Not sure what happened with the last blog post, missed a few sentences or paragraphs at the end, maybe I just didn’t finish writing it in my hurry to go and ride a Mongolian pony.
But anyway, it is a little tricky to sort the whole herder well being/sustainable pasture usage issue, it is so multi-faceted that to waltz in here for a few weeks and speak with 30 herders gives me not much more than an overview at this point in time.
I guess what I’m seeing is that with privatisation in the mid 1990’s, herder numbers and subsequently livestock numbers increased. Whether or not they were better off under Socialism seems to be up to the individual’s experience. They were allowed to keep 75 animals of their own over and above their allotted animals, their own animals were used to replace any that they lost out of the allotted herd so they could get in real trouble in a tough winter.
With numbers building up post socialism the pressure on the landscape also increased, a bad winter in 2002 reduced livestock numbers as did last winter. An old couple we interviewed gave me the impression that it was all part of the natural cycle of herding in a climatically variable landscape. Bad winters reduced both livestock and herder numbers which increased pasture availability for those still able to make it work. The herders without livestock left move to the local town where there is little chance of employment and often end up moving to the capital city Ulaanbaatar and living in ger camps on the edge of the city, again without a lot of chance of employment.
To keep both their animals and the pasture in good shape herders need to move frequently. This used to be done with horses and carts and camels but now is with small trucks and jeeps which costs money. Basically it seems to me that the poorer they are now the less they move due to the cost of moving. This means their livestock are in worse shape and is a fairly destructive cycle.
Typically, herders move 3 or more times over the summer, chasing the pasture, the worse the season the more they move. Over winter they hole up in shelters in their registered winter camp and livestock draw on the fat they’ve laid down over summer to survive. Animals give birth in early spring which is the lowest point in available nutrition and at their lowest weight, but is done then to give the young time to grow big enough to survive the next winter and to allow the mothers a couple of months in autumn to put some fat on after they’ve weaned their young. It’s a tough gig.
Of course, all of this is just what I’m seeing in this snapshot in time and maybe I’ve interpreted wrongly.
Yesterday afternoon Chimeg and I hired a horse each and had a ball racing around the hills and valleys. These horses are small but full of heart and really surefooted in the hills. We were like a pair of kids terrorising tourists as we raced past them through gullies and up rocky hills. Thankfully we had Russian and not Mongolian saddles, not sure how they manage to ride in those things. Chimeg spent her childhood summers helping her grandmother who is a herder in the north of Mongolia so she rides a horse like a Mongolian herder and thankfully likes to go fast too. It was a great afternoon, lots of laughter and a feeling of absolute fun. That’s another one to tick off my Bucket List; rode a Mongolian pony and had a ball.