Wild Fiber: Tips and Tales
This article was originally posted in Wild Fiber
Tips and Tales
This year, Brad and Jandy Sprouse celebrate 33 years of raising and breeding livestock as their sole occupation and chosen lifestyle on Great Lakes Ranch in northwestern Michigan.
The ranch is the manifestation of their dream to raise livestock in a peaceful, rural setting. Their tale begins in 1981 when the Sprouse's purchased their first llama, and three years later they brought home their first alpaca.
But that was just the beginning.
GREAT LAKES RANCH
Interview with Brad and Jandy Sprouse
What made you decide to start raising yak?
In the late 1980's we thought that a little diversification in our livestock program would be a good idea. We looked at many different breeds of cattle over a couple of years and finally made the decision to add Tibetan Yak to our ranch.
It came down to a choice between Scottish Highland cattle or yak. We were very attracted to both breeds aesthetically, but choose yak for a number of reasons. We loved the overall look of the yak with their thick shaggy coats and their shoulder hump that gives them a similar silhouette to the buffalo. They have one-third the appetite of cattle, and can be fed on grass alone. Yak are also smaller than most cattle and are typically very hardy creatures.
We were also attracted to the fact that yak represent the whole livestock model in terms of end use, ranging in potential sales from breeding stock, raw fiber, fiber products, and meat sales. Plus, they are great pack animals.
But more than anything, we thought that they were just plain cool!
In 1992 Tibetan Yak were added to our program and a lively, dearly loved herd remains in our ranch to this day.
What have been some of the high points of raising yak?
Our lifelong involvement in all phases yak ranching, along with our llama and alpaca herds, has graced us with rewards above and beyond just making a unique livelihood while living in a breathtaking location. We have been able to witness first hand the daily lives of alpaca herders of the South American altiplano, and the nomadic yak herders of the Tibetan plateau. Our chosen lifestyle has given us the opportunity to raise a family together, engage in community and outdoor recreational pursuits, and travel the world.
In 33 years our dedication and fascination in raising livestock has never wavered. When it is all said and done, our favorite part of each and every day on the ranch is when we are out doing what we love best ... tending our animals, working the land and all things fiber related.
Since we began raising llama, alpaca and yak, we have been fortunate to participate in the building of an incredible industry and story. We have witnessed and been involved in the birth of local, regional, and national associations, registries and the selection process for importations. We have served on various show, marketing and fiber committees, and as board members of national associations, judges in the show ring, and spoken at national conferences. We have seen in this country impressive breed progress thanks to focused genetic selection and better husbandry.
We have a "fiber shed" ranch store on the property where we showcase our own alpaca and yak fiber products, sell meat, and host classes. We educate visitors by promoting the concept of luxury wool products as "farm to fashion", much like the SLOW food movement markets the "farm to table" concept of knowing where your food comes from.
We purposely designed our operation so that we are hands-on in every aspect of the daily management of our herd and business. This allows us to dedicate the generous amount of time we feel essential to our valued customers, in helping them either become, or continue to be, successful. Hands on management, lifetime commitment to the industry, customer support 24/7, and old school integrity where our word and a hand shake means everything.
Happy customers and continued success in the show ring are the rewards of our commitment, but are only the icing on the cake when it comes to counting our blessings.