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  • At my high school every student is required to complete a "Graduation Challenge". A project that includes community hours, a hefty paper, a "tangible product", and, ultimately, a presentation for our teachers and members of the community. When confronted with the issue of what topic to choose for Grad Challenge, my classmates and I were stumped. I wanted to do something unique and interesting, something that would maintain my interest as well as the interests of those who would have to read my paper and sit through my presentation. I considered writing a novel, doing photography, horticulture, and oil painting. However, issues presented themselves with each of these. I couldn’t find a community consultant, I couldn’t think of how I’d do the hours. Nothing seemed quite unique enough. As my friends slowly found their niches and the deadline approached, I still didn’t have very much to go on.

    When I brought up the idea of focusing on yak farming, everyone initially thought that I was joking. After all, how could I, a person who has never really interacted with large animals or shown an interest in anything agriculture-related, want to do yak farming for my senior project? This was when I started to do some more research. It turned out that yak farming would incorporate more of what I was interested in than anything else I had previously thought of. Yak farming includes aspects of sustainability, Asian culture, local food practices, and it was something that no one had ever done for a Grad Challenge. I had something unique, interesting, and engaging. I contacted Rob Williams, co-owner of the Vermont Yak Company immediately, and we met to discuss my ideas for the project.

    I have always had an interest in animals and was very excited to see the yaks first-hand a couple of weeks after our initial meeting, I made the trip to the Vermont Yak Company on Route 100 in Waitsfield. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew that yaks were huge, rugged, and furry, but as we trekked through the mud to the top pasture where the 46 yaks of the Vermont Yak Company were grazing that day, I got to experience them up close and person. Yaks are massive and they have huge horns, so when your yak-farmer-guide hands you a large stick “just in case” it’s hard not to be a little scared. Rob had me stand off on one side of the pasture (yaks, apparently, are not particularly fond of strangers), and one of their bottle-fed adolescents came over to check me out. I was stunned by the enormity of the animal, but also by its gentleness. Rob explained that there were two bottle-fed yaks in their herd. These yaks were raised from their infancy in the backyards of the farm-owners. Because of the nature of their adolescence, they were friendlier and gentler than the average yaks in the herd.

    As we were herding the yaks from the top pasture where they were grazing that day to the lower pasture where they spend their nights, Rob told me about how yaks were the perfect animals for Vermont. “They’re cold-hardy, rugged, and pretty low maintenance”. Little did I know—yaks never have to go inside. They stay outside through the heat of summer and in the cold of the winter, sleeping through snowstorms and rainstorms. They are built for high altitudes and rough climates, and while it might be hard to imagine a 1200-pound animal being graceful, it’s a thing of beauty to watch yaks of all different ages and sizes jump from one side of the creek to another, the calves trying to catch up with their mothers and everyone trying to get home for the night. When I later asked Rob in an interview what his favorite part about yakking is, he said, “Being out on the pasture grass on the ridge of the Green Mountains working with the yaks on a warm and sunny late afternoon is my favorite experience - magical.”—And he is so right. With the sun shining and the yaks settled down for the night, there was a magical serenity about the place and the practice.
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