Just Yakin’ around

Quilcene’s Yak Farm one highlight of 2019 Farm Tour

Posted 9/18/19

The herd of yaks parts as Patricia Young rides into their pasture on a four-wheeler. She greets them by name, yelling out as they begin to follow her, dancing around her in the pasture.

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Just Yakin’ around

Quilcene’s Yak Farm one highlight of 2019 Farm Tour

Posted

The herd of yaks parts as Patricia Young rides into their pasture on a four-wheeler. She greets them by name, yelling out as they begin to follow her, dancing around her in the pasture.

In this pasture—one of several at Young’s Quilcene farm, called “Yaks in the Cradle”—the yaks are mostly females with their calfs, but they can grow to be at least 500 pounds. With a booming voice and a straight posture, plus the assistance of the four-wheeler for added height and strength, Young is the alpha in the herd.

When she stops, the yaks crowd around her, searching for treats. When they don’t find any, they sniff interestedly at Young’s jeans and hands as she pets them, cleans the crust from their eyes and pulls sticks out of their fur.

Young’s love for the Himalayan bovines is obvious in her interactions with them. Growing up with grandparents who were farmers, Young developed that love of livestock from a young age.

“We were both farm kids growing up,” Young said, explaining how her husband Steven Young grew up on a dairy farm in Kansas and she grew up with shepherds and dairy farmers in Pennsylvania.

“It’s so different when you’re a kid,” she said. “Lying in the barn, watching lambs being born, helping out, loving the animals, crying when one dies. It’s a lot different as an adult with your own farm, having to make life and death decisions.”

Young and her husband have owned Yaks in the Cradle for six years now. But becoming yak farmers was far from what they imagined they would be doing.

“I was working in Port Gamble at Tango Zulu Imports, and I bought a yak hat,” Young said. “That’s when I started to get interested. I looked at Steven one day and said, ‘This may sound crazy, but think I need to be around animals again.’”

She bought a baby yak and raised him from infancy, learning the ropes of caring for the animals.

Yaks are smart, Young said, but they each have their own personality. Learning how to lead them and care for them is no small task, considering their weight and their horns.

“Animals don’t respond to words, but pictures and shapes,” Young said. “I had the opportunity to meet Temple Grandin and she gave me the best piece of advice I ever received: ‘Just go out in your pasture and sit with them. Watch them, learn their movements.” Grandin, the subject of several documentaries, is an animal scientist and consultant to the livestock industry who has used close observation, plus her personal experience of autism, to improve the humane treatment of livestock.

Sitting with her yaks, Young has learned how to become the herd’s leader, how to be a midwife when the animals give birth, and how to be an interpreter of their language, which consists of head shakes, grunts and loud sniffing.

“It’s an unspoken language,” she said. “But if you’re silent long enough with them, you can learn it.”

FIBER LOVE

Yaks in the Cradle is the only yak farm in Jefferson County and one of two on the entire Peninsula. What makes them versatile for farmers is that Young is able to sell both yak meat and also fiber and yarn. Some farms also sell yak milk.

When it comes to selling meat, the demand is more than they can supply.

“But that’s only a good problem for a business to have,” Young said.

Her true passion lies in fiber. Young is the chairperson for the International Yak Association’s fiber committee and she’s in the process of becoming certified in sorting, grading and classifying fibers of all kinds, and becoming a yak fiber judge.

Yak fiber has three sections: the soft down inner layer, the middle layer and the guard hair, which is coarse.

Right now, Young is working to breed her yaks in a way that will yield unique genetic lines of fiber.

“These special fiber bloodlines are new to Washington state,” she said. “I’m breeding specifically for fiber types. They’re unique, rare and the best part is you can say they were born, raised, collected and processed here in Jefferson County and in the Pacific Northwest.”

The dream, for Young, is to use her new fiber grading skills to provide other farmers with consultations on their fibers, whether they are goat, sheep or unique animals like yaks. She is also hoping to work with the International Yak Association to standardize yak fiber judging across the United States.

Here in Jefferson County, Young is part of a fiber co-op. Yaks in the Cradle is also going to be participating in Farm Tour this year, and Young is inviting other fiber farmers to sell their fibers and yarns at her farm.

LOVE FOR JEFF CO

Young and her husband originally started their yak business in Poulsbo. But when they began to grow, they looked for another space, Jefferson County being high on their list.

“I knew I wanted to be out here,” she said. “I looked up to the Chimacum Corner Farmstand and everything they stood for and did. All the farms in this valley, I saw how hard they worked and how they had support for one another.”

Her dream was to be able to sell her yak meat in the Chimacum Corner Farmstand one day. Now, the meat can be found on the store’s shelves, and her dried meat sticks are a special treat.

“I wanted to honor what’s already here, but to also bring something unique to our community,” she said.

Last year was Young’s first time having people tour her farm during Farm Tour. Nearly 700 people came, meeting the yaks and checking out the yarns and fibers that Young sells. This year, she’s preparing for even more people to stop by during the two-day farm tour, on Sept. 21 and 22.

This year is the biggest yet for Farm Tour, with 19 farms in total participating, showing off everything from fruit, vegetables, livestock, fiber, wine, cider, flowers and more.

“Farm tour is an amazing way to support and learn about the agricultural sector in Jefferson County which has really grown and evolved in the last 17 years since Farm Tour started,” said Justine Gonzalez-Berg, one of the organizers of the tour.

The tour is free and open to the public, with a suggested donation of $10 per car full of people.

Visitors can choose which of the 19 farms to visit, or attempt to visit all of them, and learn about each farm, meeting their livestock, seeing what they grow and visiting with farmers and local artisans.

For Young, it’s an opportunity to work with other farmers and create a fun, lively environment to show off her farm. Kahuna Seafood will be at Yaks in the Cradle, selling fish, and visitors will have the opportunity to learn about Twisted Straight, the Peninsula fiber cooperative.

“The yaks are a unique experience,” she said. “A lot of people I run into have never seen a yak, never had a chance to meet one.”

She and her husband will give talks to the public about owning and caring for yaks, and there will be the opportunity to meet the yaks and maybe even feed one, she said.

On top of that, it’s a chance for locals to meet the people who work to grow their food and learn more about Jefferson County’s tight-knit agricultural community.

“There’s something really special about this valley,” she said. “Nobody does it alone.”

Learn more about Farm Tour at thunderbullproductions.com/jefferson-county-farm-tour.html.

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