How do nomadic herders know where to graze their livestock?

This pasture map shows the summer, autumn/spring, winter pastures of one community of herders in Mongolia. There are 41 families who live in the area and they have 2,921 livestock. In the last decade or so, the government has been giving out the usage rights to herder communities. You can’t buy or own pastures.

You can’t get permission to use the land as an individual, it has to be a group of people. They have different names for it: pasture user groups, co-ops etc but it has to be a group.

Now back to the above map. Colours represent different pastures:

  • blue-summer pastures-2,743 ha
  • Beige-spring/autumn pastures-2,600ha
  • light green-winter pasture-1,300 ha
  • dark green-forest

I chose this map with a lot of forest, so that it would be easier to understand the map.

Mongolian herders are nomadic herders. They follow the livestock based on the seasons. Most of the land cannot support more than X number of livestock for X number of days, therefore you need to move the livestock. Typically the nomads move 3–4 times per year, but can move more if the land doesn’t provide enough grass.

The movement is not random. Usually, you move to the same location year after year. In a lot of places, herders move to the same location their parents and grandparents did for centuries. The graph below shows the patterns of movements based on the type of land you live in:

  • Алтай (altai)-high mountain zone,
  • Хангай (hangai)-mountain forest steppe zone,
  • Хэнтий (hentii)-taiga forest zone,
  • Хээр говь (heer gobi)-desert steppe zone

З– means summer, Н-autumn, Ө-winter, Х-spring

So if we look at the bottom left corner (Hentii-taiga forest zone), the families in winter (Ө) move closer to the forests, up the hills, for shelter. Then in spring (Х) they move down. In summer (З) they stay close to rivers, the lowest point. There is a lot of vegetation and water for livestock over there. So according to the graph below the families move within 30km radius. The farthest they move is in mountainous areas as the grass is sparse, so they need larger territory for livestock.

Because the winter is tough you need to make additional preparations:

This is how the winter place looks like. Usually you need a fence so that the livestock can be corralled at night. There is a place to keep emergency fodder. The usual recommendation is around 15 days. Because the place needs to be built and is fairly immovable, the Government allows to own the plot it sits on. So a herder can sell, use as a collateral the small piece of land. Remember, I wrote above, the pasture cannot be owned, you can get a right to use it.

So finally, back to the question. What would happen if somebody uses their livestock to graze on your land?

If you graze your livestock on somebody’s winter pastures, that is a very rude thing to do. The winter pastures are usually left alone all summer, so that livestock can graze on it in winter. If you graze on somebody’s winter pastures, it means that family would face a bleak winter. Most livestock can die. In summer it is a little better as the grass can regrow within 30 days. But in any case, you better ask permission from the family first.

This is why the government authorities are making the pasture maps so that you can see who stays where. So that there is no confusion. But since this is life, there are sometimes events that force the herders to move. Dry summer (less grass) followed by extremely cold winter with a lot of snow can force the herders to move.

There are reserve areas for precisely that reason. They are called otor, the areas used for movement of livestock and for winter emergencies. You cannot graze your livestock in summer over there.

In the map above, orange, 8,000 ha of pastures are taken as otor. Herders are normally not permitted to go there and graze. It is used as an emergency reserve in case of tough climatic conditions. This area can support around 10,000–15,000 livestock. Usually, they give permission to graze from november till April.

A Mongol from the land of Blue skies. www.mongoliaFAQ.COM

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