Yakking it up in Ned­er­land: Mur­ray is a reg­u­lar around town

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Mitchell Byars

So a yak walks into a bar …

No, that’s not a joke. It’s just an­other Mon­day in Ned­er­land, where a baby yak named Mur­ray is, in fact, one of the reg­u­lars at the town’s var­i­ous happy hours.

Mur­ray — or Bull Mur­ray, as his own­ers call him when a full name is war­ranted — is an 11-month-old yak calf who, in the past year, has be­come some­thing of a fix­ture in the moun­tain town.

“Every­body al­ways asks me, ‘When are you bring­ing Mur­ray back?'” owner An­thony Rick­etts said. “He’s kind of be­come a lit­tle town mas­cot.”

Rick­etts and his girl­friend, Sa­man­tha Irizarry, orig­i­nally bought a small yak herd as a way of health­ier farm­ing and get­ting more sus­tain­able meat, milk and fur. Na­tive to the Hi­malayas, yaks are ac­cus­tomed to colder weather and higher el­e­va­tions, which made them a per­fect fit for the Boul­der County foothills.

While most of their herd roams around on land near Mag­no­lia Road, when Mur­ray was born, Rick­etts and Irizarry de­cided to try some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“Rather than have him be raised out in the field, we bot­tle-fed him and had him im­print on hu­mans so we could han­dle him and go up to him,” Irizarry said. “Mur­ray pretty much thinks he is a dog.”

Rick­etts said he has a hunt­ing buddy with a son who has spina bi­fida, and he raised Mur­ray to be a hunt­ing com­pan­ion so they could even­tu­ally use Mur­ray as a pack an­i­mal.

In or­der to get Mur­ray used to all sorts of sights and sounds, Rick­etts said they be­gan tak­ing him into town to so­cial­ize him. And de­spite the fact that Ned­er­land is known for a fes­ti­val hon­or­ing a frozen dead guy and once was home to a lemur, walk­ing around with a 450-pound yak in the mid­dle of town draws some at­ten­tion.

“I love the re­ac­tions,” Irizarry said. “I know Ned­er­land has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a place where you can see any­thing. This fits right in with that.”

As Irizarry, Rick­etts and Mur­ray walked around town on Mon­day, peo­ple walk­ing down the street would stop and openly stare at Mur­ray, usu­ally sec­onds be­fore ask­ing if they can pet him, which Mur­ray hap­pily obliges.

“It felt fuzzy,” said 9year-old Ro­nan Fred­heim af­ter pet­ting her first yak. “Al­most like a sheep.”

While some were shocked to see a yak wan­der­ing the streets, other res­i­dents were al­ready fa­mil­iar with Mur­ray, with sev­eral peo­ple shout­ing, “Hey Mur­ray!” out their car win­dows as they passed by.

Mur­ray has a few fa­vorite han­gouts in town, in­clud­ing Salto Cof­fee Works, Cross­cut Pizza and the Rocky Moun­tain Oys­ter Bar, though no one has had the, um, courage to tell Mur­ray just what they serve at a bull bar. Thank­fully, for now, ev­ery­one there is just af­ter his com­pany.

“It’s like a big, 400pound dog,” said Billy McGee, a man­ager at Rocky Moun­tain Oys­ter Bar. “It’s a sweet lit­tle an­i­mal. Well, big an­i­mal.”

McGee said Mur­ray the yak comes in about once or twice a week, and pa­trons can’t get enough of him.

“They’re a lit­tle shocked at first, but then they love him,” McGee said. “I’ve never seen a cus­tomer not love it.”

Af­ter leav­ing the Rocky Moun­tain Oys­ter Bar, Rick­etts and Irizarry stopped by Cross­cut Pizza to meet friends and have a beer, while Mur­ray got some water and plopped down on the side­walk and calmly sat as a pass­ing 4-year-old promptly used Mur­ray as a fuzzy jungle gym and showed him her stuffed mer­maid.

“He brings a smile to every­body’s faces, and that’s the best part,” Rick­etts said.

The sight of a small tod­dler play­ing with a not-as-small yak ac­tu­ally caused a traf­fic jam on nearby Bridge Street, as drivers’ heads could be seen vis­i­bly snap­ping, while others sim­ply stopped in the mid­dle of traf­fic and tried to cap­ture a pic­ture on their cell­phones.

Stephanie Davis was vis­it­ing from Den­ver last week­end when she saw Mur­ray parked out­side the Rocky Moun­tain Oys­ter Bar.

“I walked by and thought it was a gi­ant dog,” she said. “And I can’t walk by a gi­ant dog and not pet it.”

So you can imag­ine Davis’s sur­prise when she got closer and re­al­ized it was a yak.

“I thought, well, this is strange and amaz­ing,” she said. “I would not ex­pect to see it any­where else, but you’re al­most not sur­prised to see it in Colorado. Es­pe­cially in Ned­er­land.”

Irizarry said she’s used to Mur­ray be­ing mis­tak­enly iden­ti­fied.

“Every­body thinks we are walk­ing our bear, or buf­falo, or a big New­found­land (dog),” Irizarry said. “Some­one thought it was Shet­land pony. I was like, ‘With horns?’ ”

“We would love for him to pull a hearse dur­ing Frozen Dead Guy Days. We want him to be the lo­cal yak.”

Jeremy Pa­passo, Daily Cam­era

An­thony Rick­etts walks with his pet yak Mur­ray in Ned­er­land.

Jeremy Pa­passo, Daily Cam­era

An­thony Rick­etts and his pet Yak Mur­ray on a street in Ned­er­land.

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