Mark Evans describes his herd of livestock in Huntsville as “kind of interesting creatures.”
That may be an understatement.
In a field along the edge of Highway 39, Evans and his family are raising yaks. The long-horned, thick-haired tank of an animal is usually found miles high in the Himalayas.
But on a crisp Saturday morning a few blocks from his home, Evans heads to a pasture with his 9-year-old daughter, Kate, to feed their herd of 16 yaks.
“The nice ones I like,” Kate said. “The mean ones I’m kind of scared of.”
One of those “mean ones” is the first to the gate before the hay is thrown out. Inshallah is a 1,600 pound black and white bull. His name comes from the Arabic phrase meaning “if God is willing.”
“If he’s willing, he’ll go in,” Mark said. “And if he’s not willing, he won’t go in.”
All of the animals have names inspired by various gods and religions. There’s Nirvana and Daphne, the one horned wonder. There’s Apollo, the eight-month-old who fights for attention from everyone who enters the pasture.
While Mark is busy feeding, Apollo has set his sights on Kate.
“Daddy, will you please help me and give him a hand of hay or something,” Kate said, with her hand stuck firmly in the mouth of the 200 pound sucking yak.
Apollo is the lowest on the herd’s pecking order and the baby to the Evans family.
“He ended up falling in the canal on the day he was born and then he smelled like a frog instead of a yak,” Mark said. “His mom rejected him.”
After that day, Kate and her two younger siblings bottle fed Apollo and even walked him on a leash in Huntsville’s Fourth of July parade.
“In Tibet, they’re kind of family animals,” Mark said.
He has the same goal with his Utah yaks. Plus, there is the meat.
The family already has a chest freezer full of yak after purchasing most of their herd in 2014. Mark’s long term plan is to eventually butcher around five animals a year.
The harvest isn’t big enough to make a large commercial operation out of it, but he does sell to local restaurants. Last year, the Burger Bar in Roy had a special on yak burgers and the Hearth on 25th sells a yak tartare. While there is some comparison to cattle, the meat is much darker and has almost no fat.
In their native habitat at around 14,000 feet, yaks have evolved to store all their fat on the outside for insulation. They also eat less than half as much as cattle, grow at about half the speed, and produce half the waste.
That last piece was a selling point for Mark’s wife Hillary. While Mark grew up on a farm in Idaho, Hillary grew up in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City and never planned on living on a farm. Before they were married, they agreed they wouldn’t raise cattle.
Yaks were never discussed.
But not long after feeding the herd on Saturday morning, Hillary stops by with the youngest kids, Genevieve and Gregory, who beg their dad for a ride on Daphne. The one-and-a-half-year-old yak barely notices as Mark hoists his kids up onto the big animal’s back.
“Our primary goal is to have something that’s good for the kids to be involved in and learn and watch and grow,” Mark said. “And produce high quality meat.”