The Jim Anderson family has launched a new venture. They are raising yaks as an alternative, healthful exotic meat.
What is a yak? Anderson says the animal is shaped like a smaller version of a buffalo. It is a longhaired herd animal found throughout the Himalayan region of south Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and as far north as Mongolia and Russia.
The domesticated yak (Bos grunniens) in its native area is used as a work animal, and/or is raised for meat or milk.
Anderson says yak are raised throughout the United States, but not in large numbers. However, information on the Web states operating/feed costs are from 25 to 50 percent lower than raising beef, and at least 10 percent higher prices for yak products.
The Anderson ranch is located a mile south of the Hand County line into Buffalo County, where they raise cattle and horses. Jim and Shirley Anderson, along with daughter Colleen and son-in-law Levi Connell, made the decision to introduce yak into the mix in December 2011.
Anderson recounts, “A friend from Idaho wanted buffalo meat, so I went to Chad Heim’s buffalo ranch near Rockham to buy some.”
Heim also had a small group of yak in a corral, and said he had yak meat available, too.
“I bought the herd he had, and we’ve added others. We presently have 24 females, two bulls and two babies. I’m in the process of buying more,” Anderson said.
So far, Anderson has butchered five of the animals. He hopes to grow the herd for commercial purposes. Meat is presently in stock at the Pomegranate Market in Sioux Falls (605-275-0200), and closer outlets are Tucker’s SuperValu, Miller, and the Mitchell Locker in Mitchell, and more distributors are being added.
Yak meat is heart-healthy. It is dark red meat, and is close to beef in flavor, but tastes sweeter and richer.
The ultra-lean meat does not have a “gamey” flavor. It provides great taste, with health benefits. Yak is 95 to 97 percent fat free overall, and is high in Omega 3 oils, as well as 35 percent higher than beef as a percentage of fats that are good for humans.
On the other side, yak meat is very low in the “bad fats.” It remains higher in protein, solids, minerals and vitamins than beef, while scoring much lower in saturated fats, cholesterol, triglycerides and calories.
Anderson says yak may be substituted for any meat in any dish. “You can prepare it any way you want…from grilled steaks and burgers, to using its meat for spaghetti and stew.” In fact, Anderson prepared chili using yak meat, and won first place in a recent chili contest.
The animals have adapted well to the South Dakota climate, and with their heavy, dense, long fur, they manage well in the winter. When born, a yak is smaller than a beef calf. Bulls can weigh up to 1,600 pounds, and the female (dri or nak) usually averages from 600 to 800 pounds. They come in a variety of colors, and have a hump on their shoulders. Anderson describes them as looking like a cross between a beef cow and a buffalo. “They have the face of a beef cow, the horns of a buffalo and a short, shaggy tail.”
The animals do not “moo” or make other noises made by cattle. They emit a “grunt” as buffalo do, for any emotion.
Like its “relatives,” yak like grass, but Anderson says they will not eat grain, unless forced to. They consume about one-third the amount of roughage a day as a beef cow does.
The yak at the Anderson ranch are grass-fed and are raised free of chemicals, hormone applications, and antibiotics.
Colleen says the two babies, which have been raised around humans, are sweet-tempered and loving. “They will follow me around, and they like to put their heads in my lap,” she said with a smile. The older animals, especially the bulls, are not so pleasant.
At birth, the calves only weigh around 25 pounds, but they already have tiny horns. They grow slowly, and it takes several years to reach full adulthood.
“Yak are getting noticed, and some markets around here handle the meat,” says Anderson. “There are yak shows around the country. In addition to the meat, the wool, hide and horns are quite popular.”
At this point, the National Western Stock Show in Denver is historically the only national level yak show in the U.S.
Colleen, Levi and their daughters, Tierney, 12, and Trinn, eight, raise exotic poultry. “We call our place ‘funny farm,” said Anderson with a chuckle.
The family is now embarking on marketing “Eden Springs Farm” products, which includes grass-fed beef and yak meat, poultry, and organic garden produce.
The main focus is to provide healthy foods. Consider this little item from the Internet: “The health and longevity of the Himalayan peoples are attributed to their eating yak as their primary food source.”