Gateway to dairy production and products

Other animals


The yak is a bovid species that provides livelihoods for people in high mountain conditions of extreme harshness and deprivation. Yaks live predominantly on the “roof of the world”, as the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is often called, and provide milk, meat, hair and down fibre, hides, draught power and dung (principally used as fuel). The yak has physical and physiological characteristics that allow it to thrive at high altitudes (low oxygen) and in extreme cold (at temperatures as low as -40 °C) and to survive feed shortages in the winter.

The milk yield of the yak cow is often no more than the amount suckled by the calf and is not comparable to the milk yield of dairy cattle. However, although milk offtake for human consumption may be at the expense of the calf, yak milk is important for households. In economic terms, milk is often the most important yak product. Yak milk is generally produced by small-scale farmers in traditional systems where management is highly influenced by climate and seasons. Lactation is seasonal and yak cows produce between 150 and 500 litres; yields vary by breed and location. Lactation can generally continue into a second year without another calving. During the winter, yak cows do not go dry and continue to produce a small amount of milk, with milk yields as low as 2 to 4 litres/month. During the second year of lactation, milk yields are between half and two-thirds of those in the first year. Currently, there are no specialized dairy yak breeds.


In some developing countries, milk from horses (Equus caballus) and donkeys (Equus asinus) is a staple food for subsistence farmers. Generally, horses are more commonly used for dairy purposes in cool areas and donkeys in dry semi-arid regions. Milking equines is time-consuming and has to be repeated five or six times a day. In addition, an equine will not release milk unless it is stimulated by the presence of its foal. Mare’s milk is commonly consumed in the steppe areas of Central Asia, where a traditional lactic-alcoholic beverage called koumiss is produced through fermentation. Horse milk is also an important source of animal protein for pastoralists in Mongolia. The consumption of donkey milk has become very marginal. In some African communities, donkey milk is consumed for medical purposes.

Did you know?

  • Yaks are the major source of milk and milk products in Mongolia.