Monday, April 28, 2008

Week 1: Yaks - The Quintessential Vermont Symbol

It is difficult to explain how one's life changes with the arrival of 24 yaks to the neighborhood.

I'm feeling a bit more hopeful about our future, and it wasn't just the sun, blue sky, and return of spring last week to Mad River that inspired this sentiment. 

No, something about our 24 newly-arrived hairy, hooved, horn-y four-legged neighbors is motivational. Somehow.  What is it?

Maybe it is that I'm realizing that the yak is the quintessential Vermont denizen, a symbol of Vermont, perhaps, and Vermonters themselves.

I know, this may be a stretch, but bear with me while I yak for a moment. 

Here's my sense. "Bos grunniens" - the grunting bovine - has a number of traits that make her the perfect Green Mountain inhabitant.

1. Like the state of Vermont vis-a-vis the other 49 states, yaks are smaller than most other bovines - and much more efficient consumers of forage. 3-4 yaks will consume the same amount of grass as 1 cow, and consume less water.  Now that's efficiency, yak-style.

2. Like Vermonters visa-vis the citizens of the other 49 states, yaks are quieter than most bovines. No moo-ing here. Only occasional grunts, and only when necessary. Shhhh. You won't hear them unless you shut up and listen.

3. Like Vermonters, yaks are sure-footed, adaptable, cold-resistant, a bit stubborn, and know how to work in a variety of ways - and, unlike cows, they sleep and give birth lying down. Smart critters.

4. Like Vermonters, yaks are sociable and gregarious when living in groups in whom they trust, and are ferocious defenders of their herd and their young. "Ornery" is the word that springs to mind - yaks have horns, and know how to use them if backed into a corner. 

Here's a story of near-disaster turned inspiration - one of many from last week.

One of our yaks - Christine - got separated from the rest of the group while we were unloading the herd from our 50 foot trailer last Monday morning. So, she did what any yak would do - she jumped the makeshift fence, and took off (and I mean, galloped) up Route 100, looking for the rest of her herd. (If only I had remembered to bring my video camera as we gave chase.)

My neighbor and business partner David (a Hartshorn, a farmer, and a gifted man with bovines - he grew up on the very same dairy farm that is now occupied by our yak, wrangling heifers before breakfast as a teenager) ultimately managed to lasso our ornery gal, after 25 minutes or so of attempts to steer her back to the corral failed. The sight of David and his father Paul hog-tying (or yak-tying) Christine together - two generations of Vermonters getting acquainted with this new arrival - is one I will not soon forget.

And then David said:

"You know, the difference between cows and yaks is that yaks can turn on you quick - and they ALL have horns.'

Like I said. "Ornery."

More yakking soon - come visit us.


1 comment:

Mad River Yakker said...

From our Vermont neighbor Janis Moore of "TailGaitFarm:"

She writes:

I found a small error in your yak post info:

#3 about yaks sleeping and having their calves laying down while cows don't--is incorrect.

My cows sleep laying down AND all have had ALL their calves while laying down.

THANKS, JANIS, for correcting the record with your own personal experience, here. We look forward to learning more from other farmers in the neighborhood.