Posted by: alaskayaks | February 28, 2011

A Pleasant Bonus–Chisum’s Story

The following story took place this past summer and was written up by Bobby Fithian to share with our yak interested friends. It is reprinted here in it’s entirety.

Circle F Ranch
Lower Tonsina, Alaska

Dear Friends,

Thought you may enjoy this pleasant story. My wife Barbara and I live on a plateau in Interior Alaska between the mighty Wrangell Saint-Elias and Chugach mountain ranges. This is the mountain kingdom of North America. Part of our life here includes operating a small ranch where we raise Tibetan yak and grade horses.

A few weeks ago I was scheduled to travel to Sidney, Nebraska for a day of meetings with Cabela’s Inc. While taking a shower prior to leaving our home for the trip my wife heard me laughing and asked me what I was laughing about. I asked her if she really knew why I was traveling to Nebraska.

She replied: for the meeting with Cabela’s and to bring our grandchildren home. I said no, and what lies by the wood stove and goes: suck, suck, suck? She asked me if I was crazy and what was I talking about? I told her the real reason I was going down there was to pick up a baby yak bull and bring it back with me to help diversify the genetics within our yak herd.

It was a half joke actually, as I had no time to contact breeders, review airlines regulations or shipping requirements, nor did I during the trip. Arriving into Sidney via a rental car from Denver a couple of days early I checked into a nice hotel and began some focused preparation for the upcoming meeting. One of the Cabela’s corporate people, Mr. Ev Tarrel contacted me and asked if I would join him for dinner one night. There is a great steak house in Sidney and we enjoyed a good dinner where part of the communication was about the attributes of yak meat and raising of yak. Mr. Tarrel was a long time friend of Mr. McRoberts of the nearby McRoberts ranch but who unfortunately had passed away in January. Without telling me, Mr. Tarrel contacted Mrs. McRoberts of and asked her if she had anytime to share with me if he were to send me up there. She currently owns a tremendous herd of yaks and her ranch is an incredible place.

After the ensuing full day of Cabela’s Inc. meetings, my head was spinning from all that had occurred that day. Mr. Tarrel met with me last and as he walked me out of the corporate building, he informed me of the opportunity for me to drive up to the McRoberts ranch. Although Mrs. McRoberts would not be available, at least I could see the country and probably some yak from the road. I thanked Mr. Tarrel for the pleasant initiative and we parted ways.

I went to my room to unwind a bit while continuing to summarize some of the meetings. After a while I looked outside and decided to try to drive to the ranch before dark as I had to leave Sidney early the next day to make my flight out of Denver. Drove to the remote ranch, filmed what I believe were over one thousand yaks in one herd with an incredible backdrop and did happen to meet the ranch foreman. I asked about whether they ever sold any bottle babies and he said they do not as they are primarily a meat operation and their animals were primarily pretty wild.

After leaving to head back to Sidney I traveled several miles or so down the road and lo and behold, next to the road by a cattle guard lay a just born and still wet baby yak without a mom and no yaks anywhere near. I stopped and it let me walk up to it which was very odd. I looked and then walked around the prairie looking for a mom but there was none to be found. The baby got up and tried to follow me but was pretty weak. This location was a few miles from the big herd of yak.

It was a baby yak!

I felt awkward but knew it needed colostrum to survive, and surely, a good mother yak was not going to abandon a newborn baby, so I picked it up, put it in the rental car and drove back to the ranch foreman’s place. It was coming dark when I arrived there and he could not believe I had a newborn baby yak in my rental car. Please keep in mind I had just asked him if he had any bottle babies for sale. He did not have any colostrum but called Mrs. McRoberts at the home place and walked away telling her about this guy from Alaska who claims to have found a baby yak abandoned by the side of the road just a little while after asking if they had any for sale???

Chisum in the rental car.

She did have some colostrum and he gave me directions to her place. It took me a while to find the place. When I did, her ranch manager took me to a barn where they had some March 3, 2003 goat colostrum thawing in a sink. After an hour or so of struggle, we got the baby to nurse two four oz. baby bottles down, and found of course, that it was a bull calf. They wanted nothing to do with wet nursing this calf and gave me another frozen bag of colostrum and said if he lives, he’s yours.

Chisum settling down for a night's rest in the hotel.

I took him to my fancy hotel, and, as my room was the closest possible to the front desk, snuck him in the back way. It was about midnight when I got him settled in. At 3:00am I gave him two more bottles, and again at 5:00. At eight I was at the Mercantile in Sidney and bought a bag of freeze-dried colostrum, a halter and lead. Tried to sneak him out of the hotel, except that one big-eyed maid caught me and did not say a word as I went by her.

Chisum sporting his new halter and lead outside the hotel in Sidney, Nebraska.

Took him for a walk, loaded him up and drove him to my brother Ronnie’s home North of Fort Collins Colorado and asked him to take care of him and ship him up when I could make arrangements. The next day the less than twenty-four hour old baby yak traveled by truck another four hundred miles to attend a rodeo clinic where he was a pretty big hit with the folks that saw him being led around by my niece McKayla. Is that a dog? Is that a calf? What is that thing?

After a few days of communication between state and federal veterinarians and brand inspectors and Mrs. McRoberts and her employees to prove I am not a cow/yak thief, he arrived into Anchorage and then traveled here to the ranch where he has become part of the family/yak herd?? He thinks I am his mom. He is a treasure and bears the name Chisum given to him by McKayla.

Without the thoughtful consideration of Mr. Tarrel or the hand of God, this great story could not have been told. Please share this story and if ever anyone asks you what lay’s beside the wood stove and goes, suck, suck, suck, be prepared for what may lay down the path.

Very Best,

Bobby Fithian

Bobby and Chisum in early October 2010


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