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Almost everything from the yak is used to sustain the life of the herdsmen and their families and is used either directly or sold to provide an income.

Milk in its raw state is used principally as a component of "milk tea", which is drunk liberally. Butter, made in traditional fashion, is the main product from the milk in most places and has many uses apart from its use as food. Skimmed milk is used in a variety of ways, including a form of cottage cheese ("milk residue"). A Swiss-type manufactured cheese is made especially in Nepal.

Meat is obtained mostly from animals slaughtered before the onset of winter when they are in good condition, but animals that die accidentally are also used. Meat is eaten fresh around the time of slaughter, but over a more prolonged period after being naturally frozen. Meat is also preserved by drying. Dried meat keeps longer than frozen. Sausage is made both from meat and from blood or from a mixture of the two. Some parts of the viscera are eaten; others are used as casings for sausage or as storage containers for other products. Much of the viscera is left unused on the pastures where this material can become a pollutant. Hooves, after canning, have become a popular and nutritious food in pastoral areas and other places. Blood, apart from use in sausage, is also used to make into a meal as a protein feed for animals. Bone is usually made into handicrafts but is also widely sold for the manufacture of bone meal and glue.

The hides are processed simply and dried before tanning locally or in factories. The leather has many different uses. Pelts of calves that have died are also processed and made into coats for children. The coarse hair and the fine down find many uses from making ropes to garments to tents. The hair from the yak's tail is used ceremonially and as a fly-whisk. Yak heads and tails are also made into ornaments and given as gifts. Yak faeces is used principally as fuel, after drying or, in some localities, used by the herdsmen in building walls, for example.


The herdsmen and their families obtain nearly all their needs from the yak. The products from yak during their lifetime are milk, hair and down, draught power, and dung for fuel, and after slaughter there is the meat and various products from the organs and non-consumable parts of the body and the hide. The majority of these products are used by the herdsmen and their families, but some of them are sold. Income can be derived from most of the products and also from the sale of pack animals and animals for breeding. Where yak herds are in the proximity of hill towns and villages, there is a ready market for the products, which then provide cash value to yak production. (Some of the economic and marketing considerations are discussed in Chapter 12).

At present, most of what is sold from the yak are primary products, or close to primary, and so the economy, based on the yak, benefits little from the added value that accrues from processing, or from the manufacture of more sophisticated products. Butter and various forms of soft cheese, made by the herdsmen, are sold or used in barter for other necessities - and sometimes, as in parts of India (Chapter 11, part 3), used as a means of paying rent for grazing land. Factories built in Nepal for the manufacture of a Swiss-style hard cheese and in China for the manufacture of yak leather goods and textiles are the beginnings of developments designed to provide new markets for the pastoral people. These developments arise from national concerns to raise the living standards of the people in these remote mountain areas and to improve the economy of these regions.

The rest of this chapter considers the products and describes briefly how they are traditionally and, for the most part, currently used. In general, what follows applies to yak-producing parts of China. It is likely, however, that the traditional methods of making and using yak products are essentially similar among yak herders in most areas.

Milk and milk products

Though the milk yield of individual yak females is low, there are many of them and so the total quantity of milk produced is substantial. Milk is used primarily in the areas of the country where yak are most widely distributed and in the regions of the mountain pastures. In areas where yak have only relatively recently been introduced, on the periphery of the main territory, there is no tradition of using milk from the yak or from the hybrid offspring of yak males with the females of local cattle. These "local" hybrids give relatively little milk and are used mainly for draught purposes (as distinct from the hybrids of "improved" dairy breeds of cattle and yak cows). In recent years, the price of yak milk has become high in China and, as a result, is an important part of the herders' income.

Raw milk

Whole milk is usually drunk only by people who are ill or weak, but it is also given to children and old people. Some of this milk is drunk raw, being considered more nutritious that way, but mostly the milk is boiled first, as encouraged for health and hygiene.

Yak milk yield, as evident from the results given in Chapter 6, has a high content of solids around 18 percent, including about 7 percent of fat. The milk has a fragrant, sweetish smell and whole milk also tastes somewhat sweet, even without adding sugar - so when drunk by herdsmen sugar is never added.

Raw milk is used mainly for the beverage called "milk tea" - a mixture of tea and milk - drunk at all times of the year. This is a staple part of the diet of the herders and their families. In the warm season, when there is plenty of milk available, or when given to guests, the brew will contain 20 percent milk, or even more, and the colour of the drink is yellow. Herdsmen and their families more usually drink a light tea with only 5 percent milk added and the colour is then milky white with a tinge of yellow. The milk tea is brewed from tea leaves (cut from a tea brick), which is added to water and boiled for a few minutes; raw milk is added in the proportion required and boiling continues for a further few minutes. Some people may add a little salt. Sugar is never added, but the milk itself has a sweetish taste already. Tibetan people may add some zanba to the brew, making it both a food and a drink for themselves and their guests. zanba (also tsampa) is the staple food of Tibet. It consists of roasted oat or barley flour, or a mixture of the two, made into a paste with yak butter and is usually rolled into balls for eating.

Normally, whole milk is used in the tea, but skimmed milk is also used in order to increase the amount of butter that can be produced from the available milk supply.

Milk boiled with mushrooms is regarded as a delicacy by herdsmen. Salt is usually added to the milk-mushrooms stew - and the boiling is thought to give protection from poisoning in case the wrong mushrooms have been used.

In pastoral areas, raw milk is customarily used to rear young yak calves and lambs or kids that have lost their mothers or that cannot suckle enough milk from weakened mothers. Pets, such as cats and dogs, are sometimes allowed yak milk in addition to meat.

Raw milk is also sold to milk-powder plants that have been built in recent years to produce milk powder as well as butter and other milk products. Some milk is sold for direct consumption in towns and villages, or in the upland areas it may be bartered for food grain.


Butter is the principal product from yak milk and it represents one of the staple foods of the local people. It is also the principal milk product traded by herdsmen. The raw butter contains 12 - 15 percent water, 1 percent protein and the rest fat. (Old butter contains about 3 percent water.) Butter production is regarded as the yardstick of the quality of yak milk, and herdsmen pay great attention to it.

There are two main ways in which the herdsmen make yak butter in China. The traditional and still most prevalent method is to churn the butter in a wooden bucket or it can be squeezed while in a bag made of hide. Milk separators are in use in some areas and reduce the amount of work needed to make the butter. Cream separated in this way prior to churning produces the best butter with a lower water content and a longer storage life than by older methods.


Making butter by churning involves allowing the milk to stand for a day to ferment. The milk is then heated to about 20°C. The warm milk is poured into a churn varying in size of up to 80 cm high and 60 cm in diameter. A stick for stirring is held in the centre of the churn by the lid. Figure 10.1 shows a medium-sized churn in use. The herdsmen (more often the womenfolk) rotate the stick until the fat solidifies and it is difficult to churn further. The churning takes between one and four hours depending on the size of the churn used and the quantity of milk. The herdsmen then remove, by hand, the lumps of milk fat floating on the surface and wash it in water. Next, water is squeezed out and the butter is formed into cylindrical or cube-shaped blocks by using a plank of wood. Lastly, the butter is wrapped for storage in a bag of calf hide, or yak rumen (or, in some places, wrapped in broad, hard leaves) and may be placed in a wooden container. Each bag weighs approximately 50 kg. The butter will keep usable in this way for one or two years without going mouldy.

Figure 10.1 Butter making in a churn


To make butter in a hide bag, the milk is first heated, as before, and poured into the bag made of calf or goat hide. The herdsman blows into the bag to expand it and closes the opening. The bag is shaken until the fat solidifies into globules, then the contents of the bag are poured into another container. The rest of the procedure is similar to that already described.


Before using a milk separator, the milk is first heated to 30° - 35°C and then filtered. The separator operates by turning a handle at a standard speed until the fat has separated from the other components. The fat is called raw butter and is put in a separate container. Some herdsmen add a little sour milk to the raw milk as a starter in order to increase the amount of butter made.

End products

The raw butter can be made into fresh butter, sour butter and pure butter depending on the different processes. Fresh butter is made by washing raw butter in water and squeezing out the water, as before, and salt can be added to make it more tasty. Sour butter is made by adding some sour milk to raw butter and fermenting for half day, following the same process as for fresh butter. Pure butter is made by heating the raw butter to remove protein and water. Edible pigment and additives can be used to make butter more colourful and to make it keep longer. Some additives, with the recommended amounts (as a percentage) in butter, are shown in Table 10.1

Table 10.1 Recommended content of additives in butter [Source: Editing Committee of Science of China Yak, 1989]


Vitamin C (%)

Vitamin E (%)

Lecithin (%)

Citric acid (%)

NDGA (%)

Dehydrogenation acetic (%)

Vitamin K3 (%)







0.02 - 0.05

0.01 - 0.001


Butter is used for a number of foods, including zanba, pancakes and dishes fried in it. It is also added to milk tea and consumed salted or unsalted according to the area. When milk is not available, butter is used in tea in some areas in place of raw milk. Some people prefer butter, particularly, it is said, herdsmen in Northwest Sichuan and in the Tibetan pastoral areas.

Another use is to mix melted butter with roasted flour, in equal quantities. The mixture is then kneaded and stored until used. When required, this dough is melted into salted or sugared water and eaten that way, or it is mixed with seeds, such as peanut, sesame, walnut, soybean or Chinese dates. These ingredients add flavour and make the food a favourite among Tibetan people for welcoming their guests.

Butter is used also for many purposes other than food, including its use for tanning and for polishing fur coats. It is used as a fuel in domestic lamps and by lamas in sacred lamps. Butter is used by women on their skin and hair, and it is also used as a lubricant to assist in hand milking. Butter is a component of some Tibetan medicine. When mixed with different colouring materials, butter is also used to make moulded sculptures. Larrick and Burck (1986) describe some of these sculptures as huge - sometimes two or three storeys high - and fashioned by monks for religious ceremonies and New Year celebrations.

"Hard" cheeses

Nepal was one of the first countries in Asia to establish a cheese industry and was the only country in the world producing yak cheese until the 1980s. More than four decades have passed since the founding of Nepal's yak cheese industry (Joshi et al, 1999). Hard Swiss-style Gruyére cheese is now produced from the milk of nak (female yak) and chauri (female hybrid) (Thapa, 1996). Bhutan (Tshering et al., 1996), Mongolia (Davva, 1996), India (Pal and Madan, 1996) and Pakistan (Khan, 1996) are also now trying to produce yak cheese.

Production methods

Thapa (1996) described cheese production in the following way: "Before making cheese, raw milk (7 - 8 percent fat and 9.5 - 10 percent SNF) is standardized to a 3.5 percent fat content through cream separation. The excess cream is churned into butter. The milk for the cheese is then pasteurized at 65°C for five minutes by immersing the milk in a can in a bath of boiling water. The milk is then cooled to 30°C by immersing the can in a cooling water trough. This cheese milk is transferred to a 200 - 300 litre copper kettle and put on a traditional fire. Then a 0.5 percent culture (Str. Thermophilus and Lactobacillus helveticus 1:1) is added. After five minutes, a rennet solution (2.5 g dissolved in 500 ml boiled and cooled water per 100 litres of milk) is added and stirred for one minute before it is allowed to set at 33°C. The kettle is covered.

"The top curd is turned after 30 minutes and allowed to set for another five minutes. The curd is then cut and stirred for 25 minutes at 32°C. It is allowed to settle for five minutes before the high temperature scalding treatment is begun. The curd is heated to 53°C for 30 minutes over an open flame, at which time the curd is separated out with a cheesecloth once the producer thinks the curd is sufficiently firm. The curd is then placed in moulds and pressed with stone slabs. The block is turned at 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 1.5 hours, 2 hours, 5 hours and after overnight pressing.

"Cheese blocks are brined (22 percent) for 48 hours. They are then stored for curing at 10° - 15°C under ambient temperatures. The cheese is given a daily salt washing for three weeks; after five months it develops a good flavour. The green, or raw, cheese yield is 11 percent. Six to eight percent of the cheese weight is lost after five months of curing.

"The chemical composition of three-month-old yak cheese is around 68.2 percent of total solid (TS), 49.4 percent of butterfat on a dry matter basis (BFDMB) and 1.37 percent of salt and the pH is 5.75. By comparison, three-year-old yak cheese contains 76.9 percent of TS, 46.8 percent of BFDMB and 3.12 percent of salt (Schulthess, 1986)."

In Nepal, cheese production is being viewed as a commercial enterprise (Joshi et al., 1999). The yak cheese industry is of significant importance for rural income and employment. Though the industry is not large, it represents a positive and successful example of agro-industry - although, according to the assessment of the industry in Nepal by Joshi et al. (1999), not all individual factories are profitable, and there are problems, including some with quality control and others with environmental effects (for example, deforestation as a result of providing wood for fuelling factories), which need to be considered. More than 4 000 people are said to earn their living, directly or indirectly, from yak cheese production in Nepal. Yak cheese is ideal for the promotion of an agro-industry based on livestock products. Due to its high value and market demand, yak cheese can be exported to other countries (Colavito, 1994). According to Sherchand and Karki (1996), income from the production of yak cheese was estimated to be the equivalent of nearly US$300 000 in 1994 (at the then exchange rate of approximately US$1 = 50 Nepal rupees), excluding wholesale and retail profits. If yak cheese had not been produced in these areas, the milk would have been used to produce churpi (dried cheese) and ghee, thereby incurring, according to the same authors, a financial loss equivalent to around US$100 000. Such amounts may seem small when compared to the turnover in some other industries, especially in more developed regions, but the extra income from a yak cheese industry can be significant for the relatively small and remote rural communities of yak producers in these Highland regions.

Milk residue (other types of cheese)

In China, some "milk residue" (as it is called by the herdsmen) is normally made from skimmed milk but occasionally from whole milk. Whichever milk is used, it is heated to 50° - 60°C and sour milk is added to make the liquid curd. The mixture is poured into a wicker basket or gauze bag to allow the whey to run off. The curds are fresh milk residues. Then they are spread on a cloth to be dried. Figure 10.2 shows milk curds drying outside a tent in Sichuan province and Figure 10.3 shows cheese at a more formed stage laid on the roof of a tent in Mongolia.

Figure 10.2 Milk curds drying outside a tent

Figure 10.3 Yak cheese drying on the roof of a tent

Half-dried residue contains about 20 - 30 percent, sometimes 40 percent of water. Dried residue contains little water. The dried milk residue from skimmed milk is white and hard, that from whole milk is yellow and brittle. The protein content is around 55 percent and the lactose 21 percent. Fresh milk residue is taken as a snack with milk tea and also used in other ways, such as fried or eaten with added salt and sugar. Half-dried residue is usually kept as a ration by herdsmen who are out with their animals at pasture and is also taken as a snack with milk tea. Dried residue is often mixed with butter to make zanba.

In Bhutan, skimmed milk is poured into a large pan where it is slowly heated and stirred continuously until cheese is formed. The cheese is either used fresh or processed further into hard cheese for marketing. Two types of dried cheese, chuto and hapiruto, are made, depending on the market for which they are intended. Chuto is made by slicing a circular cheese into small pieces and hanging the pieces in strings of 20.

After boiling them in milk, the strings are hung on a pole in the tent and allowed to dry until they become hard. Hapiruto is made in larger pieces and dried on 20-piece strings until it is rock hard.

In India, milk products from yak are primarily churpi (hard, dried cheese) and butter. Skimmed milk is processed into churpi, which is kept in un-tanned bags. These products have no market value outside herding communities.

Milk cake

This is a product mainly of whole milk, though sometimes skimmed milk is used. It is similar in production to "milk residue" but is harder and looks like "cake". It is usually eaten with butter and sugar and is then considered more delicious by the herdsmen; and it is one of the dishes offered to guests.


After butter, milk residue and cheese have been made, the whey is rarely used in the pastoral regions. But in the agricultural-pastoral areas it can be used to feed pigs. The whey is also used in making leather by a traditional process.

Sour milk

Sour milk is a favourite among herdsmen and their families all year round, but especially in the warm season when milk is being produced in substantial amounts. Freshly boiled milk is poured into a pail and when the temperature has fallen to 50°C, a little sour milk is added and mixed until the temperature has dropped to 40°C. The pail is then covered and wrapped in wool to keep it warm. Five or six hours later in the warm season, and longer in winter, the milk will have soured. This product can be made from either whole or skimmed milk - the former having more colour and taste. The sour milk is drunk alone or sometimes mixed with zanba. A technology to produce yak sour milk is now being developed for wider application, as there is a demand for the product (Huang Y. K. et al., 1999).

Milk skin

Milk skin (as it is called by the herdsmen) is a milk product in yak-raising areas of China, made especially in Muslim communities. Raw milk is poured into a pail and heated to near boiling (around 85°C); then, on slower heat, the milk is stirred with a ladle. When dense foam appears, the pail is removed from the heat and allowed to cool. After 12 hours, a thick layer of milk skin (around 1cm) forms on the surface of the milk. The skin is then removed and dried for two to three days. Sometimes water in which rice or millet has been boiled is added to the raw milk for dilution (making up approximately a quarter to a third of the total quantity) to produce a low-fat milk skin. Milk skin made from either whole or skimmed milk is usually served as a snack with milk tea but can also be cooked in dishes or eaten as a "sandwich" (as a filling between two slices of home-made bread or in a bun).


Larrick and Burck (1986) refer to a product the consistency of toffee (korani, in Sherpa) made by boiling milk very slowly to dehydrate it.

Milk wine

In Mongolia, milk is also fermented into an alcoholic drink as noted by Magash in Chapter 11, part 2.

Meat and meat products

Yak are an important source of meat for the herdsmen and their families, but the meat is also sold. Even in areas and countries where religious taboos inhibit the slaughter of the animals, the meat is eaten, but professional butchers, rather than the owners of the animals, do the slaughtering. In Nepal, for example, as Joshi (1982) explained, for the situation in Nepal, ordinary cattle are protected by law, but the legal code is unclear in relation to yak.

Larrick and Burck (1986) made a similar point when writing about specific places in Tibet. Animals that die accidentally are quite commonly eaten, even where killing is not the norm.

Many yak are slaughtered every year and this is normally done when the animals are in their best condition, before the onset of winter. Some of the meat is consumed fresh and much else is frozen in nature's own "deep freeze" and stored that way. Meat is also dried and keeps longer than when frozen.

The herders and their families eat meat mostly for the four to five months following slaughter. Yak are not slaughtered deliberately in spring or early summer because they are in poor condition and very lean at that time - though a few yak may die or be killed as casualties. Meat is therefore rarely eaten by herdsmen from April to July, although dried yak meat is still available.

Over recent years, the Chinese Government has built a number of small meatpacking and storage plants in the cold pastoral regions. This has allowed more slaughtering of yak at the best time and has also extended the storage season for frozen yak meat and meat products, including some retail cuts of meat. Most of this is supplied to cities.

Commercial slaughterhouses taking in yak also exist in Mongolia and some other countries, including North America where it serves the relatively new and still small yak-meat industry.

Fresh yak meat

The quality of yak "beef" is at its best in the autumn because of the good condition of the animals at that time. The method of butchering and eating by the herdsmen is quite simple. The carcass is cut into large cubes then boiled in fresh water for a few minutes. The meat is eaten with salt and with the help of a Tibetan knife. Milk tea is taken at the same time. When guests are present, the meal is more elaborate: Boiled rib-meat from the yak as well as from sheep is served and will be put on a plate and the meat eaten with the hand. There may be a steamed bun stuffed with chopped yak meat to which salt, condiments and fat have been added. The casing of the bun is thin, as the flour mixture has not been fermented. Thawed, frozen yak meat has the same flavour as fresh.

Air-dried meat

Prior to winter, the herdsmen living in the uplands cut yak meat into long narrow strips (approximately 4 - 5 cm wide and 30 cm long) and dry these suspended from woven-hair ropes. Drying takes only a few days. The air-dried meat will keep for one or two years either hung in a tent or stored in hide bags - this is a longer storage period than for the naturally frozen meat.

The air-dried meat is very dry indeed and has a distinctive flavour. Some of this dried meat is eaten as it is, only cutting or tearing the strips into smaller pieces; and milk-tea is drunk as an accompaniment. When cooking the dried meat, there are two main methods. One is to roast it by burying the meat in the stove, fuelled by yak dung, until the meat smells fragrant. It is then taken out, cleaned and cut into pieces. The other method is to soak the dried meat for several hours and then boil it in water. Salt and condiments are not usually added.

Smoked meat

There is also smoked "bacon-beef" which is similar to air-dried beef, but the fresh meat strips are first salted in a container for one or two days and then hung over the stove in the herdsman's tent to smoke. This again can be eaten either raw or cooked. The smoked meat is a product of the warm and rainy season and is made from the meat cut by the herdsmen from yak that have died of old age or from disease or have been killed by wolves.

Corned beef

Corned beef is salted "bacon-beef", which is very popular in the yak raising areas of Yunnan province, China. Frozen meat strips are rubbed for one or two minutes. When the meat becomes soft, salt and condiments are added. The meat is rubbed until it becomes wet and it is then transferred to a jar, which is sealed with paper or cloth. After 18 - 21 days, the salted meat is taken from the jar and dried in the air for about seven days. The best corned beef is reddish in colour, savoury and tasty, and after boiling, steaming or frying, it can be eaten with zanba and accompanied by milk tea.

Beef jerky

In Qinghai and Sichuan provinces of China, beef jerky is mainly produced in the meat-processing plants. There are two kinds of beef jerky - spiced and curry. The fresh meat is boiled in water for one to four hours, depending on its tenderness. When cooled, it is cut into thick slices 1.5 cm long, 1 cm wide and 0.5 cm, which are put into a pot and sautéed for three hours to remove some water from the tissue. Spices (Table 10.2) are placed between the meat slices, which are then covered with water and left to simmer for about three hours. The slices are taken out and hung to drip-dry for four hours, then dried at 65oC for six to eight hours. This product is known as "spiced jerky". "Curry jerky" is made by mixing the spiced jerky with curry powder. These products can be eaten directly or after additional cooking, frying or boiling.

Beef jelly

Beef jelly is a relatively new product in pastoral areas and welcomed by yak herders, particularly children and old people. It is made from the liquid that remains after boiling the meat to produce jerky. The liquid is mixed with a yeast infusion and heated to 35° - 40°C in a pot. The fat is separated from the mixture by a milk separator to leave about 1 percent fat and 3 - 4 percent total solids. The mixture is then reduced by boiling to a jelly containing about 25 - 30 percent of total solids. One percent salt, 0.05 percent monosodium glutamate, 0.025 percent beef essence and 0.001 percent preservative are added. After further mixing, the jelly is sealed in a bottle. If the colloid of Chinese caterpillar fungus is added to the jelly, it becomes more nutritious and valuable.

Table 10.2 Spices and other additions to the contents in 50 kg of "spiced jerky" [Source: Editing Committee of Science of China Yak, 1989]


Contents (kg)


Contents (kg)



Benzoic acid




Chilly powder


Monosodium glutamate


Soy sauce cake


Five spices (prickly ash, star aniseed, cinnamon, clove and fennel)


Yellow rice or millet wine


Sichuan pepper powder


White wine



There are two main types of sausage filling - blood and meat. The casing for the sausages comes from the cleaned large or small intestine of the yak. Sausage, and in particular the blood sausage, is made at the time the yak are slaughtered.

Blood sausage

The blood used for sausage is from the thoracic cavity of the yak. To maximize the amount of blood in the thoracic cavity, herdsmen do not use what would be regarded as the normal method of slaughter but resort to a way of asphyxiating the yak.

When dead, the yak is skinned and the heart and lungs are removed; the large quantity of blood in the thoracic cavity is then drained off and used for making the sausage.

zanba and salt are added to the blood to make a paste before filling the clean, small intestine. This is then tied into segments (20 - 30 cm long) with sinew from yak or with hemp rope. In some areas, a little yak meat is added to the sausage mixture, and this is considered more delicious. The blood sausage is boiled in water and eaten either at the time it is made or after it has hung in a house or tent. The sausage may also be roasted on top of the stove fuelled by yak dung.

Larrick and Burck (1986) referred to an area in Tibet where occasionally blood is taken from the live yak, ostensibly for the sake of its health. Joshi (1982) referred to a similar practice in Nepal. About a litre of blood is taken from the jugular vein and when solidified, is eaten fried, boiled or mixed with zanba and baked into a form of bread (see also Chapter 9 under traditional veterinary practices).

Meat sausage

Meat sausage is usually encased in the large intestine. It is composed of 50 percent yak meat, 25 percent visceral fat and 25 percent blood. The meat and fat are chopped into pieces and salt, condiment and the blood added before the mixture is put into its casing. The filled large intestine is tied into segments as for blood sausage - though the segments are usually larger (about 50 cm long).

In Tibet, the herdsmen normally consume the sausage fresh. It is boiled in water for about two hours, and the casing is pierced with a needle to prevent it bursting. Meat sausage can be stored for about one month. In more recent years, herdsmen living on the cold grasslands have taken to filling the intestine of pigs with a mixture of diced yak meat, diced pork fat, salt and condiment. The sausage is tied into short segments (15 cm long), small holes are pierced into the casing, and then it is hung up in the house to be dried prior to eating.

Viscera and offal

There are large quantities of viscera and offal from the animals that are slaughtered, but they are not all used. Much is lost and is left on the pastures, which is a waste of a resource and can become a pollutant.

There is potential for better utilization - the drawback arises from the likely additional costs involved in such utilization relative to the rather low value of the product.


Herdsmen divide viscera into edible and inedible parts. The parts regarded as edible are heart, stomach including rumen, small and large intestine, liver and kidney. The other parts of the viscera are classed as inedible by the herdsmen and, interestingly, include the lungs and the pancreas, which are eaten in some of the other parts of the world.

When yak have been slaughtered in meat processing plants, more of the viscera are eaten. Viscera from the yak are also used for making medicine that is sold locally and in the cities. The exceptions are the spleen and the pancreas, which, if kept at all, are used only as dog food.


By tradition, all inedible parts (apart from hair and hide) are regarded as offal and much of it is discarded on the grasslands. Some of it is cooked as dog food. The discards include, in addition to parts of the viscera, the horns and hoof (but see the following section), the contents of the alimentary tract and blood, other than that in the thoracic cavity (used in sausage making). (The bones might also be discarded in this way if there is no market for them.). If not eaten by birds of prey, the discarded offal can become a source of pollution when it decomposes.

As previously referred to, the thick horn of the yak bull is used as a feeding bottle for rearing calves. The empty gallbladder can be used as a casing for sausage or as a container for butter or milk. The bladder and the male reproductive organs find uses in Chinese medicine. In particular, the penis of the male yak is regarded as a strong aphrodisiac.


Yak hooves are rich in protein, especially the colloid protein. Cartilage in hooves is higher than other tissues of yak. At present, canned yak hooves are very popular, especially in pastoral areas (Xue B. et al., 2000).

Blood (other uses)

In addition to making sausage and medicine, blood is also made into meal as protein feeds for animals, especially poultry (He X. Q. et al., 1988) due to its high protein content (around 18.5 percent). There are several kinds of blood meal derived from different processing methods, including ordinary meal, fermented meal and enzyme meal. Among these, enzyme meal has the highest protein content, and ordinary meal is the most easily produced.

The process of making ordinary meal involves solidifying the blood, cutting the blood block into pieces, boiling, adding salt, drying and grinding into meal (Tao L. et al., 1993). A report by Huang X. S. (2000) describes that yak blood can be made into a fire-extinguishing agent for use in industry.


In local areas, yak bone is often made into exquisite handicrafts, such as combs, buttons and ornaments. Bone is also increasingly being sold for the manufacture of bone meal and glue. The bone marrow is used as a calcium supplement in medicine; bone meal, as animal feed, is rich in phosphorus and calcium and also as an ingredient of compound fertilizers. Yak bone is also used to extract bone fat. Bone paste is a new kind of food, which can be added into sausage, meat pie, meatball and dumpling (Huang X. S., 2000).

Hair and down fibre

Yak differ from other domestic cattle in that the hair is of economic use and importance. Use of the hair dates back to the time that yak were first domesticated. The hair from the yak is a valuable item and has become essential to the life of herder households. Generally, in traditional use of the hair, the down and the coarse fibres are left mixed together. Uses of mixed fibres depend on the fibre length, on the position of the body from which the hair is derived and on the down content.

The long hair that grows on the fore and rear ends of the body (the "skirt" hair - see yak in Figure 10.4) and on the legs are used to make rope for tying up the tent. The method of making the rope is as follows: The longer hairs are removed from the coat and hand rolled into a log of hair about 15 cm in diameter. A single spindle fixed into the ground is then used to spin the hair into yarn of a thickness and length depending on different requirements. To make the strands, one person turns the spindle using a hide rope while another holds the ball of hair. A rope will then be made from either three or four strands of yarn, the latter being the stronger. Rope made of yak hair is durable and withstands rain, wind and sun. Rope made from black and white yarn is admired for its appearance and is used to enhance the appearance of saddles and reins. In addition to ropes, the yarn spun from long hair is also used for weaving tents, bags, rugs and slings in Bhutan (Tshering et al., 1996); clothing, tents and bags in Mongolia (Davaa, 1996); and clothing, tents, bags, sacks and caps in China (Huang W. X., 1996; He S. Y. et al., 1997). Yak wool products are waterproof and durable and may be dyed if required.

In local use, down hair is most often processed mixed with coarse hair. What passes as down is shorn hair from which long fibres have been removed - this comes mostly from the "skirt" hair. Down hair from the neck, shoulder and rump of the animal is used less often and is allowed to be cast and left lying on the grazing land.

Figure 10.4 A yak at the Government Breeding Centre, Arunachal Pradesh, India showing the "skirt" hair (which can sometimes reach the ground) (Photo courtesy of D. Steane)

The way that the down mixture is used varies among the nationalities keeping the yak.

For example, Tibetan people use the hair mostly to make tents while Yi people use it to make cloaks and short jackets. The procedure is first to weave the yak hair and down mixture into a blanket and then use the blankets to make tents or clothes. The processing procedure depends on what is being made. Blankets of 50 cm width, for example, are woven from two-ply yarn made into a thread. The material for the blanket is loose, clean hair shorn from the belly of the yak, with the long and coarse fibres removed. A tent (Figure 10.5) may be made from two large hair blankets interspersed with several smaller ones. Each year it may be necessary to replace one or two of the smaller blankets. Blankets are also made into a rectangular bag with an opening in the middle.

In Jiulong county of Sichuan, the herdsmen like to wear cloaks and short jackets made of a yak down-hair mixture. It is waterproof and keeps the people warm in summer or winter. With the advent of better knitting and processing methods, the clothes have been made more ornately and turned into handicrafts. One way to make clothes is similar to that for making tents - from a blanket though one with a higher content of down in the material. Another procedure is to felt the yak down first. The felt of yak down and hair is also widely used in the pastoral areas to make pads for saddles, cushions, bedding and insoles for boots. The felt pad made from the down-hair mixture is damp proof and helps people to keep warm in what is often a damp tent.

More recent developments, especially since the middle of the twentieth century, have increased the use of the down from yak for quality textiles, following trials of the materials in China. The down is used in clothes and suiting, knitted garments and blankets in China, garments and blankets in Bhutan and famous Sharma carpets in Pakistan. The textiles made from down are considered to have better lustre and feel than those made of wool. Knitwear made from yak "cashmere" (the down) fetch high prices in international markets.

Hairs from the tail of the yak were historically used as a tribute. White tail hairs are considered the best for this - and nowadays are sold to tourists. The major uses of tail hair are for clothing and fake beards used in Chinese opera and for wigs. The yak tail is also used as decoration and more practically as a fly-whisk - well-known in India but valued as such even in ancient Rome to which it was taken by merchants from the East (Zeuner, 1963).

Figure 10.5 A typical large tent in Tibet (Photo courtesy of Horst and Barbara Geihausen)

Hide and pelt

Yak hide is generally inferior to that from ordinary cattle. It is loose and uneven in texture and often has holes from gadfly (warble fly) in it. There are large quantities of yak hide and pelt in the pastoral areas, and they have great importance in the local economy.

The method of processing the hide is very simple. The herdsmen peel the skin off the yak after slaughter or other form of death and spread it on the grassland to dry. After drying, the skin is sold to a tannery or used by the herdsmen. Some fresh hides are also sold without being dried.

Rawhide that has not been tanned and with the hair still uncut is used mainly to pack raw butter. It is also used as a wrapping for the wooden box used by herdsmen to transport their belongings. For this purpose, the fresh hide is cut into long pieces, tied on the wooden box and allowed to dry. Sometimes the whole hide is used for this purpose. The hide makes the box easy to carry and less easy to break in the frequent moves made by the herdsmen. Because of the cold climate, the raw hide does not quickly go bad and can be used over and over again, even if the box inside gets broken. Rawhide can also be cut into ropes. These traditional uses of rawhide are becoming less frequent. More often now it is the leather, made from the hide, which is used. This has improved the utilization of yak hides.

Leather from yak is usually tanned by a traditional method. For this purpose, the herdsmen soak the hide, remove from it the connective tissue under the skin and then spread old, rancid butter on the skin (fresh butter is not useful in tanning). The skin is then rolled up to allow the butter to soak in. Sometimes the skin may be pounded with feet or hands to help the butter soak in completely. When the hide is fully soaked and soft it is trimmed with a knife. As for most procedures, a number of local variants exist in methods of tanning.

The leather is used to make bags for storing food, including milk residue, and to make felt boots and soles. It can also be cut into strips of differing width, depending on use, as an alternative to rope for carrying water or firewood and to tie up animals. These leather ropes can also be used with the saddle in pastoral areas and as a form of carriage for people in agricultural parts of the country.

The leather from yak has other uses too. The sliding ropes across rivers and streams in the mountains and valleys are often made from yak hide. Boats (coracles) used to carry goods on, for example, the Brahmaputra River (Yaluzangbu River in Chinese) or the Yalong River use yak hide - as illustrated in Figure 10.6. To construct a coracle herdsmen make bags from yak hide that are blown up and a link of ten or more such bags is fixed to a wooden plank to make the boat. This will be 4 m long and 2 m wide.

Figure 10.6 a) A coracle of yak hide (Photos courtesy of Horst and Barbara Geilhausen)

Figure 10.6 b) A coracle in use (Photos courtesy of Horst and Barbara Geilhausen)

Most pelts are made from the hides of yak calves that have died. Herdsmen skin the dead calf, remove connective tissue, and soak the skin in milk whey. After the skins have soaked for a few days they are taken out and tanned with butter to make them soft. To complete the process, the hair is then combed. These yak pelts are used traditionally to make children's coats.

According to Siegfried Scheller (personal communication, 1994), yak is one of the species that has attracted particular attention from industrial manufacturers of leather in the immediate vicinity of yak herds. Such factories have been set up in parts of China, especially for processing yak hides and sheepskins. Quoting Scheller (1993), "The leather made from yak hides for shoes, leather goods and clothing is characterized by a unique handle, an interesting grain pattern and good wear and performance properties."

Head and tail

In most yak-raising areas, the head of the yak is thought to be a symbol of strength and safety, and the yak tail a symbol of wealth and luck. Therefore, yak heads and tails, with or without hair and hide on them, are made into ornaments by herdsmen or given to guests as gifts.


Yak faeces is used primarily as fuel by the herdsmen. But as described earlier, it is also used to make pens and winter enclosures for stock and is painted onto wood fencing in the cold season to fill cracks. In agricultural areas it is sometimes used as fertilizer.

When used as fuel, the faeces are first dried. Faeces for this purpose is collected daily at the campsite at the end of the day's grazing or brought in from the range in the warm season. A stick wrapped in yak hair is used to cut the faeces into thin (1 cm) slices that are exposed to the sun for a day or longer on each side until dry. When fully dry, the faeces slices are stacked in heaps up to 2 m high and "painted" with fresh faeces to keep out rain. A drainage channel is often dug at the bottom of the heap to take away run-off water. If the heap is to be used up before the rainy season, it may not be painted. Completely dry faeces are also stored in the tent, ready for use (see Figure 10.7).


One unusual product from yak, as also from other cattle, is naturally cultivated bezoar stones. They have a high cash value when sold and therefore help the herdsmen to add value to their yak production. The bezoar stones are produced in parts of Sichuan, Xingjiang and other provinces by inoculating the gallbladder of the yak with an oval, hollow, plastic ball (its size like a ping-pong ball), there are many holes on its shell to allow bezoar to aggregate from inside and around the outside of the ball. To achieve the insertion of the ball requires a small operation that is performed by the herdsmen.

Thereafter, the cultivated bezoar is normally harvested (by an operation again) two years after the inoculation of the gallbladder. However, quality of cultivated bezoar, with a cholebilirubin content of about 20 percent is not as good as naturally occurring bezoar stones (with cholebilirubin content of more than 35 percent) (Yang Zhilin, personal communication, 2002,). The bezoar is sold for use in Chinese medicine.

Figure 10.7 Aspects of drying, collection and storage of yak dung for fuel - a) Yak dung drying (Photo courtesy of Han Jianlin)

Figure 10.7 Aspects of drying, collection and storage of yak dung for fuel - b) Dried yak dung collected for storage (Photo courtesy of Han Jianlin)

Figure 10.7 Aspects of drying, collection and storage of yak dung for fuel - c) Dried yak dung with implements for handling in Mongolia (Photo courtesy of Horst and Barbara Geihausen)


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