Spring in Mongolia is not typically a time of year promoted by companies so why are we saying to experience spring in Mongolia?
After all, it is one of the most important times of the year for local herding families although you may want to consider the weather first.
Of the four distinct seasons in Mongolia, spring is notorious for its whims and unpredictable weather. Mongolians say, ‘like a spring sky’ (хаврын тэнгэр шиг), in reference to moody behaviour. It is typically dry, arid and wind-blown but temperatures can also vary greatly from day to day.
But, don’t let the challenging backdrop provided by the weather put you off. Just make sure to pack a windproof jacket and leave a little space for the thermals as well as sunglasses and come and visit Mongolia during one of the most ‘real’ times of year.
Why visit Mongolia in the spring?
The activities of the herding families change quite markedly from season to season. Daily activity is largely dictated by the herd animals and the environmental conditions. For the (roughly) 150,000 herder households spread throughout the country, March and April are some of the most industrious months of the year and one of the most fascinating times of year to experience Mongolia – especially with the newborn offspring – by the end of March 2018, almost 4.3 million livestock were born in under one month.
Cashmere Combing Mongolia
Cashmere is hand combed from each individual goat in the early spring – as the weather warms, the undercoat naturally begins to shed. Combing the hair ‘by hand allows the guard hairs to remain intact – these are the hairs that provide protection from the wind and rain.
You may not believe it, but even within the harsh environment of Mongolia, the goats produce some of the longest and finest cashmere fibres. Each Mongolian goat produces (on average) 250 to 300 grams of cashmere per year. After processing (when the dirt and the coarser fibres are removed), the combings yield only around 50% of the original weight in cashmere.
It’s dirty hard work but it provides the herding families with a much needed injection of cash after a long and dormant winter. It’s a labour-intensive job and its often a community affair with individual ger encampments helping each other.
Castration Of Livestock In Mongolia
Herders castrate their young male livestock in the spring as a way of controlling breeding within their herds. It’s basically used as a way to make sure that only the higher-quality animals are used for breeding.
Known as khungulakh in Mongolian, there are specific traditions that are followed to make sure that they don’t suffer unnecessarily. Castration is performed with a small scalpel with the herder finding the testes, making a small incision and then pulling first one and then the other testicle out. The herders boil the testicles and eat them as part of a soup/broth (there’s a belief that if they’re eaten quickly, then the animals will recover quickly).
Spring Migration Mongolia
Each herding family is different on how often and when they move. However, spring is generally a time for migration from the depleted winter pasture.
Families do not migrate on the same day each year. Also, some families will move many kilometres while others only move short distances. As a herder in Mongolia, you live your life through the lunar calendar – all your activities are typically conducted on ‘auspicious’ days. In the Mongolian lunar calendar, there are favourable and unfavourable days according to the combination of elements: earth, air, fire and water. Herders look at the lunar calendar to look for a suitable (positive and auspicious) day on which to move their herds, put up their ger, to comb the cashmere or to castrate their male animals.
As an example, this is the young Batsuuri family that we work with as part of our long-term local community partnerships. Their home is in the Bayandalai district of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Their winter shelter is up in the protected foothills of the mountains and their summer pasture in the more open plains where rainfall turns the vast gravel plains into pasture for their livestock. They typically make this migration in April or May. It’s a short migration of only a few kilometres but a migration pattern typical to the Gobi.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes.