Yak Ranch owner seeks growth potential for yak industry in Iowa

EXIRA — The owners of the Iowa Yak Ranch are giving tours of their farm near Exira and will have two of their animals in the Iowa State Fair’s Avenue of Breeds as they make the case that raising yaks — in Iowa — can be profitable. 

Neal Meseck and his wife began raising yaks in late 2019 and they now have a herd of 20. “We raise yaks for food, fiber and fun,” he says. Yaks are known for their distinctive long hair.   “They are not as large as beef cattle. They may appear that way due to the all the hair,” Meseck says. 

For example, a mature yak cow weighs about 650 pounds — that’s about half as large as a beef cow — and beef bulls are heavier than yak bulls, too.  “They eat about a third of what a beef animal will eat, so it’s a little more economical to feed them as well,” Meseck says.

Meseck has been selling yak meat from other producers just to get people interested in trying it and in September, he’s scheduled to have the first yak from his herd butchered.   “Same lean and cholesterol content as turkey breast,” Meseck says, “but it has more of a beefy flavor to it.”

Yaks have three layers of hair. The outer layer grows up to a foot long and it’s coarse, like a horse’s mane. The inner layer is about two inches long and soft, like cashmere. Yaks shed it once a year.  “We’ve been collecting that for two years and I take it to Maxwell, Iowa to have it spun into yarn and then we have yarn for sale,” Meseck says. “I’ve got about 60 skeins of yard available as well and that is from from our own yaks.”

Yaks have long been used as pack animals at higher elevations in places like Tibet. Meseck says his yaks are perfectly comfortable in Iowa winters, but he’s providing his herd extra water and shade this time of year. Meseck says given the profit potential from the sale of yak meat and spinning the hair the animals shed into yarn, raising yaks could be a good option for other Iowa farmers. “We are, I think, positioned for growth in Iowa,” Meseck says. “It’s just a matter of getting the word out.”

The Iowa Yak Ranch is also part of next month’s “Evolution of the Heartland” tour in the Manning and Audubon County areas.