Yak farmer, anarchist, podcaster, and so much more – Nick Hazelton, founder of Hazelton Farms in King’s Valley, is a deep thinker with plenty of interesting ideas and fascinating stories to tell. Hazelton dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to raise yaks on his family’s plot of land.
Here is an interesting look into his life, lived well off the beaten path.
Thomas Nguyen: Well, Nick, you’re quite the multifaceted guy, and what initially seem like very different aspects of your life all tie together. To give our readers some context, could we go through a bit of your personal history? What came first, the desire to farm or the political views?
Nick Hazelton: Sure! I was raised on my family’s plot of land out in King’s Valley, which would later become Hazelton Farms. At a young age, I was introduced to politics by the little debates that my parents and grandparents had, and found that it was something I really enjoyed. My parents were always super supportive when it came to me and my sister being proactive about learning, and my dad even had the both of us start our own blogs.
So, I started looking around at all the different political ideologies and found that there was something that I disagreed with about each one. Eventually I found anarchism, really appreciating the core ideas of self-reliance and the fluidity of the system. People change, you know? You might not always have the same views as you did when you were younger.
TN: Anarchy is probably one of the least understood political viewpoints. Images come to mind of riots and schemes to topple the government. Could you speak to that a bit?
NH: Definitely. That sort of thing is super far removed from what I and the people I work with believe in. Violent upheaval is the last thing on our minds. I really have a hard time associating with a lot of groups that do label themselves as “anarchist” – it can feel too commercialized a lot of the time, kind of like how every political group can be, I suppose.
Eventually, it became more about the scale of the communities that we have. When an ideological group gets large enough, it kind of stops mattering because it’s hard to really know the quality of the person underneath the ideology.
For me, what anarchy means is that there are no rulers. Nobody should be allowed to make decisions for you, to step between you and God, so to speak. It’s about the individual being able to decide for themselves what’s right, and doing right by the people around them. It ties into this idea of “spontaneous order,” where enough decent people can come together and be good to each other.
TN: So, that thread of self-reliance and independence has wound throughout other aspects of your life as well, which brings me to the question… why yaks?
NH: I’ve always had this part of me that wanted to differentiate myself from regular culture – which is also probably why I ended up going down this anarchy rabbit hole in the first place. I’d also done a lot of farm work in 4-H, and with a lot of family members.
When I decided to start farming, I did a lot of research into what kind of animals I would want. Along with being an uncommon animal around these parts, yaks have a lot going for them: the meat’s good, they have good milk, and they have high quality fur that they shed on their own. So instead of having different flocks for dairy, meat, and maybe some sheep for wool, you can have it all in one herd.
The thing is that they’re wild creatures, unlike dairy cows or dairy goats. Yaks aren’t quite as tame, which makes them harder to milk! And they somehow have this ability to just… hold in their milk. It sounds weird, but their udders aren’t as long and dangly as the ones that dairy cows have, because they come from a colder climate.
Aside from yaks, we’ve got hogs and Nubian goats.
TN: You said that yaks are wild creatures. Any close calls while working with the animals?
NH: It happens pretty rarely. They’re not prone to violence, since they’re scared of people, though one story does come to mind.
We had this young bull [goat] a while ago, which for various reasons we ended up bottle-feeding. That’s usually a bad idea, because then they stop seeing humans as “predators” – they stop respecting the farmhands and start to see them more as competition.
He was super nice and friendly at first, but just kept getting more ornery. One day, he got out of his paddock, and I was moving him back with my uncle and my grandpa. And my poor uncle, he must’ve gotten too close or something, because before we knew it, the bull had turned on him and flipped him a good five feet into the air.
I ran up and started trying to distract the bull, though all I had was a bamboo switch. The psychological trick with bulls is to make yourself look like you’ve got bigger horns than them using your arms and whatever you’re carrying. It usually works!
I realized that he didn’t care, and that I was facing down this 1300 pound animal with nothing but a twig. As I was thinking that, he picked me up and tossed me around. Luckily, everyone was safe after it was over.
The story’s got a happy ending though! Usually, when an animal shows that kind of aggression, you’d have to cull it. Though it wouldn’t have been a problem given the nature of our farm, we ended up putting an ad on Craigslist instead. We were contacted by some Tibetan Buddhists from a retreat in California, who offered to buy him. They even started an IndieGoGo campaign to raise enough money for him.
It took the veterinarian three tries to get him sedated, but eventually they were able to safely load him up and get him to the retreat. They took him down to California, took off his horns and castrated him, and that’s the story of Kayak the yak! We saw a picture of him a while ago, living a comfy life.
TN: One last thing: In a recent episode on your podcast, you talked about how the current COVID-19 pandemic makes those concepts of self-reliance and tight communities all the more important. Can you elaborate?
NH: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. My normal answer would be to try and grow your own food, but we’re not exactly in a normal situation. What I’ve been thinking about instead is skills and versatility, and how that can fit into the community.
The main thing you should [ask yourself is] “What skills am I learning? What can I provide to my community in a time like this?” There are so many niches and valuable roles that people can play, and I think that’s the key thing.
By Thomas Nguyen