Generally, there is little equipment to assist the herdsmen in the management of yak on range. The most usual provisions are a dipping pit used for both cattle and sheep; perhaps a silo or silage trench for use mainly by sheep; a corral with a tunnel-like passage to restrain animals for vaccinations or other treatments; and there may be a simple crush to hold cows that are intended to mate to particular bulls or to inseminate artificially. Pens are also created to provide shelter. Such pens and enclosures are used only at night and usually only during the winter and spring. They are always at the campsite or close to the habitation of the herdsmen and their families. The pens can be of various types of construction with differing degrees of permanence.
This is a relatively permanent construction built near the habitation of the herdsmen or at the winter campsite. It is used primarily for the cow herd, including hybrid females, and it is also used for the replacement females. The area is usually 15 x 15 m with a wall 1 - 1.2 m high, but the size can be as large as 30 x 20 m. Most of the mud pens have an additional shelter area constructed at one side of the pen facing the sun and providing extra protection from the wind. This extra shelter is constructed from a layer of clay on wooden boards knitted together with wicker.
The mud pens can stand alone, though more usually there are two or more built together and often joined by a passage with mud walls or wooden fence. A gate or gates keep the stock apart in the different pens. If several pens are connected to each other, the last pen will end in a long tunnel-like passage used for restraining the animals for vaccinations or other purposes. The passage can be roofed or open.
This is a temporary structure, built and used only during the cold season. Fresh yak faeces are piled up near the campsite in a layer of about 15 - 20 cm deep every day. The first layer freezes solid overnight before the second layer is added.
Such a pen can be completed in a few days. There are two types of faeces pen: One has four walls to keep out wind and snow and provides a relatively large area used for adult yak.
The other is smaller, built on a horseshoe-shaped foundation with a diameter of about 1 m and looking, from the outside, something like an upside-down earthenware jar. It is built up gradually to its final 1 m height and is used to hold calves. The open end has its back to the prevailing wind. A wooden stake is used to tether the calf. Hay is put inside the pen to make it warmer for the calf. When the temperature starts to rise in the spring, the faeces thaws and pens made from it fall apart, to be rebuilt in the following winter.
To build pens with turf, herdsmen select a position on the winter pastures that faces the sun and is relatively sheltered from the wind. The height of the turf walls is at least 60 cm, though usually higher. This type of pen is used to give some shelter to pack yak and some bulls. The structure is semi-permanent but needs to be repaired each year.
Wood is in short supply on the plateau where most yak live. Therefore, wooden enclosures are often only an adjunct to a mud pen and within its perimeter. The wooden enclosure may be roofed or not. In the alpine areas, wood is more abundant and the compound may be built independently. The structure is of small wooden bars and provision is made for holding hay. During the warm season, these wooden enclosures are used to keep the calves isolated from their dams at night, while the adults graze in preparation for milking the following morning.
Tents made of yak hair are also used for calves in the pastoral areas. In the alpine parts, for example in Jiulong county of Sichuan, there are small shelters, called cattle shelters, found as part of the permanent buildings of the campsites. They are used by herdsmen and milkers and for processing milk and storing milk products. Such shelters can vary in area from 10 - 20 sq m and are surrounded by a stone wall that is 1.5 m. high. Boards or bark are used for the roof. These shelters are in use whenever the herd comes to the campsite.