YAK about YAK!

Did you know that Yak’s don’t moo (aka bovine lowing)? They grunt, in fact, the scientific name of Yak is Bos grunniens or “grunting ox” named by Linnaeus in 1766. There are technically two subgenus of Yak domesticated “grunting” and wild “muted” Yak.

Yaks are connected to the Pleistocene epoch more than 10,000 years ago, they are related to cattle and Bison; there are some theories that American Bison are descendants of the same animal the Yak came from. Wild Yak are a conservation spices in the wild but are thriving in the domesticated world. There are twelve official subtypes of domesticated Yaks but as they interbreed with wild Yaks there is no definable difference.

Yaks are found in the Tibetan Plateau an area four times the size of Texas near some of highest mountains of the world it is considered a “low-oxygen zone” more than 13,000 feet about sea level. They begin to suffer heat exhaustion above 59° F as they lack sweat glands. Huge animals
they grow up to 11 feet with horns up to 40 inches for males. They are an all-purpose breed for fiber meat and milk, no part goes to waste. The meat is sweeter than beef with a lower fat content while the milk has twice the fat of cows, producing a butte with a texture akin to cheese. Ever seen the movie Butter? Butter sculpting originated with Tibetan Buddhist New Year traditions using Yak butter. The milk is also fermented for liquor. If you’re interested in sports, you can play Sarlagan polo, Sarlagan is the Mongolian name for Yak.

The Fiber

Not surprisingly Yaks produce more fiber when they are in their normal cold environments. Their fiber is divided into three types and then used. The down is used for wool, the midrange is often mixed with down to make a sturdy waterproof fiber, while the guard hairs for ropes and rugs. Midrange fibers are most often used for most yarn is a blend of down and super fine hair that is soft waterproof and warm.

Record breakers:

  • All Yaks produce fiber; however, the Chinese Jiulong subtype has been cultivated to produced 3-5 times more fiber than other breeds.
  • The largest Yak fleece said to be 55lbs 880 oz. of mixed fibers
  • Bhutanese Yaks have the longest hair with the outercoat at 7.75- 15.75 inches

Irregular crimpy down under coat which has elasticity and varying amounts of luster. Yaks luster can vanishes unless the fibers are spun as parallel as possible. The down reacts in different ways some acts like short alpaca spinning up sleek compact and dense while other Yaks provide are fluffier yarns more like Musk Ox’s qiviut camel down or cashmere. No one is really sure what causes the fiber differences in the down it could be the breed, geography or feed.

  • The outercoat is shiny and coarse, 4.5-8.5 inches long with some hairs exceeding 52 microns count some hairs going up to 140 microns.
  • The midcoat is defined with the range of 2.25- 4.74 inches hair with some wave and crimp it has a 25-52 microns count.
  • The down is 1.25-2.25 inches long with an irregularly crimpy texture with a micron count less than 25 down to 13 microns.

Hair doesn’t felt well, however the down felts readily, it can felt in plastic bags if left too long in a compressed bag.

yak down
Light Brown Yak down clouds

Down yields for adults can be as low as 7oz or as high as 2 lbs though the total fleece for all fiber types is around 2.75 lbs – 3.875 lbs.

North American breeds down when dehaired are as slim as 14-16 microns

Yaks don’t’ really have distinct locks, when they shed their fibers the three defined coats come off together mixed.

Yaks come in different colors with white and a beige or golden color being the rarest colors. Dark brown is the most common color but it is not uncommon to find reddish brown on mixes.

Spinning tips

If you’re spinning fine, you need to spin with enough twist to hold the yarn without adding a wiry or stiff feeling. The yarn will bloom, so spin fine! With some yak you’ll need to spin more than you’ll expect as it can be very spongy feeling, but if you don’t the fibers won’t hold as well. Down can be spun from a loose mass or very finely carded, with fine cards and a light touch or you’ll get neps!

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