Yak to the Future
01/14/11 5:55PM  Download MP3
Can Vermonters yak it? Bringing the Himilayan bovine to Vermont could be a smart mooooove.
Tune in to The VPR Table Friday evening at 5:55 and Saturday morning at 8:55 to learn more about the Yak in Vermont.
According to James Beard Award-Winning Food Author Rowan Jacobsen, "You can raise three times as much yak on an acre of grass as you can cow. Yaks climb hills with ease and don’t care for grains; they are grass-fed purists. Their meat has a nice beefy flavor."
One of my favorite drives in Vermont is the stretch of Route 100 heading south from Middlesex through Moretown, Waitsfield, and Warren. The snow-capped mountains. The sudden glimpses of the Mad River curling through its valley. And the yaks, of course.
Yes, yaks. South of Moretown, just before you reach Waitsfield, an old dairy farm appears to your right, and roaming the hilly paddocks above the farm are about forty black, horned, very shaggy bovines. This is the herd of the Vermont Yak Company, New England's only yak farm.
The Yak company was started two years ago by three couples in the Mad River Valley who wanted to revitalize an old dairy farm back to life that still boasted acres of lovely green pasture. They could have raised cows on the farm, but they went with yaks instead.
Why? Well, that's where it gets interesting.
One of the couples involved, Kate and Rob Williams, had met some yaks in Montana. And they had noticed the same thing that everybody first notices about yaks: Yaks are really tough. Native to the Himalayas, their idea of a good time is muscling through blizzards on 15,000-foot mountain passes, pawing through the snowdrifts for a few mouthfuls of dried grass.
This makes them a good fit for Vermont. When it's twenty below, they couldn't be happier. You don't need a barn. Yaks hate barns. They want to be out all the time-Unlike cows, which favor the cushy life.
Yaks, accustomed to roughing it in Tibet, have evolved into much more efficient grazers than cows. You can raise three times as much yak on an acre of grass as you can cow. Yaks climb hills with ease and don't care for grains; they are grass-fed purists. Their meat has a nice beefy flavor.
Which leads me to wonder whether the yak's time has come in Vermont. Why did we get so wedded to cows, after all? Because they were available. They were convenient. But admit it: That cow on the state flag has always looked a little weird-almost as weird as the sheaves of wheat. Picture, if you will, a whole new state flag, with snowy hills peppered with great, shaggy beasts sporting cool horns. It could happen, and it could take us, as Rob Williams would say, YAK to the future.