Yak Breeding in the Kumaon Himalaya, Uttarakhand, India
At present Himal Prakriti, along with a group of herders in Paton maintains a breeding herd of Yaks in the Ralam Valley. This is the only known breeding population of Yaks in the entire state of Uttarakhand. Current cross border trade with Tibet from where Yaks can be procured is severely restricted and this has resulted in a shortage of new breeding male yaks for the high altitude trans-humant communities.
The pure bred herd of Yaks is maintained mainly for producing male yak calves who are then farmed out to high altitude villages. These male yak calves are bred along with cows to become "Stud Yak" bulls which then go on to cross breed with their cows. The resultant F1 generation off-spring has many characteristics that are valuable to alpine dwelling trans-humant communities. The Male F1 (called Zho or Jibu) is sterile and is a very strong, gentle and an easily maintained draught animal. Yak hybrids are more tolerant to heat and make better work animals. Further the milk from the female F1 generation Zhomo is said to be of better quality then normal cow milk. Zhomo's are fertile and can be back-crossed with either Yaks or Bulls. However repeated back crossing results in a progressive loss of the desirable characteristics.
Jibus (Zho's ) and Zhomo's are extremely valuable and sell for about twice the cost of a non-hybrid cow of equivalent age.
At present trans-humant communities wanting to purchase Stud Yaks must either try through some Government Breeding Scheme who in turn procure such animals from any that are available at the Nepal , India, Tibet trijunction and such animals don't come with any guarantees' as to either the lineage or the their breeding prowess. Or the must pay the actual market price to purchase one from Himal Prakriti's herd, which because of the expenses to support and maintain the entire herd is comparatively higher. Support for maintaining the herd would bring down the cost to the communities making it feasible for those in the Milam, Darma and Malari valleys to have the option to purchase such male yaks and upgrade and maintain their cross breeding programme.
Breeding male yaks have a life expectancy of about 8 to 10 years and with many alpine communities in the eastern part of Kumaon requiring males for cross breeding Himal Prakriti hopes to fill in this gap by helping provide adequate number of healthy breeding animals and also at a reasonable cost.
Himal Prakriti is also exploring the option of putting in place a system of freezing Yak semen for animal artificial insemination. At present the location of the yaks through the summer months is in alpine regions of the Ralam Valley make them relatively inaccessible and this would need to be factored into the process. The modalities would need to be worked out, which if successful it would make crossbreeding a more widespread reality.
Himal Prakriti along with the communities in Ralam and Paton are planning a Yak based tourism initiative with Yaks and Jibus (Zo's ) incorporated into the design as an option to travel to high altitude destinations and pass crossings in eastern Kumaon