Discover the World’s Finest Wool – Yak Wool

Yak Wool

What is so special about Yak Wool?

Yak wool is one of the most precious types of wool in the world. No wonder, because the wool of the Asian cattle has numerous unique features and grants an optimal wearing comfort. It is as soft and delicate as cashmere, keeps warmer than sheep’s wool, regulates moisture, is breathable and even allergy-friendly.

The reason for all these properties is the extreme thickness and multi-layered nature of the wool fibers. The yak fur consists of two layers – the topcoat and the undercoat. The former is mainly used to make coarser woolen goods such as ropes, cords and blankets.

Our clothing, on the other hand, is produced from the fine undercoat. Because, unlike the topcoat, you can also spin these delicate fibers.

Yak Wool Skeins - Khatmandu
Yak Wool Skeins - Khatmandu

Origin of yak wool

Every year, the yak herders obtain around 1,000 tons of yak wool worldwide via the elaborate combing and shearing process. Half of this comes from Qinghai Province in China – more precisely, in the northeast of the Tibetan highlands.

The fine wool used to produce high-quality clothing and home accessories is mainly produced in China, Nepal or Mongolia.

The wool of the yaks is obtained both by shearing – similar to that of sheep – or by combing. Traditionally, yak herders comb their animals regularly a few weeks before shearing in order to obtain a fine undercoat in advance. At the beginning of summer, the animals lose their undercoat naturally.

The process of extracting the yak wool is very time and energy-consuming. In addition to the multi-stage shearing method, keeping the large cattle in a species-appropriate manner also requires some work.

Himalayan Yak Herder | BBC News

The Yak - A very resilient Highland Cattle

Wild Yak in Nepal mountains

The yak is a type of cattle that is especially common in Central Asia. Yaks cope exceptionally well with cold temperatures and harsh weather. In the Asian highlands, the animals are therefore still highly valued by the population.

Yaks are traditionally kept there as suppliers of milk, meat, leather, hair and wool. Domesticated cattle are also frequently used as riding and pack animals.

Native to the Himalayas, Mongolia and southern Siberia, the animal is adapted to extreme weather conditions – this is particularly evident in its shaggy winter coat, which is unique in the world:

  • The yak’s coat is multi-layered.
  • The first layer of fur directly on the skin is exceptionally fine – it is primarily used for fine wool products.
  • The second layer consists of coarser transition wool.
  • The third layer on the very outside describes the solid topcoat.
  • The three layers make the yak insensitive to the extreme cold.

Color-wise, the coat ranges from light gray to dark brown to deep black, with the back coat and hair around the mouth usually lighter. White yaks are particularly rare – their fine wool is used to make the most expensive yak wool products, as it is the most suitable for dyeing.

Per animal, the herdsmen gain up to 500 grams of the valuable fine yak wool.

In addition to the characteristic fur, it is above all the broad, brawny physique that stands out. With a length of more than three meters, a shoulder height of about two meters and a weight of more than one ton, the yak bulls are an appearance that is more than impressive.1

The animals live together in herds of uo to 200 animals at altitudes of up to 6,000 meters.

There are now around 13 million yaks in domesticated herds, while wild yaks have become very rare and have been an endangered species since 1996.

Mongolian Yak Herders | BBC BBC Earth unpluged

Black Yak

Properties of yak wool

Yak wool is counted among the most exclusive wool fibers due to its fine texture. The wool from the fine undercoat of the young animals stands for the highest quality. The fine wool of white yaks is also in great demand, as it is ideal for dyeing.

Clothing made of yak wool offers several advantages over other types of wool:

  • Yak wool stores body heat exceptionally well and protects you even at temperatures far below zero.
  • The wool fibers are extremely fine with 16 – 18 microns, which makes them exceptionally soft. Yak wool does not scratch and is very light despite its enormous thermal performance.
  • It is skin-friendly, cuddly and yet very robust.
    Yak wool is mostly well tolerated by allergy sufferers and also absorbs moisture excellently.
  • It can absorb more than 30 percent of its weight in moisture – if the garment gets damp, the wearer won’t notice until it’s really soaked.

Although yak wool is very durable, it is still very lightweight. This is another advantage for clothing made from this exclusive yarn.

Be cautious, especially in the care of your yak wool products, because especially “wrong washing” can affect the wool.

Yak Fur Texture
Yak Fur Texture

Products made of yak wool

In yak wool processing, we must distinguish between coarse and fine wool. The coarse topcoat is used for the production of heavy blankets, ropes and tents.

The fine undercoat, in turn, is used in the luxury sector for outerwear – it is used to make hats, sweaters, jackets or ponchos. Due to the fibers’ warming effect, the use is also widespread in bedspreads, wool blankets, natural hair blankets, and pillows.

Especially the products from the fine undercoat are particularly sought after – due to the complex extraction process; they are not cheap, but more than high quality.

Especially popular are currently high-quality scarves and shawls also yak wool. They warm ideally and also look really good. Besides, they can be combined wonderfully.

The ideal accessory for autumn and winter!

Yak wool products
Floppy hats and colorful blankets woven from yak wool displayed for sale in a narrow alley off Bhaktapur's Durbar Square in the Kathmandu Valley.

Yak Shawls – Attractive and super soft!

100% Yak Wool Soft Throw Blankets!

Grazing Yaks in Mongolian Desert

Animal Welfare

Even though yaks are extremely large, solid and robust animals, this, of course, does not mean that animal welfare does not play a role here – on the contrary: since they are kept in domesticated herds for wool, meat and milk, species-appropriate husbandry must be ensured in order to maximize the yaks’ quality of life and the quality of the products.

There are two sub-steps to consider in terms of wool production: In the first step, the fine underhair is combed out carefully and with a lot of patience. This process is almost pleasant for the animals and serves to protect them from being sheared too early. So up to this point, only good is done for the yak.

In the second step, the yaks are sheared – here, incorrect craftsmanship or “rough” action can definitely be a problem. It is, therefore, worthwhile to look twice before rushing to buy at particularly low prices.

The same applies to the keeping of the animals, which is not without problems. Proper nutrition and husbandry (on the pasture and in the barn), controls and dealing with diseases – all these things are essential to offer the yaks the life that the beautiful animals deserve.

Therefore, when you see yak wool at knock-down prices, you can assume that the wool is either not genuine or obtained by exploiting the animals.

This is how you know that your yak wool comes from species-appropriate husbandry:

  • When buying products made from yak wool, always make sure that the wool’s origin is clearly visible. Many online retailers write directly in the product description where their wool comes from.
  • In addition to wool from traditional farms in the Asian highlands, there are now also certified yak breeders in the U.S. who sell yak wool.

The multi-stage process of wool production has its price, in addition to the relatively complex husbandry of the exotic animals: yak wool is one of the most expensive precious wools in the world. But the high price is worth it, not only in terms of the excellent quality that yak wool offers you: With the purchase of high-priced yak wool from proven animal welfare, you support a conscious and sustainable treatment of the beautiful animals.

Caravan of yaks carrying heavy load on the way to Lhonak village. Kangchenjunga area, Nepal
White Yak
White Yak

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  1. Wikipedia contributors. (2021, January 31). Domestic yak. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:54, March 20, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Domestic_yak&oldid=1004070103