Where the Yaks Roam

Taking his foot off the gas, John Hooper — or as my family had taken to calling him, Farmer John — slowed down and peered over the edge of the vehicle. “Oh no, that’s a bad sign,” he murmured. I looked down at the gravel road. Three mounds of poop. That could only mean one thing: the yaks were loose.

Just an hour earlier, my dad had pulled our van into farmer John’s driveway in Cold Spring, Minn. It took us two hours to drive to farmer John’s yak farm, but our offbeat family vacation started months earlier during a night out at a St. Paul restaurant. My sister, being the adventurous eater she is, ordered a dish with yak meat. That’s when we saw the small type at the bottom of the menu — “yak locally raised.”

The adventure began.

Challenge Day 1 Photo 1

My mom called farmer John (who listed his cellphone number on his website with an open invitation to call anytime) and set up a tour. A couple months later my parents, sister and I were riding down a gravel road in a refurbished army ambulance driven by the farmer himself — gray hair, glasses, knee-high rubber boots and a hot pink collared shirt that caught you off guard among the other dusty shades of his country farm.

Before climbing into the yak mobile to visit the adult herd, we bottle fed Lassa and Dolman, the two fuzzy black and white babies roaming around farmer John’s backyard that followed you around like puppies. Then it was off to the pasture to see the 40+ herd. But we only made it a minute or two down the road before farmer John spotted the mounds of manure on the gravel road. That’s when I looked out into the bean field and saw seven yaks barreling though the plants.


“Well that group I don’t have to go looking for,” farmer John said as he hopped down from the driver seat. Soon farmer John’s bright pink shirt mixed among the green as he strode out toward the rebellious crew — but not before he asked my dad to hop out of the yak mobile and lend a hand steering the wanderers back within the fence line.

Immediately five of the seven yaks dashed back to the pasture. That left two. Stubborn. Defiant. Bushy tails swishing and tall curved horns leading the way. Up until this point, my dad had simply stood in the center of the gravel road, hands on his waist, watching farmer John round up the herd.

Bur his role was about to turn crucial.

In an attempt to coax the stubborn pair back to the fence, my dad waded into the field, waving his arms around looking like someone trying to make a snow angel out of air. The yaks didn’t budge. So he moved closer. And closer, crossing well within goring distance. That’s when it looked like the yaks finally come around to the inevitable and turned to walk into the pasture. “Keep moving!” Farmer John yelled — though it was unclear whether he was shouting at my dad or the yaks. That’s when the shaggy black yak closest to my dad whipped his head — and horns — toward my dad in one last hoorah before trotting off with the other into the pasture.

Crisis (goring) averted.

Challenge Day 1 Photo 2

With the herd secured, we piled back into the yak mobile to finish the tour we traveled more than two hours to see. Farmer John drove his ambulance nearly vertically up what felt like a 90-degree hill (it’s a surprise his Corgi, Bristol, didn’t slide out the back of the ambulance while she sat at my feet). We crested the grassy peak and the countryside opened up below us dotted with bushy-tailed yaks nestled in tall grass and roaming about. My sister and I took turns sitting atop the gentle giant with the biggest horns in North America — so long the ends curved and met below his head.

We clamored back into the cab of the ambulance and returned down to our car triumphant — we fed yaks, herded yaks, pet yaks and rode yaks, all without a horn in our side.