Contemporary Mongolia: Nomadic Pastoralists, their Livestock, and their Landscape


Fig. 28 Boy on horseback at Hoyor Zagal tourist camp, Elsentasarkhai Desert, North Gobi 

6. Sharing the Labor

Nomadic pastoralism involves both intensive labor and long periods of rest. Among the Mongolians there is a division of labor by sex and by age. Production is organized around the household and it is a simple form of "Worker Ownership."

Work begins at a very young age. Children learn to ride at age 3 and by 3 to 4 years may accompany their older siblings in caring for animals around the home (Fig. 28). This continues with increasing responsibility through about age 7. Children are the primary dung collectors. Dung is used for fuel in the stove and also for building materials, so this is a very valuable task. The dung from all the livestock, even the goats, is raked up into large baskets and carried to a central location, where it is spread out to dry in the sun.

Boys 10 years and older are expected to care for calves and to milk cows. Teen-aged boys are entrusted with the care of the foals.

The women manage all the household chores, prepare the food (Fig. 29), care for the children and the young livestock, make felt, spin yarn (Fig. 30), knit and sew, milk the livestock (especially the sheep and goats), pack things on the animals for transport, help set up the ger, sell handmade products (Fig. 31), and fill in for men in their absence.


Fig. 29 Mongolian woman preparing sweetened yak butter and raisins in her family's ger on the Chuluul River  


Fig. 30 Women spinning yarn at Lake Hovsgol Aimag Center  


Fig. 31 Female vendors selling their handmade products at Lake Hovsgol  

Men milk camels and mares, and sometimes cattle and yaks. They administer livestock production (Fig. 32), lead animals to market, lead caravans, dig wells, set up the ger with the women (Fig. 33), catch and break horses, and drive and maintain the vehicles.


Fig. 32 Mongolian man watering camels  


Fig. 33 Men and women assemble ger frame at Mandalgobi Aimag Center  

Milking is an important daily activity that consumes much of the time of both men and women. One family may have dozens of sheep and goats as well as several cows, yaks, and horses to milk each day.


Although the Mongolian way of life is very different from our own, its success can be measured by its survival over millennia. Mongolians have always maintained very close ties to the land and their animals. The people of this faraway country are undoubtedly one of its greatest resources (Fig. 34).


  1. Introduction 
  2. People and Landscape  
  3. Livestock Herding  
  4. Characteristics of Livestock: Horses, Sheep, Goats 
  5. Characteristics of Livestock: Cattle and Yaks, Camels, Reindeer  
  6. Sharing the Labor 
  7. Suggested Reading  


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