Clear Spring farm is home to Jericho, a 20-year-old Native Trim Tibetan Yak. Jericho is no ordinary yak. He has been awarded the title of Longest Yak Horns In The World, measuring a whooping 126 inches long from tip to tip and 10 inches circumference.
WCCO-TV’s “Finding Minnesota” Features Clear Spring Farm’s
World Record Yak Jericho on Sunday, Aug. 4 at 10 p.m.
It’s been a big year for gentle giant Jericho, a 20-year-old Tibetan Native Trim Yak living at Clear Spring Farm in Welch, MN. The Guinness Book of World Records certified his magnificent rack of horns as “Longest Horns on a Yak,” and then in July he traveled from his home to Boom Island Park for the Dalai Lama’s annual birthday party sponsored by the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota (TAFM). Then the 900-lb. steer was ridden by WCCO’TV’s “Finding Minnesota” journalist John Lauritsen for the introduction to the feature that ran Sunday, Aug. 4 at 10 p.m. It’s all been a deeply moving experience for everyone except the honored guest. He is, in the words of co-owner Melodee Smith of Welch, MN, “a very chill guy.”
“We held the news since February out of respect,” Smith said. “The Tibetan people revere him as a consecrated animal. The real story of why Jericho is so special belongs to the people who believe his life is dedicated as an offering for the health and longevity of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who turns 84 on Saturday. There are Minnesotan-Tibetans who clearly remember Jericho’s blessing long ago and will be amazed to see the magnificent horns that are now proven to be unlike any other in the world.”
Jericho’s horns were measured on Dec. 23, 2018 at Clear Spring Farm in Welch, MN by William Wustenberg, DVM of Farmington, MN, who was certified by Guinness to measure according to strict guidelines. Unedited video documentation was sent to England and within two months it was official: 136.4 inches (346.4 cm) tip-to-tip is a world record. Typical steer yak horns are 19-39 inches and swept upward away from the skull, but “Jerry’s” massive rack frames his face and is constantly changing in shape. The entire procedure took slightly over two hours in the Smith’s heated barn where Jericho munched hay and ignored the team of people fussing to affix a measuring tape to his horns with rubber bands and tape for accuracy.
Jericho’s first visit to Minneapolis was 18 years ago when then-owner John Hooper of Cold Spring, MN was persuaded to bring three young yaks to the annual community celebration by Tibet native Thupten Dadak, owner of the Heart of Tibet store in Uptown. Dadak, one of about 2,600 Tibetans living in Minnesota today, was a key figure who organized the first wave of refugees who were welcomed by the 1990 Immigration Act. TAFM was founded by Thupten in 1992 to preserve Tibetan culture and help refugees navigate their new country. Early leaders, including Dadak, took steps to ensure that generations born in the United States would grow up with appreciation for all things Tibetan, including the unique relationship between people and yak in their mountainous homeland.
When Jericho was paraded to the ceremonial tent on July 6, he wore a 100-year-old saddle that Dadak’s parents buried beneath their home with other family heirlooms before they fled Tibet. It was recovered 25 years later and brought to the United States. Jericho also wore a traditional yak bell and adornments typical for Tibetan celebrations.
He was only two years old when monks from the Minneapolis Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery blessed him, freeing him from any use in production agriculture for the rest of his natural life. Then, the three animals returned to Hooper’s farm to live out their lives in peace and good health. By the time the Smith family met Jericho in 2012, shortly after moving back to Minnesota, there was no question that there was something special about the big, kind beast whose horns arched downward and framed his massive head.
Hugh Smith, M.D. had accepted a radiologist position in southern Minnesota after serving in numerous locations with the United States Air Force. It was time to set down roots, live within a drive of family, and raise their children into adulthood with skills and values that come from life on a farm. Hugh’s childhood in Fargo, ND had been enriched by a menagerie of animals his veterinarian father had brought home, including a piano-playing Pygmy Goat. Melodee was raised on a dairy farm near Alexandria, MN, where Hugh discovered his knack for working with cattle the summer that he stayed there studying for medical board exams. The 40-acre farm they found in Welch, MN was a dream come true, and they quickly started researching options for an enjoyable, profitable livestock business. Curiosity about yak living in Minnesota led them to visit Hooper, and before the visit ended their adventure as yak herders was launched with a small starter herd of seven animals.
Hooper mentored the Smiths about yak care and introduced them into the close-knit Tibetan community. Requests to visit the animals started immediately. It was common for multi-generation Tibetan families to spend an afternoon, complete with their own grills to picnic in the yard. Proximity to yak is deeply nostalgic for people old enough to remember their former life in Tibet, and curious for younger Tibetans who have never seen a yak before. The Tibetan restaurant Everest on Grand in St. Paul began featuring Smith’s farm-raised lean yak meat on the menu.
Agri-tourism interest soon spread to the general public. The bucolic farm setting draws people to dinners on the farm, summer Yak Camp for children ages 8-18, weddings, and private visits. Experiments with an annual public open house the last weekend of September proved so successful that Melodee founded North Star Farm Tour with a small group of fellow shepherds in 2017 to expand opportunities. She serves as the president and was influential in focusing this year’s theme on “Globally Known – Locally Grown” to celebrate not just the animals but also the unique cultures that revere and rely upon them. This year the farm will be open Sept. 28 & 29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for people to meet Jericho and representatives of the Tibetan community.
When Hooper retired in 2014, Smiths acquired more of his herd, including Jericho and the spiritual commitment that transferred to their hands. With the birth of Gilbert, the newest bull calf born July 3, 2019 the herd has grown to 36. The lifelong Christians will find themselves at the center of the Buddhist celebration on Saturday, Jericho drawing everyone together across cultures, ages, and religions.
“We had no idea how many blessings would come our way when we agreed to give Jericho a home,” said Melodee Smith.
Jericho was previously owned by John Hooper, who took excellent care of Jericho for many years. John was instrumental in fostering a special relationship with yak and the Tibetan Society of Minnesota.
When Jericho was a young calf, John took him to the Dalai Lama’s Birthday Celebration where Jericho was blessed by a Tibetan Monk in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Jericho, now a sacred animal, continued to live a blessed life at John Hoopers.
Jericho was extra special in the fact that his horns continued to grow. His horns became so long and heavy that they curled forward and then back down towards his neck. They became quite a spectacle and wonder to see. John trained Jericho to wear a saddle and parade people around. Together they traveled to The Denver Stock Show, Minnesota State Fair and numerous local events.
When John retired in 2014, Jericho went to live at Clear Spring Farm. Jericho fit in very well with the herd at CSF as many yaks were from John Hooper originally and Jericho recognized his old buddies right away.
Jericho’s horns continue to grow today. They caught the eye of Guinness Book Of World Records and encouraged CSF to do an official measurement and apply for the title of Longest Yak Horns in the World. Sure enough, after submitting an official application and measurement, Jericho was given the title of Longest Yak Horns In The World. Measuring a whooping 126 inches long from tip to tip and 10 inches circumference, no yak has even came close.