Out of the current Mongolian population of 3.2 million (2020 Census), there are approximately 230,000 herding households -families with 71 million head of livestock (Dec 2022) that move between pastures trying to make optimal use of the seasons. Daily activity for the herders mainly depends on the time of year and the weather conditions as well as the routine of the livestock specific to that time of year. Below, is an impression of the Mongolian herding calendar – the main annual activities of Mongolia’s herders including the families we work in long-term local community partnership with.
Mongolia is a vast country so these activities will change from area to area. Even within a single province, activities will vary.
Spring – March through to early May
In early spring the herders will still be in their winter pasture. Livestock will start to give birth around mid-March.
Goats are combed for their cashmere wool. Castration of sheep and goats is also carried out now as well. By late spring the herders will consider moving either from their winter or spring pasture to their summer pasture – this will be a place near a water point.
Summer – Late May to early September
The main activities are the herding of the animals in search of good pasture – making sure the animals are fattened to help them survive the following winter. Livestock is typically herded in a species group although sheep and goats are often herded together.
All animals are milked and the milk used to make dairy products known as Tsagaan Idee. However, herders usually start to milk their horses later (around the start of Naadam – see below). They are milked 6-7 times a day for the milk that will become airag – fermented mare’s milk with an alcoholic content of approximately 1.5-2.3 %.
The wool of sheep is collected (although worth little financially, it is used to make eskii – the felt used to insulate Mongolian gers. Naadam horses are trained for the Naadam Festival that takes place countrywide in July. Children are at home as school has finished (June 1st) and help with activities.
Autumn – September and October
The herding of the animals continues. All animals are milked up to the 1st of September (after that, sometimes sheep/goats and/or cows will be milked, but this changes from family to family). The wool/animal hair can be used to make (felt) products. Where available, families cut their ‘winter hay’. School starts on September 1st and loans are asked from banks to pay school fees (or animals are sold to pay for it). Repair work is also carried out on the winter shelter. Autumn is also a natural time for families to cull their livestock. And this is typically when young horses are branded.
Winter – November to February
Already at their winter pasture, families will be collecting their drinking water from a nearby water point (such as a frozen river or well) or any melting ice. They will still be herding their livestock with the primary focus being the protection of animals from prey such as wolves and making sure the animals can access feed underneath any snow cover. The gers are insulated with extra layers of felt and the winter shelters for the animals are also insulated with dung.
The hours of daylight are limited, and life for herding families can almost feel like a semi-hibernation. Tsagaan Sar – Mongolian Lunar New Year (White Month) is celebrated in late Jan/Feb.
If you’re interested in experiencing an activity from the typical Mongolian herding calendar why not look at our Mongolian Nomads’ Migration post to see how we can arrange for you to join one of the families on their migration? Alternatively, look at the Mongolia tours including our range of homestay experiences where you can stay with the families we work in long-term local community partnership with.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes