Most Albertans are familiar with alternative types of meat, such as elk, bison or deer.
But yak meat, which reportedly tastes a lot like organically raised, grass-fed beef, has also been growing in popularity.
Shane Juuti, who owns West Gimlet Farms, located between Rocky Mountain House and Rimbey, raises yaks and sells meat and other products.
He says demand has spiked in the past three years.
Yak – originating from the Himalayas – offer lean meat, similar to elk and buffalo, said Juuti.
In today’s Beyond Meat burger world, people are looking for organic meat to eat healthier, he said.
Juuti said those who are conscious about where and how their food is grown are part of the reason demand has jumped in recent years.
“People are looking for product, and are more conscious about chemicals, hormones and sprays, and stuff like that,” he said.
Today, Juuti has 450 yaks on his farm, north of Leslieville.
“When we first got into it, we went quite a few years where we didn’t see much growth. But in the last three years, all of a sudden, it started to jump a bit quicker than it did before.”
The 52-year-old farmer got into raising yak around 1996, when he made an impulse yak bull purchase at an auction. Not knowing what to do with the sole yak, he bought a cow.
“We had her for about a week and she calved for us. Then next year, she had another calve, and it grew from that, until we sold our beef cattle and we had enough yaks,” he explained.
Juuti now knows the difference between raising beef cattle and yaks. Yaks are easier than cattle – from weighing less, eating less feed, to calving mostly without problems.
This means Juuti has more time to look after other aspects of farming, such as marketing. He sells his yak meat to a grocery chain in Calgary and an organic food company in Edmonton.
He also sells his products to a meat store in Red Deer and another in Sylvan Lake.
“We also have a number of people from Red Deer who directly buy from us at the farm,” he said.
The rancher is also involved in other products, such as yak fibre, hides, horns and soap.
Jennifer Rath, owner of The Yak Ranch, just south of Caroline, says she got into raising yaks about four years ago. Since then, the 30-year-old has realized demand has been “steadily climbing.”
She raises yaks for meat and breeding. She credits the success of her business to word of mouth, social media and repeat customers in the Red Deer area.
The business owner does not make it to farmers’ markets.
“I can’t even keep up with the demand to be able to have the need to go to the farmers’ market,” she explained.
She believes demand will continue to trend upward for the juicy, lean meat, known to be high in Omega-3 fat, which is said to prevent heart disease.
“Because of the high Omega-3, the meat stays very juicy, and it’s as lean as boneless chicken,” she said.