When rambling off things that make the Dayton-area a special place to live, having one of the only yak farms in the state is almost certainly a point people forget to mention.
Yaks are often mistaken for mythical, cow-like creatures only used to represent the letter “Y” when teaching youngsters the alphabet.
However, Tibetan Yaks are very real animals and a humble couple living in Lebanon own the largest registered yak farm in Ohio. There are only two others.
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On their property of 30-acres of rolling grasslands that used to raise Norwegian Field Horses, Jamie and Nathan Sorum have owned and operated OH Yaks! since 2014 on Sorum Acres in Lebanon. It started when the pair, married 21 years in October, watched a particularly woolly episode of Mike Rowe’s hit TV series.
“We found these guys on Dirty Jobs,” Jamie said. “Mike Rowe was at a yak farm and we fell in love with them. We started reading about them. They talked about how they were versatile — that they were personable if they were socialized with people, that you didn’t have to use them (only) for meat. So we got our first five.”
On a first visit to the farm, Jamie said many visitors are surprised to learn that yaks are a real animal at all — that they’re not the “unicorns” of cattle. In Tibet and throughout the Himalayan region, the yak is in fact considered sacred in many places by order of the Dalai Lama. OH Yaks doesn’t take the Yak to such a level, however, the Sorums have created a life around loving their yaks.
The Sorums are not the couple you probably imagined grew up on farms of their own. Ohio-born Jamie and Seattle-born Nathan moved to the area in high school and only played with the idea of starting a farm when Nathan’s parents property was passed on to them.
“It’s really a labor of love. We won’t ever get rich on it; we can break even on it,” Jamie said.
The OH YAKS! operation has so far only been a fiber business. The processed Yak fur is as soft as cashmere, Jamie said, and highly coveted by textile people. The farm’s small “Yak Shack” out front sells sweaters — hand-knit by Tibetan women — gloves, socks, spools of fiber, bath rugs, dog beds and just about anything you could think of that you’d want made of warm, finer fabric.
If all goes as planned, the Sorums will start a small-scale meat operation with their animals within the next year. It takes years to establish a sustainable Yak pack; requiring careful breeding, socializing, learning personalities and planning to do it as humanely as possibly, Jamie said.
Nancy, Lenny, Ivan, Suzy, Peggy — Sorum Acres’ Yaks have about as much personality as a beloved canine. There’s a lot to learn. From knowing which one is the “boss” yak who will steal all the treats during feedings to which ones to keep away from other breeding yaks. They are intelligent animals that have entertained the Sorums since they arrived.
“My favorite time is when they’re up by the house, and I can wake up and have my coffee in the morning and see them grazing outside,” Jamie said. “It’s just kind of nice to know that they’re there. … So many times my husband and I will sit in his office and we’ll be talking and they’ll just look right at us. They’ll track us in the house; they know where we’re at. … They know what the trailer is. They’re very curious what’s in it. They know that’s where they came from.”
Eyes covered with curly Q’s and thick hair down to the ground, it would be accurate to imagine the yak in a cooler, higher-altitude environment. Yaks are even used to carry the heavy equipment up Mount Everest to rescue stations.
Most of OH Yaks’ animals came from out West and have adapted to Midwest conditions. The impressive animals are worthy of awe and at least a brief pull-over if passing the farm located at 2259 N. State Route 48 in Lebanon. Jamie and Nathan will be more than happy to introduce you to the crew.
“Our theory is we give everything a name; everyone has a name,” Jamie said. “We treat them as well as humanly possible, given their temperament, and then they just have that one bad day.”
With this year’s fiber products processed and ready for purchase, OH Yaks plans to be open every weekend before Christmas. Visit OH Yaks’ website or Facebook page to check the current hours of Sorum Acres.