Yaks look at home in the Sierra Valley landscape.

Friendly Yaks highlight walks near Whitehawk Ranch

Randy Brazie offers a snack to a friendly yak while owner Greg Gatto supervises. Photos by Mari Erin Roth

The weather is ideal for walks or bike rides in Sierra and Plumas counties. Mornings without smog or smoke offer wide expanses of breath-taking scenery. Flat terrain is abundant for morning or evening jaunts a la bike or foot.

Wandering just south of Whitehawk Ranch, right next to some grazing cows, is a growing herd of yaks. Ranch owners Jenna and Greg Gatto have switched from bovine ranching to Bos grunniens (yaks).

The animals are more suited to the cold temperatures in the Sierra Nevada. They easily winter on the ranch. “It is so much simpler to have animals that can stay here year round,” said Greg Gatto. The Sierra Valley is the largest alpine valley in the Sierra Nevada at an elevation of 5,000 feet.

Currently, the couple is bottle-feeding a 2-week old baby yak named Pepper that was born a twin. “The mothers of twins don’t seem to recognize that they have two,” said Jenna. They bottle fed a baby yak last year also. “We had 11 babies last year,” said Greg, “and we have 13 expected this year.”

The yaks get fed occasional snack pellets of molasses and grain, which will often bring them to greet visitors along the fence or visiting the ranch with the owners. They are not anything like cows though, I mean, they are big, but they are quick and a tad skittish. Most members of this particular herd allow petting and can be hand fed. But they have horns and very big hard heads that they naturally use for butting. It is important to keep these things in mind.

Whitehawk Ranch resident Randy Brazie scheduled a tour of the ranch the morning of June 28 and was rewarded with all the yak petting he could handle. He made a special bond with baby Pepper and last year’s bottle fed baby Sprite. The big bull of the herd is Kayak and Herman is the Royal bull. Actually, now that I think of it, practically all of the animals have names and they produce plenty of fiber of very nice quality.

More information and tours are available at sierravalleyyaks.com.

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