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Yaks find home in Minn.

ASA, Minn. -- In Minnesota's Vasa Township, along County Road 7, is a piece of land that, at first glance, seems to hold nothing more than similar stretches of land throughout the surrounding rolling hills of Goodhue County.

Bottle feeding
Melodee Smith feeds her youngest yak, Adeline, a bottle Nov. 1, 2013, at Clear Spring Farm in Vasa, Minn. Newborn yak are bottle-fed and separated from the herd to make them more approachable. (Republican Eagle photo by John Russett)

ASA, Minn. -- In Minnesota's Vasa Township, along County Road 7, is a piece of land that, at first glance, seems to hold nothing more than similar stretches of land throughout the surrounding rolling hills of Goodhue County.

For these 40 acres, however, that is not the case.

Clear Spring Farm is home to the largest herd of yak in Minnesota.

Two of the yaks have been blessed by the Dalai Lama, and one has the longest yak horns in the world. Owner Melodee Smith says Guinness World Records will visit the Vasa farm soon to make the measurement official.

Having grown up on a dairy farm near Alexandria, Minn., Smith is no stranger to life on a farm.

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When Smith and her family moved back to Minnesota from Omaha, Neb., four years ago, she said she was interested in finding something to occupy the farm.

"I wanted to find some animals for my land that weren't going to eat me out of house and home," she says.

Smith says yaks don't eat much compared to a beef cow, adding that her paint horse eats about the same amount of hay as three of her yaks, which means Smith can have more yaks on less property.

Yaks take around four years to get to market weight, she says.

There are two types of yak on the farm, Smith says, Trim and Royal Tibetan yaks. Trim yaks produce the best fiber, she says.

All the female yaks are named and registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Smith says. Each May, the yaks get their coat combed, which yields a nice fiber, she says. Once processed, the fiber is sold for around $16 an ounce, she says.

The first time a yak has its coat combed produces the best fiber, Smith says. The yaks' coats are never cut, she says, only combed.

Smith says that when she decided to have yaks on her land, she was unaware of the potential for selling their fiber, which has turned out to be a profitable byproduct.

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Smith has one new yak, Adeline, who was born June 1. The yak is being bottle-fed for the first six months, Smith says.

Newborn yaks are separated from the herd and bottle-fed to make them more approachable. If yaks are left alone, it becomes that much more difficult to approach them; they can be standoffish, she explains.

As the herd grows, Smith says she has plans to start processing the yak for meat. She said yak meat can go for $9 to $10 a pound, is very lean, and generally a high-quality meat for health benefits.

Female yaks typically grow to anywhere from 700 to 800 pounds and the males grow to between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.

Each yak has an individual personality, Smith says.

"They're such a unique animal," she says. "They're very, very gentle, quiet animals."

For now, Smith says her yak farm is just a hobby, but given the demand and the scarcity of yak fiber and meat, and given that the yak eat less than their beef counterparts, there could be quite a niche for this type of farming in the years to come.

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