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Yak attack
A bull yak named Sergeant D charges at the Weider ranch near Dixon.

DIXON — It's a near-universally accepted truth that when a husband comes home and says to his wife, "Honey, I've got a surprise for you," he's almost never talking about flowers. Or chocolates. Or, heaven forbid, something sparkly.

But Richard Wieder went one better than the power tool or other testosterone-tinged item that sometimes follows that opening tease.

He surprised his wife, Wendy, with a yak.

Which may have been fuzzy, but was anything but warm.

"I wanted to know if they're friendly," Wendy Wieder recalled of her first look at the shaggy black-and-white female glowering at her from her husband's trailer. "They're not."

That was about three years ago.

Did the yak go back?

No. Instead, over the years, Richard Wieder brought home a bull and a few more females. The bull yakked it up with the cows, and now there's a bunch of young yaks.

"They definitely stop traffic," said Richard Wieder.

The Wieders' yaks aren't the only ones in western Montana — Wieder knows of yaks from the Bitterroot to Kalispell.

Wieder has watched motorists "flying by, well over the speed limit," and he can tell exactly when the yaks register. That's when the brake lights come on and the car ends up in the borrow pit in a big arcing turn that brings it back to the Wieders' gated lane.

Those folks are wise to stay on their side of the gate. In fact, there's a reason some of the yaks are doubly enclosed, penned inside a corral within the main fenced pasture.

That reason is what's usually responsible for stopping traffic in the first place.

He's the biggest yak of the pack, with a snorty way about him, horns that mean business, and flowing dark locks that brush the ground, contributing to his name.

"He's Sergeant D," Wieder said. Sergeant because Wieder held that rank in the military and "D" for the bull's father's name, which was Dreadlocks.

Unlock his Rastafarian-style namesake, however, D is not a laid-back yak.

"They're aggressive animals," Wieder said, and Sergeant D is the most aggressive of the bunch.

Get too close to the pen-within-the-pasture at the Wieder place and D will lower his massive head. He'll paw at the ground. He'll snort. And then, before you think he will, he'll charge.

At which point you realize that D is very large and fast, the fence is very small, and you are very slow.

Still, said Wendy Wieder, she's developed an affection for the big guy, one that has apparently returned. "I've actually petted his nose," she said.

But she said the only yak that's really friendly is a bottle-raised young female named Ember.

So what does one do with yaks, beyond pet and run?

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A lot of people sell their long, silky hair, said Richard Wieder. But not the Wieders.

You can't just shear a yak, he explained. You have to comb through the hair and collect what comes out.

Wieder says he has to run the yaks into bucking chutes just to inoculate them. So matter how often D lets Wendy Wieder pat his nose, he'd likely have a different reaction if she were to approach him with a comb.

Or, said Richard Wieder, some people milk them and make yak cheese. That's not going to happen here, either.

"I don't have the patience to milk them," Richard Wieder said. "Their teats are only an inch, inch and a half long."

"Really," said Wendy Wieder, "they're just pets."

Not so much, though, that practicality doesn't rule.

The Wieders are ranchers, after all. And this was a bumper year for young bulls, not the most useful of yaks.

So one will be sold ($2,500, if you're interested). As to the other, well, that yak will get whacked.

"I guess they're good eating," Richard Wieder said. "We'll find out."

Anyone up for a yak snack?

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Managing editor at The Billings Gazette.