Vermont Yak Company
Steadfast Farm looks like a normal Vermont farm—they have a vegetable operation, as well as sugar maples up the hill. Their herd in back, however, is what's unusual—the animals are not cows, at least not normal cows. It is here, at the base of a small hill behind an old dairy barn in bad disrepair, that New England's first working yak herd takes its rest.
I saw the farm one day in early September, on the kind of day one envies the shaggy coat sported by the more successful Himalayan ruminants. My guide was Rob Williams, a communications professor at nearby Champlain College in Burlington, who together with a partner founded the Vermont Yak Company three years ago.
Williams explains that despite the inherent weirdness, raising yaks in Vermont is the most reasonable thing in the world, at least more so than raising regular cows. They are cold-hardy, independent creatures, like most Vermonters.
Yaks are not that big, which surprised me—one never imagines saying "Why him? He's no bigger than a yak!" But even the biggest animals at Steadfast were smaller than standard cows, one of the reasons a farmer can raise more of them per acre.
Yaks are bovines, Williams told me—Bos grunniens, the wild grunting cow, but with some important adaptations. They are bred yak-tough in the heights of the Himalayas, and everything about them, from their coats to their ribs, their hooves, and their tiny, shriveled balls, is geared towards living in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Although I may have required a coat, a sweatshirt, two shirts, long underwear, and gloves on my trip to see the yaks, they were perfectly happy just striding about in their shag.