The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management

The yak grazing system on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and its status

R. J. Long A B D , L. M. Ding A C , Z. H. Shang B and X. H. Guo A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A International Centre for Tibetan Plateau Ecosystem Management, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730020, Gansu, China.

B Grassland and Yak Research Centre, College of Pastoral Agriculture Science and Technology, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730020, Gansu, China.

C Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, Ministry of Education, School of Life Science, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, Gansu, China.

D Corresponding author. Email:

The Rangeland Journal 30(2) 241-246
Submitted: 14 March 2008  Accepted: 24 April 2008   Published: 3 June 2008


Yaks are a multifunctional and dominant livestock species on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. The yak grazing system is a traditional transhumance system. Research is focussed on both understanding and improving the system. Development of local economies and the use of new knowledge from yak research and modern technology are improving the system. However, the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau ecosystem is becoming dysfunctional through adverse climate sequences, over-population and over-grazing. The Chinese Government has implemented regional projects to address these degradation problems. Several policies have recently been introduced to improve yak grazing management. This paper reviews current knowledge on the system and the options for improving and optimising the system.

Additional keywords: alpine, degradation, education, grasslands, rangelands.


We thank two anonymous reviewers and Ronald Hacker whose comments on an earlier draft improved the paper. The editorial assistance of Kenneth Hodgkinson is appreciated.


Bi X. H., Xie A. Y., Han X. T., Zhu W. J., Hu L. H. (1989) Study on rumen digesting metabolism of growing yak. Chinese Journal of Animal and Veterinary Sciences [In Chinese] 2, 2–5. open url image1

Cai L. (1992). ‘Chinese Yak.’ (Chinese Agricultural Press: Beijing.) [In Chinese]

Cai R. J., Min W. Y. (2003.) Thoughts on the problem of the present breeding in fence and its solution. Journal of Northwest University for Nationalities (Philosophy and Social Science) 5, 41–44. open url image1

Chen Z. R. , Ji Q. M. , Dawa and Yangla (2004). Advances on research of yak production system in China. In: Yak production in central Asian highlands. ‘Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress on Yak’. Chengdu, P. R. China.

Chinese Yakology Committee (1989). ‘Chinese Yakology’. (Sichuan Scientific and Technical Press: Chengdu.) [In Chinese]

Ding L. M., Long R. J., Wang C. T., Shang Z. H. (2006) Grazing behaviour of lactating and non-lactating yaks in the summer season of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution [In Chinese] 52, 141–149. open url image1

Ding L. M., Long R. J., Yang Y. H., Xu S. H. (2007) Behaviour responses by yaks, in different physiological states (lactating, dry or replacement heifer), when grazing natural pasture in spring (dry and germinating) season of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 108, 239–250.
CrossRef | open url image1

Ding L. M., Long R. J., Yang Y. H., Xu S. H., Wang C. T. (2008) Feeding behaviour of yaks on spring, transitional, summer and winter pastures in the alpine region of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 111, 373–390.
CrossRef | open url image1

Dong Q. M., Zhao X. Q., Ma Y. S., Dai Y., Shi J. J., Li Q. Y., Wang L. Y. (2006) Effect of stocking rate on water content of soil and standing crop in Elymus nutans/Puccinellia tenuflora mixed-sown pastures in Yangtze and Yellow river headwater region. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Science [In Chinese] 34, 5611–5614. open url image1

Dong Q. M., Zhao X. Q., Xu S. X., Ma Y. S., Shi J. J. (2003) Study on fattening trial under shed feeding in Alpine-cold pasture area. Chinese Qinghai Journal of Animal and Veterinary Sciences [In Chinese] 33, 5–7. open url image1

Gerald W. N. , Han J. L. , and Long R. J. (2003). ‘The Yak.’ 2nd edn. (RAP Publication: Thailand.)

Gosclaude F. (1978) Milk protein polymorphism in Nepalese bovine. I. Evidence for biochemical characteristics of 2 new variants in the yak; β-Lg D yak and αs1-Casein E. Animal Breeding Abstracts 46, 21–22. open url image1

Han J. G., Zhang Y. J., Wang C. J., Bai W. M., Wang Y. R., Han G. D., Li L. H. (2008) Rangeland degradation and restoration management in China. The Rangeland Journal 30, 233–239. open url image1

Hua C. Y. (1964) Experiences on improving milk yield of yak and yak-cattle hybrids in Aba prefecture in Sichuan. Chinese Journal of Animal Science [In Chinese] 2, 11–15. open url image1

Jiao X. L., Liu H. Z., Fan T. (2005) Nutritional quality analysis of Qinghai yak meat. Chinese Herbivores [In Chinese] 25, 57–58. open url image1

Karamjit S. D., Manoj K. M., Jayashree K., Masroor A. B., Zakwan A., Qadar Pasha M. A. (2007) cDNA cloning, gene organization and variant specific expression of HIF-1α in high altitude yak (Bos grunniens). Gene 386, 73–80.
CrossRef | open url image1

Lei H. Z., Chen J. H. (1964) Observation on yak reproduction, physiology and characteristics. Chinese Journal of Animal Science [In Chinese] 7, 1–3. open url image1

Li X. L., Yuan Q. H., Wan L. Q., He F. (2008) Perspectives on livestock production systems in China. The Rangeland Journal 30, 211–220. open url image1

Long R. J. (1994) Milk performance of yak cows under traditional feeding and management on small Tibetan farms. Acta Prataculturae Sinica [In Chinese] 3, 71–76. open url image1

Long R. J., Dong S. K., Chen X. B., Ørskov E. R., Hu Z. Z. (1999a) Preliminary studies on urinary excretion of purine derivatives and creatinine in yaks. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 133, 427–431.
CrossRef | open url image1

Long R. J., Dong S. K., Wei X. H., Pu X. P. (2005) The effect of supplementary feeds on the bodyweight of yaks in cold season. Livestock Production Science 93, 197–204.
CrossRef | open url image1

Long R. J., Zhang D. G., Wang X., Hu Z. Z., Dong S. K. (1999b) Effect of strategic feed supplementation on productive and reproductive performance in yak cows. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 38, 195–206.
CrossRef | PubMed | open url image1

Luo X. L., Tong Z. B., Wei Y. P., Zhao X. Q. (2006) Meat characteristics of Qinghai yak and semi-wild yak. Animal Science Journal [In Chinese] 77, 230–234.
CrossRef | open url image1

Ma Z. J., Zhong J. C., Chen Z. H., Luo X. L. (2006) Study on the DNA molecular markers on Yak. China Cattle Science [In Chinese] 32, 43–48. open url image1

Mao Y. J., Zhong G. H., Zheng Y. C., Peng X. W., Yang Z. P., Wang Y., Jiang M. F. (2004) Genetic polymorphisms of milk protein and their relationships with milking performances in Chinese yak. Scientia Agricultural Sinica [In Chinese] 37, 291–295. open url image1

Miller D. J. (1990) Grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau. Rangelands 12, 159–163. open url image1

Miller D. J. (1999) Nomads of the Tibetan Plateau rangelands in western China. Part two: pastoral production practices. Rangelands 21, 16–19. open url image1

Nguyen T. T., Genini S., Menetrey F., Malek M., Vogeli P., Goe M. R., Stranzinger G. (2005) Application of bovine microsatellite markers for genetic diversity analysis of Swiss yak (Poephagus grunniens). International Society for Animal Genetics 36, 484–489. open url image1

Ou Y. X., Wang Q. F. (1984.) Study on yak cold resistance-preliminary observation of yak skin histology structure. Journal of Southwest University for Nationalities (Natural Science Edition) 3, 13–21. open url image1

Ren J. Z., Hou F. J. (2004) Principles of grassland resources management. Acta Agrestia Sinica [In Chinese] 12, 261–264. open url image1

Ren J. Z., Hu Z. Z., Zhao J., Zhang D. G., Hou F. J., Lin H. L., Mu X. D. (2008) A grassland classification system and its application in China. The Rangeland Journal 30, 199–209. open url image1

Tao L., Zhang X. S., Xiao K. J. (1993) Studies on yak milk protein polymorphism. Journal of Chinese Yak [In Chinese] 2, 5–10. open url image1

Wang D., Ba L. (2008) Ecology of meadow steppe in northeast China. The Rangeland Journal 30, 247–254. open url image1

Wang M. Q., Weigend S., Barre-Dirie A., Carnwath J. W., Zhong L. L., Niemann H. (2003) Analysis of two Chinese yak (Bos grunniens) populations using bovine microsatellite primers. Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics 120, 237–244.
CrossRef | open url image1

Wang Y. (1998) Study on the milk composition of yak. Chinese Journal of Animal Science [In Chinese] 34, 22–23. open url image1

Wen Y. L., Li C. P., Zhong G. H., Ou Y. X., Zi X. D., Chen Z. H., Su J. H. (2003) Milk performance of the yak and methods for improvement. Sichuan Grassland [In Chinese] 1, 1–12. open url image1

Xiao K. J., Zhang X., Zhang X. S., Zhang R. Q. (1989) Comparative study on amino acids in sera of yak in autumn and spring. Southwest China Journal of Agricultural Sciences [In Chinese] 2, 94–96. open url image1

Xie R. Q., Luo G. R., Yang P. G., Zheng Q. Y. (2005) Meat quality test and analysis for yak. Herbivores [In Chinese] 4, 33–36. open url image1

Xuebin Q., Jianlin H., Lkhagva B., Chekarova I., Badamdorj D., Rege J. E. O., Hanotte O. (2005) Genetic diversity and differentiation of Mongolian and Russian yak populations. Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics [In Chinese] 122, 117–126.
CrossRef | PubMed | open url image1

Yu Q. L., Han L., Jiang Y. M., Chen Q. Y., Shen H. (2005) Analysis of the nutritional components and flavour substances of white yak’s milk. Acta Nutritional Sinica 27, 333–335. open url image1

Zhang C. J., Wang Y. A., Li Q. J. (1991) Studies on β-Lactoglobulin polymorphism of Qinhai alpine yak. Journal of Qinghai Nationalities Institute [In Chinese] 8, 16–21. open url image1

Zhao C. Z., Long R. J., Ma Y. H., Ji S. Z. (2005) The impact of the institution of grassland property right on overgrazing – A case from Hongshiwo countryside Sunan County Gansu. Acta Prataculturae Sinica [In Chinese] 14, 1–5. open url image1

Zhang K. Y. (1954) Yak in Tibet. Husbandry and Veterinary [In Chinese] 5, 23–26. open url image1

Zhang R. C. (1989). ‘Chinese yak.’ (Gansu Science and Technology Publishing) pp. 386–401. [In Chinese]

Zheng Y. C., Han Z. K. (1996) Milk protein genetic polymorphism of Maiwa yak and cow-yak hybrids. Journal of Southwest Nationalities College (Natural Science Edition) 22, 421–424. open url image1

Zhong J. C., Chen Z. H., Zhao S. J., Xiao Y. P. (2006) Classification of ecological types of the Chinese yak. Acta Ecologica Sinica [In Chinese] 26, 2068–2072.
CrossRef | open url image1

Zhu S. H., Xu C. L., Fang Q. E., Liu F. Y. (2006) Effect of white yak grazing intensity on species diversity of plant communities in alpine grassland. Journal of Gansu Agricultural University [In Chinese] 41, 71–75. open url image1

Export Citation Cited By (26)