Yaks offer couple a unique alternative
Buying acreage in his longtime hometown of Hagerman, Idaho, about seven year ago, realtor Mark Bolduc, and his wife, Tina, were looking for self-reliance. They bought land with a spring-fed water source, and they knew they wanted to raise livestock for meat.
They looked into llamas and alpacas, but they didn’t offer the diversity the couple was seeking. With yaks coming up for sale at a nearby livestock auction, they researched the animal and liked what they discovered.
They bought 12.
That was seven years ago, and the endeavor has turned out better than they expected, Mark Bolduc said.
Yaks offer a high-protein, healthful meat source, keep the pastures clean, are easy to maintain, aren’t susceptible to diseases, have a great personality and provide enjoyable interaction every day, he said.
“They’ll run out to greet you,” he said.
They also offer income. In addition to selling animals for starter herds or as pets, the Bolducs sell yak meat, tanned hides and skulls.
Yaks also accommodate their professional schedules. Mark owns a real estate agency and Tina is a high school secretary.
Yaks are relatively self-reliant, thriving on pasture and only needing grass hay in the winter. They only eat about one-third of what a beef animal consumes. They are athletic and healthy, living 20 to 25 years and don’t need any vaccinations in high country. But the Bolducs give them an annual eight-way vaccination because their yaks are in proximity to other livestock and dairies, Mark said.
“They’re pretty resilient animals, pretty self-reliant,” he said.
Their instincts haven’t been bred out of them like beef animals, and they’ll run off predators. Yaks can run 30 to 35 mph and jump a four-foot fence, but as long as they have food and water, they don’t challenge the fences, Mark Bolduc said.
The animals are found throughout the Himalayan Mountains of Asia, where they are used as pack animals and valued for their meat, fiber and milk. The milk is higher in fat than that from cows, Tina said.
But they have much smaller udders than cows and produce only about a cup and a half of milk at a time. The Bolducs tried milking one of their yaks, but it wasn’t worth the hassle, Mark said.
The Bolducs raise the yak steers for meat, butchering them at about 30 months of age. Those 700- to 800-pound steers have a hanging weight of about 400 pounds at a price of $5.50 a pound, and the Bolducs sell whole and half carcasses. The meat is also sold by cuts and at retail at a local shop, with ground meat selling for about $8 a pound and other cuts selling in the low $20s a pound, he said.
The steers are sent to a USDA-inspected facility for butchering, and some of the meat is purchased by MoMo, a restaurant serving Himalayan food in the Boise area.
Hides are tanned and sold to interior decorators for $480 to $1,600 each, depending on the size. Skulls with horns garner $80 to $160 each.
The couple also raises animals to sell for starter herds and pets, with newly weaned calves selling for $1,000 and prices going up from there.
Fiber from the yaks’ shaggy coat is usually harvested in March, and Tina uses it and hair from the tail to make clothing and craft items.
The business is a bit challenging but rewarding, they said.
Howling Winds Farm
Owners: Mark and Tina Bolduc, ages 56 and 60, respectively
Family: Two daughters, eight grandchildren
Location: Hagerman, Idaho
Land: 13 acres
Animals: 23 Himalayan yaks
Products: Breeding animals, meat, hides, fiber, and skulls