Vermont's first and only yak business, Mad River Valley's Steadfast Farm, home of the Vermont Yak Company, received a visit from Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Roger Albee last week on November 14. Albee arrived with fellow agency representatives Ed Jackson and Steve Justis.
"The yak is a wonderful animal -- cold-hearty, efficient as a grazer, adaptable, and versatile and is well-suited to Vermont's climate and topography but is little known in Vermont," explained Steadfast Farm's Ted Laskaris. "So we invited the Department of Agriculture to our farm to learn a bit more about yaks, a bovine that is brand new to the Vermont working landscape."
Albee and his team were favorably impressed.
"The yaks seem like great animals," Albee noted. "And it is good to see what you are doing to bring the farm and the land back to life here."
Raising yaks on a diet of organic grass and supporting a Localvore philosophy of selling to consumers and restaurants within a 100-mile radius, the Vermont Yak Company has had a successful first summer and harvest season. The three-family, two-farm business bought an initial 24 animals from Cold Spring, Minnesota, in April, and then expanded the herd with the purchase of 10 more animals from Tregelly's farm in Massachusetts.
Six calves have been born, three animals sold as bottle-fed babies, and six animals have been "retired" for high protein and low fat meat, sold to neighbors and local restaurants, including American Flatbread, the Round Barn, the Green Cup, and Hen of the Wood.
"We feel very fortunate to have received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the taste and the quality of the meat," explained Susan Laskaris. "We feel it a privilege to provide local meat to our neighbors here in central Vermont and look forward to expanding our operations next spring once we weather the winter months."
Vermont Yak Company is also in the process of training two bottle-fed yaks born at the farm -- six-month-old Tashi and five-month-old Natasha -- to be friendlier with people.
"Our hope is to train these animals to serve as pack and plow animals," observed co-owner Kate Williams. "And daily contact with a wide range of people is vital to that training process."
The owners hope that both animals will serve as "yak ambassadors" of sorts, allowing neighbors and visitors to learn more about yaks over the next several years.
"Natasha lived like a yak queen this summer and fall," said co-owner Dave Hartshorn, who runs the adjacent organic farmstand on Route 100 where Natasha spent her days.
"Fresh grass and water all day long, with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits thrown into the mix, and a steady supply of visitors from both in and out of The Valley. She was a wonderful addition to the farmstand," he said.