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Bhutan's Economy: Yak Farming
Yak Production Systems
Yak breeding systems
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Yak Production System in Bhutan
Yak Yak

Yak is a main source of livelihood for the high altitude residents in Bhutan. The yak production systems including breeds, breeding, grazing management and health care systems are described. Different yak products and their marketing systems are also summarised.

The high elevation rangelands (areas > 3,500 m) comprise 32 percent of the country in Bhutan (Gyamtsho, 1996). These otherwise inhospitable lands are purposefully utilised by yak farmers. Yaks are herded by a special group of people called Zhops (pass dwellers). Zhops live a transhumant and nomadic life with their yak, between altitudes of 3,000-5,000 m. Residents in nine of Bhutan's 20 districts (approximately 10 percent of national population) are involved in yak husbandry.

Yaks are multipurpose animals, providing food in terms of milk, milk products and meat. Herder's garments and tents for shelter are made from yak fibre. Pack yak are an important means of transport in the alpine region. In summer pastures, above the tree line, yak dung is the only source of fuel. Yaks also play special roles in the religious and cultural life of the herder's society. They are closely tied to the social customs and identity of the herder communities. In recent years, yak are increasingly being used in the high altitude tours and trekking industries.


Yak breeding systems
Bumthang An Three distinct yak-breeding systems are recognised in Bhutan. Pure line breeding is practised in the western region. In central and eastern region, crossing with cattle is quite common (Winter and Tshewang, 1989). However, the crossing patterns are not similar. In central Bhutan, hybrids are backcrossed to yak, while in the east they are mainly backcrossed to cattle. Each category of backcrosses has their own local name. Only herders with several years of experience can distinguish later backcrosses (Tshering et al., 1996).

In order to improve yak productivity, the government has been procuring and distributing yak bulls from one region to another. Artificial insemination was tried with imported yak semen from China but achieved limited success mainly due to inaccessibility of yak areas (Tshering, 2000).

The herders frequently exchange their breeding bull with neighbouring farmers to reduce inbreeding in the herd. Herders without their own breeding bull obtain services from the bulls of their neighbouring herdsmen. In exchange for the service, the bull owners usually receive payment in kind. There are well-defined criteria for selecting yak breeding bulls in their herd .

FAO Report
by Tashi Dorji
Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre
Ministry of Agriculture
Jakar, Bumthang, Bhutan

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