In March 2024, I travelled to Mongolia on short notice. The reason for my trip was that the news that a lot of snow had fallen all over Mongolia and more than 2.3 million livestock had died had reached even Japan. I had a gut feeling that the situation must be serious.

I stayed with a Mongolian pastoralist family in Tuv Province in central Mongolia for about a week. I have been visiting this family every year since 2009. They are made up of a good couple, a smart only son, and a hardworking grandmother. They are a lovely family, always with smiles on their faces. However, last Chinese New Year (February 2023), the husband of this household passed away suddenly. Although he was originally ill, he and his wife still kept nearly 1,000 head of livestock at one time. He passed away suddenly.

When I visited the house in April 2023, the remaining wife and son were frantically tending to their livestock. Spring, the season for livestock births, is such a busy time for pastoralists that they do not have time to rest. Despite this, the wife and son were exhausted at the time, having suffered a great emotional shock. Their livestock were also weak.

She said “I thought I was supporting my husband. I thought that if the labor force of the two of us was 100%, I was doing about 70% of the work. But I was wrong. My husband was responsible for the entire care of the livestock. Now that he is gone, I don’t know how I can stop the livestock from getting weaker.”

The son had studied in Ulaanbaatar since elementary school, graduated from university, and found a job in Ulaanbaatar. He always came back when school was not in session so he could ride his horses without any difficulty, but he was not sure of the details of how best to put them out to pasture for livestock. They spent the year under a great deal of emotional stress and trial and error, remembering what her husband (father) had done.

Then, March 2024. There was still a lot of snow in the winter camp. In places where the snow was deep, it was up to my knees (I am 153cm tall).

When I visited the house, they had divided the sheep and goat herd into two groups. One herd was strong enough to dig snow and graze on their own. The other group did not have the strength to walk far, and needed to be fed. During the week I was there, the number of the latter herd increased day by day. They fed their livestock with grass, natural soda and hot tea. But the sheep, who were truly powerless, could not even stand up on their own. Some of them just ran out of strength and died in the corner of the hut.

The wife said that “Managing livestock is really a year-round commitment. In order to survive the harsh winters, it is ideal for the livestock to have a good balance of muscle and fat, and for this there are summer grazing practices in summer and fall grazing practices in fall. My husband was well versed in that but, after he passed away, there was a lot we didn’t know and that weakened our livestock.”

It was under these circumstances that they were greeted with the recent snow damage. Moreover, there was a limit to the amount of grass they could secure in Tuv Province, while much of the hay was being transported to the eastern province of Khentii which was more severely affected by the snow damage. The price of hay has skyrocketed nationwide since the pandemic.

Sheep and goats that are physically strong are put out to pasture every morning. Since I was in charge of morning grazing, I walked with the livestock to the pasture every day. At first I didn’t know which road to take to get to the pasture. But I needn’t have worried. The livestock knew the way better than I did. Looking carefully at the snowfield, I could see that the livestock’s daily footprints had become the paths. In Mongolian, the paths of people are called “zam” and those of livestock are called “jim”.

On the other hand, livestock know that there is plenty of grass in their campsites. So they don’t want to walk all the way to the pasture. Livestock, too, want to make things easier. What the humans should have done was to drive the herd away from the back of the herd, which was reluctant to go to the pasture.

Walking behind the sheep and goats, I could see brown soil in some parts of the snowfield. I was told that the snow had melted a little earlier where another family’s horses had dug it up during the winter. Sheep and goats go to these areas where the snow has melted a little earlier to look for grass. This is another form of coexistence between large livestock and small livestock in the grasslands.

My host family had two stallions, each of which formed a herd and went far away from the other. One of them was an experienced stallion who knew where he could reliably get grass even in heavy snowfall. The other was a young, recently arrived and inexperienced, who was led by mares to search grass, but finally became exhausted and returned to the camp. We walked up close to the returning herd of horses and hauled in some grass.

Luckily, it was sunny for the entirety of my stay. Hoping for a quick thaw and good grass, I finished my short stay and headed home.


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