Monday, 21 January 2013

Migration Strategy of Mongolian Nomads

There's a new book, "Eques Mongolica" written by Bat-Ochir Bold, which is full of fascinating information relating to all aspects of horses and horsemanship in Mongolia. In fact, because the life of the Mongolian people has always been so closely involved with their horses, much of this wonderful book  is a study of the history and culture of the Mongols.

Travelling across Mongolia, foreigners are often intrigued by the apparently random movements of nomadic families with their homes and large numbers of livestock. Of course, their is nothing random about the choice of location and frequency of movement. Prior to the Socialist era, nomads moved according to the seasons, the type of animals they own  (horses, cows or yaks, sheep, goats and camels), type of pasture, salinity of the soil and water availability. People gathered near sources of drinking water, i.e. large rivers, permanent fresh water lakes or abundant springs.


 During the period 1959 - 1991, territorial administrative borders were created, wells were constructed and animal husbandry was collectivized.  This limited free migration and enabled grazing of animals where previously lack of available water prevented it and salt was distributed to satisfy the needs of the animals. One disadvantage was the over-grazing of land and complete devastation of the vegetation around the wells.
Since 1990, with collectivised farming abandoned, domesticated animals are once again in the hands of private herders. Many of the wells have fallen into disrepair, pastureland has been damaged by the increased number of goats (due to the high value of their cashmere) and herdsmen have to migrate further to reach low-lying areas where the salt content of the soil is satisfactory. Salty soil is rich in sodium and potassium, required by the animals for growth and the strengthening of bone, magnesium which is an important element of muscle tissue and copper for blood formation and functioning of the respiratory organs.


Nomads make four main migrations between the four seasonal pasture areas and many other migrations within those seasons. Depending on the differences of geographical zones, nowadays a nomadic family will move on average 10 times a year, although in cases of emergency they can move up to 30 times per year.


Pastures around a new site are divided up and used separately according to animal type. Nomads use the most distant pastures for horses because horses form quite stable groups under the leading stallion and are unlikely to run away from the group. This also offers protection against attack by wolves. When in danger the mares form a circle with their fronts facing inward, with the foals in the centre and the stallion on the outside, a distribution that challenges any agressor.  Nomads who own only a small number of horses let theirs join with their neighbours' horses.


A popular method of horse keeping is the individual migration where a herdsman takes his horses and a tent to distant pastures whilst the rest of the family stay with the other animals who are considered not strong enough to make a long migration. This happens in all four seasons, and in times of scarce food reserves e.g. drought or heavy snowfall, they may have to cover long distances.

More information about breeding, horse racing and training, the wild horse and different uses of horses can be found in Bold's book, ISBN: 978-9979-72-243-4

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