High in the hills of Hawley, MA sits Tregellys Fiber Farm, where Andrea Phillips of Cap Hill Tibetan Yak Farm in Little Compton, RI purchased her main yak bull Target as a calf, almost six years ago. She’s checked every year since to see if a female has been born. This year she hit the jackpot with a three week old thigh-high female whose grandmother is a Jersey.
Indeed, the Jersey behaved like a grandmother, protectively standing by the calf as she waited to be picked up. Her “dzomo” — half yak, half cow mother — waited behind the fence. No bellowing nor bleating arose; yaks only grunt, and that came later.
“I’ve been eager to buy another yak from Jody. I’ve been so impressed with the bull,” said Phillips, who drove three hours to Hawley to bring her home.
Phillip’s first yaks arrived in dog crates six years ago. “I started off with two very young bottle-fed heifers shipped to me from Montana. They came in giant dog crates into Providence Airport. It was quite a scene.”
A friend tracked down Jody Cothey, who owns Tregellys with her husband Ed Cothey, and picked up the baby bull for her. “That’s how I ended up with the bull. It’s an absolutely stunning animal,” weighing approximately 1,400 pounds.
Phillips has seven yaks. Two months ago she sold four. Last year she sold five, two of which went to Heifer International’s educational facility in Rutland, MA to be on-site during seminars. Heifer sends animals world-wide and inside the U.S. to help end hunger and poverty.
Phillips is determined to get them into the public eye so people can learn about them, noting that very few people have them in the Northeast. The Cotheys helped pave the way before her, selling yaks to farms in New York, Maine and Rhode Island, and raising sheep from Navajo Churros to karakuls and goats.
“I think yaks are the most fascinating animals. I love to watch them run. They’re very agile and nimble. There’s nothing I don’t like about them. I find their movement very horse-like and magical,” said Phillips.
Initially, yaks were considered exotic animals in Rhode Island. “The state vet required a lot more fencing than is necessary, livestock panel fencing and line fencing all electrified.” Since then, some restrictions have been alleviated.
The yaks have engendered much curiosity. Nursery schools visit Phillips’ farm to see the yaks, and her grandchildren who just visited from Alaska were quite taken with them.
Do sales pay for their upkeep? “I’m probably breaking even, if I don’t consider the investment of the fencing. I don’t think I’m losing money. They’re very easy keepers, require hay and water, grazing and water in summer,” she said.
Moving the yaks from pasture to pasture in rotational grazing is easy. Grain is unnecessary, using sweet feed if they have just calved or for training. She finds the animals a tad cautious, yet eager to please, definitely wanting and needing to be worked and handled.
In Tibet, yaks are raised for their milk, meat, and transport, roaming in high altitudes without fencing, and brought down when food is scarce, says Thinley Dhargay, part-time yak “wrangler” at Tregellys since 2003, and stonemason, born in Tibet. “They were the weather channel. When the yaks come down close to houses, old people say, ‘pretty soon we get big snow.’” He added that yak milk made into cheese is a deep orange color in summer from eating flowers ‘close to the earth’, in winter, its color resembles a stone.
There are ready buyers. Of the 12 calves — including seven heifers — born at her farm, Phillips has kept only two steers, and anticipates four calves this summer. She’s thrilled to begin working with her long-awaited calf from Jody.