Economy: Yak Farming
Production System in Bhutan
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.
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.
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).
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 et.al, 2000).
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
Natural Resources Research Centre