Mongolian herder calendar

Being nomads, the Mongolian herders and their animals live with and try to make optimal use of the seasons. Below, I will give you an impression of the annual calendar of the herders in the extreme circumstances in Mongolia.

December/January

Average temperature*: about -25°C (min -32°C, max -16°C)

Herding location: winter shelter (if possible in between mountains, with good shelters for the animals).

Food/drinks: mainly (dried) meat, dried curds from own animal(s) (products) and wheat/rice products, bought from the local market before the severe snowfall. Water from a waterpoint or from melting ice for drinking. Many herder families got completely isolated from the rest of the world, as the snow piles up high and roads are unavailable.

Main activities:  herding the animals (sheep, goats, cows/yaks, horses and/or camels), try to make the animals survive the winter by keeping them in a shelter at night, feeding the weakest animals some hay, and leading them to areas where they can find some feedstuff underneath the snow.

February/March

Animals look for feedstuff underneath the snow in winter

Animals look for feedstuff underneath the snow in winter

Average temperature*: -21°C warming up to -13°C in March (min -29°C, max -4°C)

Herding location: winter shelter

Food/drinks: mainly (dried) meat, dried curds and wheat/rice products, depending on if the herder has stored enough of the last for the whole winter. Water from a waterpoint or from melting ice for drinking, milktea if milk is available.

Main activities: herding the animals, keeping the animals alive as the end of the winter approaches and they are severely starved because of little feedstuff available, most goats/sheep will deliver one kid/lamb, goats will be combed for cashmere wool, and, if needed, the herder has to move to another place to find new feedstuff for their animals to survive. One of the main festivals: Tsagaan Sar (white month) is celebrated.

April/May

Average temperature*: -1°C up to 6°C in May (min -8°C, max 13°C, with regular (sand)storms)

Herding location: spring shelter

Preparing the land for potato seeds in spring

Preparing the land for potato seeds in spring

Food/drinks: mainly meat, dairy products and wheat/rice products. As the goats/sheep can be milked and sometimes even a cow, dairy products are available, mainly for milktea.

Main activities: herding the animals, milking goats/sheep, early cows deliver calves, moving to spring shelter place near a water point, finding areas where the grass starts growing, preparing land/greenhouse if crops are grown.

June/July

Average temperature*: 15°C (personal experience: though highly variable, and combined with regular rainfall, sometimes 30°C, sometimes 7°C)

Herding location: spring shelter or summer camp

Food/drinks: mainly airag (fermented horse milk), if guests come over, a meal of meat and rice/wheat products will be made. However, the herders(family) lives mainly on airag.

Main activities: herding the animals (all in separate groups per species, kids/lambs in a separate group), horses deliver foals, cows/yaks/camels deliver calves, all animals are milked (twice a day, though horses are milked every 2 hours between 6am and 10pm), dairy products are made, wool of sheep is collected, horse/camel/yak hairs are cut, horses are trained, all animals fatten due to grass growth, crops are cultivated, children are at home as school is finished and help with these activities. The main festival Naadam is celebrated.

Mongolia in summer: green, green, green

Mongolia in summer: green, green, green

August/September

Average temperature*: 14°C down to 8°C (min 2°C, max 21°C, start snowfall in September)

Herding location: summer camp

Food/drinks: airag, starting milktea again as it gets colder, now and then a meal of meat and rice/wheat products will be made. Dairy products are eaten mainly.

Main activities: herding the animals, all animals are milked up to the 1st of September (after that, sometimes sheep/goats and/or cows will be milked, but not generally), dairy products are made, wool/animal hair is used to make (felt) products, horses are trained, all animals fatten due to grass growth, crops are cultivated, hay is cut, children are prepared to go to school on the 1st of September, loans are asked from banks to pay school fees (or animals are sold to pay for it).

October/November

Average temperature*: -1°C down to -13°C (min -20°C, max 6°C)

Location: winter shelter

Food/drinks: milktea, dairy products, meat and wheat/rice products.

Main activities: herding the animals, making special flocks for breeding, harvesting crops, storing food and feed, restoring the winter shelter.

*based on data of the Mongolia Climate Website for Ulaanbaatar – www.climatetemp.info/mongolia

NOTE: This annual calendar is based on my experiences in Ovorkhangai province. As Mongolia is a vast country, these activities will change from area to area. Even within the province, activities amongst herders vary: some cultivate crops, others don’t, some move up to 15 times a year, others 2-3 times, not all herders have all species of animals (and some even have chicken).

Further reading about the Kazakh herders’ calendar in UB Post

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