HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair


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Any discussion and action based on it should have regard to the multi-disciplinary nature of the problem.

Heavyweight domestic animal.

Wild yak and domestic yak represent two distinct populations. While wild yak are close to being an endangered species, domestic yak number in the order of 13 to 14 million — the vast majority them in China, where there does not appear to have been the same marked decline in yak numbers noted in peripheral countries. More recent evidence based on a combination of fossil evidence and mitochondrial DNA studies suggests that domestication may not have taken place until about five thousand years ago Xue-bin Qi et al. But whatever the exact period when this occurred, the yak alone was capable of meeting all the needs for human survival — though sheep and goats had been domesticated earlier.

The yak was valued as a beast of burden but also provided meat, milk, hide, wool and hair and, of paramount importance, its dung for fuel in a tree-less landscape — all basic necessities for life. Thus, as Cai Li had remarked, a civilisation was able to develop against the odds at high altitude in a hostile climate. Eventually the distribution of the yak expanded outward.

The route of this expansion was recently studied with the help of molecular genetic data Xue-bin Qi et al. Fuller descriptions and details can be found in Wiener, Han and Long They appear to differ both in looks colour, etc. Recent techniques of molecular genetics have however started to show some degree of genetic distance between the yak populations Xue-bin Qi et al.

In countries outside China yaks are generally named after the territory in which they are found. As recorded in more recent times but probably noted even in ancient times the hybrids appear to have many of the fitness characteristics of the yak and the better productivity of the cattle.

Hybrid males are, however, sterile and hence the F1 type cannot be fixed hybrid females can, however, be backcrossed — see below. The hybrids are especially favoured at the lower elevations of yak distribution, where better feed is available. The breeds included the Holstein Friesian, Shorthorn, Simmental, etc.

During that latter period, artificial insemination AI with exotic bull semen became the predominant practice for hybridising. The extra production has, however, to be paid for by better feeding, provision of shelter and better all-round management and health care. Moreover the difficulties of detecting oestrus in yak females — essential as a prelude to the use of AI — as well as the fact that relatively few yak localities have access to AI, restricts the opportunities for this form of hybridisation.

Its advantages may be more apparent than real. It should also be noted that the replacement rate of the purebred yak herd or population sets a strict limit on the extent to which hybrid calves can be produced. Such introgression is made possible by the fact that after 4 or 5 generations of backcrossing of the F1 cows and the subsequent backcross generations to yak bulls, male fertility is restored to the bulls that are then, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from pure yak. The authors find significant numbers of introgression cases though the level of genomic admixture is still very low among the yak populations but it is unclear how much or little of the introgression relates to European-type cattle breeds.

The cross was recognised as being more vigorous and larger than the domestic yak. In recent times these advantages have been re-created by using semen from captured wild yak bulls on domestic yak females. Amongst others, this has led to the creation of the Datong breed built on several generations of selection starting from the initial cross. In recent times winter feeding has been increasingly advocated but is practicable mostly where crop growing areas are within reach.

However, new developments in plant breeding are likely to result in new varieties of forage crops tolerating the very short growing seasons. These developments from plant breeding may further benefit the winter feeding situation. There is little doubt that access to winter feed reduces weight loss in cows and can lead to a significant improvement in reproductive and productive capacity including calf survival and growth.

Extremes range from desert steppe rainfall around 50 mm per year with Ceratoides spp. In intermediate rainfall situations ca.

Yak, Long Hair Minky Fabric

Whilst in areas of highest precipitation up to mm per year , alpine meadows support sedges, low shrubs and other vegetation. These factors influence stocking densities and the relative importance of yak to sheep and goats in the grazing and management system. The resultant transhumance system of herding involved migrations of yak herds starting in the spring to reach high summer pastures followed by a slow return in the autumn to the winter pastures and the more permanent settlements of the herders. During winter and early spring the yak were kept at lower elevations nearer to the permanent homes of the herders.

Increasingly, shelters are provided especially for calves to protect them against the worst extremes of the weather. Milking females and their calves were kept separate from younger females and from males. This policy provides for individual ownership of the animals and rights though not ownership to parcels of rangeland — some of which is being fenced.

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This has potentially profound effects on management. As the number of yak owned is also considered a form of insurance against natural disasters and hard times, there must be a temptation to increase numbers above the natural carrying capacity of the pastures. Thus, overgrazing has become increasingly recognised as a problem. Fencing, moreover, is likely to inhibit the free movement of herds and may well restrict the freedom of herders to exploit the availability of grazing to best advantage. These developments have clear social implications and provide an incentive for more permanent settlement of the herders and their families.

But in terms of utilising the natural resources of the rangeland it has yet to be shown whether the new system is as effective as the old. Summer is a time of plenty. The animals gain weight rapidly after severe weight loss over winter and early spring as referred to above, a loss of percent in liveweight is not uncommon. During that time, animals can be close to starvation and deaths are common — especially in years of heavy snow.

Supplementary feeds, such as hay or crop by-products, have not generally been available except in very small quantities, and mostly for weak animals. However this, as already discussed, may now be changing. The topic of rangeland management in modern terms draws attention to the dangers of overgrazing and the fragile nature of the ecosystem. Some of the articles in this issue of the journal take this matter further. In Mongolia demand for meat is high and yak make an important contribution. Average yields in the range of litres are quoted for the first six months following calving.

Such estimates have already been adjusted for milk taken by the calf. Higher yields litres have been claimed by former State and Co-operative farms in Mongolia and Russia. Yak cows will lactate for a second season without a further calving, producing about two-thirds of the amount of milk of the first season. A majority of yak calve only once every two years. There is a seasonal trend in lactation performance.

It comes to a peak in July. There is no clear evidence of a lactation peak in relation to date of calving. Most income, in these cases, is likely to come from the sale or barter of surplus animals, mostly castrated males, and usually for meat. Other products include soft cheeses, types of yoghurt, dried milk powder. Milk is not normally drunk whole but used in brews of tea.

In Mongolia one use of milk is to ferment it into an alcoholic drink. Because of the interest that this has generated in some neighbouring countries as a potential model to adopt, it may be useful to provide some details of the process. An essential feature is that a factory should be within reasonable walking distance for the herders who supply the milk.

The buildings can vary in construction 4 but access to fuel and water are needed as is a supply of electricity, which can be generated locally.

According to Joshi et al. At the time of writing Joshi et al. Privately-run cheese factories — compared to those controlled by the DDC — generally entailed a lower investment in the infrastructure, equipment and processing refinements required, and consequently the quality of the cheese produced by them was often markedly inferior 5. Since the time that the Joshi et al.

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It would not be surprising, however, if some of the production capacity has not been diverted to milk from other species, buffalo in particular. The stage process includes standardising the fat content of the milk, pasteurising, adding culture and rennet, curd formation and cooking followed by moulding and pressing.


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The cheese blocks are brined and stored for ripening. After 5 months of ripening a good flavour develops 7. An assessment of the economics involved concluded that, at that time, demand for the yak cheese outstripped supply, that more investment was needed as well as rehabilitation of some of the factories and improvement in the production chain from farm to marketing. Of the four factories studied in detail, three were in profit, with income exceeding costs, but one was running into deficit.

Virtually all the yak cheese production was purchased by tourists to Nepal and not consumed by the herders.

These steers are rarely slaughtered before the age of 4 years old and possibly older. However, by the age of 4 or 5 years the individuals have been through several cycles of weight gain and weight loss.

HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair
HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair
HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair
HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair
HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair
HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair
HOW! How the Yak Got Its Long Hair

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