Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Being on farm is dream come true

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/14/2013 3:28 PM

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WELCH, Minn. — Melodee Smith wanted to raise livestock, but she wanted something that wouldn't eat her out of house and home.

She discovered yak.

They eat way less than beef cattle and they don't eat grain, Smith said. They graze on pasture during the summer and in the winter they eat baled grass hay.

Smith has a 40-acre farm near Vasa in Goodhue County named Clear Spring Farm. Much of the farm is pasture and fenced for the Royal and Trim Tibetian yak. She also has an Angora rabbit, laying hens, a Paint horse and two goats.

The farm is an oasis for her. On a rainy afternoon last week, Smith walked amid the yak, scratching their heads and talking to them.

"I absolutely love them," she said. "They all have a personality."

Yak chores are easy compared to the chores on the 50-cow dairy farm she grew up on near Alexandria, Smith said. All the yak need is hay and water.

Four year ago, her family of four moved to the farm. Her husband works in Red Wing and Smith is a farmer.

"This is a dream come true to be out in the country," she said.

Smith began raising yak a year ago and her first calves were born this year.

Her herd of 17 is the largest yak herd in the state, Smith said. She is a member of the International Yak Association and all her yak are DNA tested.

She bottle raises her calves so they bond with humans and are more docile. She has two calves on bottle now. A bull calf born Aug. 15 is her youngest. The calf, August, will be bottle fed a mixture of cow and lamb milk replacer for six months. In the wild, yak calves nurse for 18 months, Smith said.

A newborn heifer brings about $800 and a newborn bull about $500, she said.

Yak grow slower than cattle, taking four years to reach market weight. They have a eight and half month gestation and heifers are bred at age two. Bulls aren't castrated before six months.

Yak meat is served at three restaurants in the Twin Cities, which Smith hopes to market to. Yak meat should be cooked slow and low; it is similar to grass-fed beef.

Yak have a two chromosome difference from cattle.

In addition to selling meat, Smith harvests yak fiber. The fiber harvested this year was combed out and taken to the St. Peter Woolen Mill where it was washed, cleaned and blended with wool.

Her farm at 31139 County 7 Blvd, Welch, will be a stop on the third annual Sheep and Fiber Farm Tour. A member of the Zumbro River Fiber Arts Guild will demonstrate the spinning of yak fiber in the barn during the tour, which is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 12 and Oct. 13.