It was always a standing joke between Barb Miedema and her husband Jim that they would get yaks one day. Barb, an avid crafter, had read an article praising how great yak fur is for knitting, but figured owning one was a pipe dream since so few live in the U.S.
But in 2010, when Jim went on his annual hunting trip on a ranch in Montana, he casually mentioned this running joke to the owner of the ranch — who then told him he owned yak. In addition, the couple who had visited the Montana ranch the previous week had a herd of yak in Michigan.
And since it’s hard to ignore fate, Barb came along with Jim on his hunting trip to Montana the next year. Besides getting to visit the ranch owner’s yak, the Miedemas also got to meet with the president of the International Yak Association (IYAK).
“He spent probably four or five hours with us discussing the ins and outs of marketing yak; it sounded fascinating,” Barb said. “And he actually sold the yak to the people in Michigan. So that summer we visited them, too, and the next year we bought all of their new babies. There were eight heifers in total, and now here we are.”
The Miedema’s operate Goat Trax Farm in Momence. Their herd has since grown to 14 with the addition of a breeding bull, three baby bulls and two other calves — and it makes the Miedemas the only registered yak breeders in Illinois.
And while they started their yak herd in 2010, the couple was no stranger to farming beforehand. Since 1986, they had sold vegetables at various farmers markets. When Jim started going through chemotherapy, he decided he wanted to raise goats to stay busy, and wanting goats turned into wanting chickens which ultimately led to them raising sheep and rabbit as well. They sell the meat to a locker, offer their eggs for purchase in an outdoor refrigerator at their home and Barb uses the yak and sheep fiber to create wool dryer balls, hats and mittens that anyone can buy through Facebook.
To most, this might sound like a lot to have on a couple’s plate, but Jim describes it as far from a burden.
“[Tending to the farm] is the best part of the day,” Jim said. “There’s probably two and a half to three hours of chores a day — feeding and watering, making sure the fences are okay, that’s the biggest part of it. Then there’s the maintenance of course where you have to trim hooves and give shots and such, so sometimes you’ll be working all weekend, but then there are other weeks when the pasture’s nice and you don’t have a lot to do at all.”
Marketing their animals (especially their rare yak) is a whole other task, though. To accomplish this, they keep up a presence on Facebook and Instagram, attend yak shows and conventions and even invite people to come down to the farm and see what it’s all about.
“It’s so much fun to have people come out,” Barb said. “Whether you have a bad day or a bad week, it’s great to see how people appreciate what you’re doing and how much they enjoy our lifestyle, which is crazy to us.”
And while there are hard days on the farm — just this year one of their goats needed a C-section — the trials and tribulations are worth it in the end.
“Sitting out on your back porch and watching an animal graze — there’s nothing better than that,” Jim said.