In order to secure their income, to protect their traditions and their ecosystems, families of yak herders from the Khangai Mountains decided to set up a Cooperative in 2010, according to a sustainable and fair trade philosophy. By applying a process involving combing, several stages of sorting and checking, and meticulous dehairing, the Cooperative has become the first organisation to export Baby Yak Down with qualities which are now recognised by the luxury textiles industry. Technically competitive thanks to its length and softness; the fibres are used by spinning and weaving businesses, both in Mongolia and in export markets. The Arvidjin Ar Delgerekh Cooperative has seen a steady rise in exports of Hand Combed Baby Yak Down to Europe. Promoting this down helps sustain and improve the livelihoods of herders who are members of the Cooperative.
The Khangai Yaks
The Bor Gruniens, part of the local breed of yaks, farmed by members of the Cooperative, produce an undercoat of strong, delicate fibre which keeps them warm during the winter season and which they naturally shed in spring, with a new protective layer developing at the end of the summer season. Yaks from the KhangaÃ¯ Mountains live at high altitude, above 2,000 metres, and have to withstand particularly harsh temperatures during the winter months, which explain why their fibres provide such good thermal insulation. They feed naturally by grazing on plant species found at high altitude, are multifunctional (providing down, dairy produce, meat and transportation) and the majority (95%) do not have horns (compared to yaks in neighbouring countries). Khangai yaks live in harmony with the land and the needs of the nomadic herders.
NB: the province of ArkhangaÃ¯ is home to almost 40% of the 700,000 Mongolian yaks and 70% of those which are combed. This province, which includes a large part of the KhangaÃ¯ mountains, has long been the cradle of combed yaks and therefore of uniform quality yak fibre.
Agronomists and Veterinarians without Borders (AVSF) has been working with these herders in Mongolia since 2004. The NGO trains nomadic herders in basic veterinary care and also works with them on sustainable pastoral resource management, combing techniques, logistical organisation and the transformation and sale of their produce.
The Baby Yak Fibre Quality Concept
In order to deliver the best possible quality, herders select animals with the best fibre, particularly the Biaruu and the Shudlen yaks (one and two-year-old baby yaks). The yak fibres are entirely hand combed, taking care to respect the welfare of the animals, which are combed whilst standing to minimise any stress. The mandatory use of this â€combingâ€ technique optimises fibre selection and is part of the KhangaÃ¯ Cooperative philosophy. The yield is low in order to produce top-quality fibre: once the fibre has been selected, washed, dehaired and checked, 30% of the harvest is validated as Baby Yak Down for export, equating to only 90g per yak. That is how the Cooperativeâ€™s Label of Origin came about, as a sign of its expertise, its commitment to high quality and to guarantee the origin of the fibre.
Baby Yak Down:
very specific, incomparable
The textile industryâ€™s rediscovery of yak fibre is not only a matter of fashion. Overlooked for many years in favour of so-called â€˜nobleâ€™ fibres, some of which appeared to have endless supplies, it is now firmly in the limelight thanks to the work of rural, traditional, often fair trade associations and the Mongolian Cooperative, AAD, which was helped by AVSF to detect this untapped potential.
The principle of selecting baby yaks under two years old, the medical monitoring of the herds, the stress-free c ombing methods used, the choice of combing periods based on herdersâ€™ experience, the various stages of the selection process and adherence to specifications for washing and dehairing have all contributed to producing a new generation of fibres.
Analysis carried out by the Cooperative with various Mongolian and European laboratories – as well as through comparisons with other noble fibres – have made it possible to identify the specific qualities of its Baby Yak Down:
During and after transformation
The length of the fibre, up to 36/38mm
A diameter of 17 to 19 Î¼ which makes it very versatile
The proportion of kemp is under 0.2%
No static electricity for transformation
Little bobbling of transformed products
High level of tensile strength (high level of protein, including amino acids)
Yaks are free to roam
Their diet is limited to plants found at high altitude, without any additives.
Yaks graze without uprooting plants
Very soft and flexible (similar perception to the best fibres)Â Odourless and antibacterial without any kind of processingÂ Good heat retention (better than merino wool)
Breathable with moisture wicking properties
Anti-static (dry climates)