Yak are shaggy, large-horned members of the cow family that have been domesticated in the Himalayas for thousands of years. Their hair is mostly black, with white patches. The average female weighs 500 pounds (35 stone / 225 kg); a male about 1,000 pounds (70 stone / 450 kg.)
In the West, we use the word Yak as a generic word for the animal, but in Tibet a distinction is made between the males and females, in the same way that we distinguish between cows and bulls. In Tibet, only the males are called “Yaks.” Females are actually called “dri.” (In Nepal, “nak”.) A general word for the animal, whether male or female, is “nor.”
Yak can live 20 to 25 years. They can interbreed with cows. Females produced will be fertile but males will be sterile. In Tibet, some hybrids are called “Chauri.”
Though men herd the Yak, only women milk them. The milk yield from Yaks is not great: they can only produce a few litres of milk each day, and only during the summer.
Yaks are also slaughtered and eaten for their meat, which is a deep red colour. It is very lean meat, because most of the fat is concentrated right under the skin, where it can help to keep the animal warmer. The meat has a stronger taste than venison.
Promoters will say that even though Yak is far lower in fat than beef, it is still a juicier meat, but disregard that: facts are facts, and with no marbling in the meat to make it juicy, the cooking science is against them.
Yak meat is sold in butcher shops in Tibet, just as beef is sold in the West.
Yak is now being raised in a few places in America. Ranchers are keen to see how it takes off, as Yaks eat less than cattle, and can graze in high, rocky places that are unusable for cattle ranching.
Because the meat is so lean, it shouldn’t be cooked past medium rare or it will go very tough: there is not enough fat in it to keep it tender and juicy.
Native to the Himalayas.
The Latin name, “Bos grunniens”, means “grunting bovine.”