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Draught performance

The yak is widely used for draught purposes at the high altitudes where it makes its home - and not only as the pack animal for much publicized Himalayan mountaineering expeditions, known world-wide. The yak has strong limbs, small, solid hooves with hard edges and a narrow hoof fork. These attributes help the yak to walk in dangerous places and over marshland and to climb over steep mountains. It can open up a path with its head and its hooves for people to follow, and it can swim across rapids. In difficult terrain it is said to be safer to ride on a yak than on a horse, as the yak will not readily panic, for example in swampy ground. Since ancient times, the yak has been known in the mountainous regions of China and surroundings as the "boat of the plateau".

Most of the yak used for draught are steers. Male F1 hybrids (yak-cattle) are also chosen (as they are sterile and cannot be used for breeding). The draught animals are used mainly for riding and as pack animals. Yak races are one of the games at folk festivals much loved by Tibetan people. In semi-agricultural areas yak are also used for ploughing and other cultivation.

Joshi (1982) also refers to the use of yak and hybrids for threshing grain in parts of Tibet by driving muzzled animals backward and forward over sheaves spread out on a hard floor.

Yak have great endurance; they will, for example, carry loads over long distances for two or three days without water or feed. In other circumstances, the yak may be required to carry loads during the day, with the opportunity to graze only at night, for as long as a month at a stretch.

Direct observations (Liu Qigui, in: Research Co-operative Group, 1980 - 1987) have shown the yak to walk 20 - 30 km per day carrying loads weighing 60 - 80 kg. In Sichuan, observations on Maiwa yak recorded 75 kg loads (18 percent of the body weight of the animal) carried over 30 km in 6.2 hours (4.84 km per hour).

Respiration rate, pulse rate and body temperature were found to have returned to the pre-work level within about 50 minutes of stopping work (Table 6.35).

Records from the grasslands of Qinghai province at an altitude of 4 100 m show pack weights up to a maximum of 300 kg (on top of a saddle weight of 11.5 kg), which is equal to 82 percent of the body weight of the animal (Lei Huanzhang et al., 1985). Maiwa yak steers in medium condition weighing 480 kg have been recorded to carry as much as 390 kg for short periods.

Table 6.35 Carrying capacity of yak steer and F1 hybrid steer (mean ± SD) [Source: adapted from Zhang Rongchang, 1989]



Age (years)

Live weight (kg)

Load (kg)

Load/ live weight (%)

Distance (km)

Time (hr)

Recovery time (min)

Yak steer


6 - 11

408.1 ± 34.2


18.4 ± 3.5



50.0 ± 4.6

F1 steer


10 - 14

459.6 ± 40.2


16.3 ± 3.2



53.3 ± 3.7

Yak can be ridden by the herders on the high plateau. A study by Lei Huanzhang et al., (1985) showed three Plateau-type yak were ridden on fairly even grassland at an elevation of 4 400 m for 500 m in 2.13 minutes. Their respiration, pulse and body temperature recovered in just over 25 minutes.

A small study by Zhang Rongzhang (1989) with two mature yak steers and two F1 steers provided an indication of the order of magnitude of maximum pulling power attained during ploughing. For the yak steers it was around 390 kg (96 percent of their live weight) and for the two hybrid animals it was higher at 550 kg (120 percent of their live weight).

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