Yaks are low maintenance and really don’t need shelter as they prefer the cold to the heat.”
Murphy has been surprised at the social interaction of yaks, noting their tendency to stay together, and their tendency, during the heat, to stand in his massive pond for a large part of their day.
Yak farming is not without cost. A purebred bull costs about $5,000 with heifers averaging about $3,000. Despite the initial cost, the potential for growth and profit in yak farming is good. Ground yak meat currently sells for $10.00 to $15.00 per pound with 8 ounce yak rib-eye steaks selling for $15.00-$20.00 per steak. With increasing demand for yak meat and relatively few suppliers in the U.S., many on-line distributors of yak meat are sold out and searching for more sources of the delicious and healthy meat.