It’s milking time. Again. All hands on deck. The women of the Kazakh nomad community in Western Mongolia are in all-out commando mode. Their tongues click and arms wave as they chase their herds of goats and sheep into a pen. Hundreds of hooves dart this way and that, swirling and spinning, trying to avoid what’s coming next.
One woman uses her long cotton skirt like a whip, flicking it at the goats as she drives them toward the gate. At the last second, they make a hairpin turn and lose her. She puts on the brakes, exasperated.
The spectacle reminds me of the scene in Rocky where Rocky chases a chicken as part of his training, and I can’t help but chuckle, albeit quietly. It’s clear the ladies aren’t finding the situation as amusing.
Not all the animals are rebellious, a few run into the corral on their own. Hands immediately wrap around their horns or a back leg and drag them to a rope line. With the animals staggered, one facing north, the other south, they’re tied together as tight as sardines.
The majority, however, is defiant, scattering in all directions. The phrase “herding cats” crosses my mind more than once.
A few sheep escape by leaping over the four-foot log fence with the ease of a gazelle, only to be yanked back into the enclosure, defeated. Others leap into the pen and then look around befuddled as if wondering, what did I just do?
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During my two-week summer adventure in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia, I’ve seen this spectacle of horns and hooves many times. It’s one of the chores assigned to the women and children, though sometimes the men chip in to tie up the animals, but never the milking.
The teat-pulling task doesn’t stop with their goats and sheep, they’re just the beginning. Whenever I visit a family’s ger, the women and children always seem to be just finished with milking, in the middle of milking, or on the cusp of milking. They milk the cows once a day, the herds of goats and sheep twice, and lactating mares every two hours.
Why So Much Milking?
On the whole, a Kazakh’s diet consists of meat and dairy products. There’s no agriculture to speak of. As nomads, they live hundreds of miles from the nearest town or grocery store. They slaughter their own livestock and practically everything else they make is derived from milk. They make their own bread, butter, and yogurt, plus a variety of hard cheeses they produce by the truckload and store for the winter.
Their dependence on animals is the cornerstone of their culture. They move up to six times a year based on where the land will support grazing.
Once all of the goats and sheep are tied up, phase two begins. The older women sit behind all the woolly butts, teetering on tiny wooden stools the width of one butt cheek; the children kneel. They grip their pails between their thighs and not so gently tug on the teats of their captives, letting the warm white liquid fill their containers.
From start to finish this daily Kazakh tradition takes nearly two hours. It was exhausting just watching. Afterward, the herds are released and they run off into the hills to graze. In a matter of hours, it will happen all over again.
I can’t imagine multiplying this ordeal times two, in addition to milking the cows and the mares along with everything else the women do. They raise the kids, cook all the meals, and take care of the home. The Kazakh nomads live the gift of a simple life but it’s not for the faint of heart.
As I watch the hodgepodge of fuzz nibble on the grass in the distance, and the swoosh of the ladies’ skirts disappear into their gers, I feel a sense of awe. When I go home I’ll bask in the ease and variety of my local Trader Joe’s, but these Kazakh women have no such luck.
(The images above were taken over a few days with multiple families.)
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117 thoughts on “Why Kazakh Nomad Women in Mongolia Can Spend All Day Milking”
I am wondering if you could add detail of what season this milking takes place…from when to when within the year, as may give the impression that it is year round activity….And this is for herding families, not town-dwelling Kazakh women. The women’s range of activities is indeed more diverse and it would be nice to see some comment about what they do in the wintertime which to my understanding is the season to relax from this activity and enjoy the diverse pleasures within the nomadic herding culture. In the summer they also make felt (July usually) etc.. I think it would make your article seem fuller and more culturally-informative. These are just some suggestions.
Great blog! This post reminded me of Kazy, the Kazakh wine, made from mare’s milk!
I’ve never had that. The mare’s milk, sure, but not the wine. Wish I had. Glad you liked the post. Thanks for letting me know. 🙂
just beautiful 🙂
How I wish I can lay my hands on one of those Goats
Absolutely stunning work, Susan. You frame your beautiful photos with a great narrative.
Your photos and story are amazing.
Thanks for sharing, really enjoyed your story and pictures!
I’m so glad! Thank you for letting me know.🙏🙂
WOW, such an amazing story
Good day, Dear Susan. I have just registered here and was exploring the blogs that have any relation to my country. I came across your article and started reading curiously, as I am Kazakh…
I was quite shocked by the fact that you say that half of the life Kazakh woman spends milking the cows…
There were times when all nations with turk roots used to be nomads and they would lead such a lifestyle. But that is long gone for Kazakhs.
Even if the people you have met happened to be Kazakh, it is not right to generalise and to put up such a title for your article, making people believe that Kazakh women spend half their lives milking the cows….:)
I am kazakh and I have never milked a cow. Moreover, there is a country called Kazakhstan, you may want to visit, so that you may write your next article about Kazakhs based on the things that you saw in Kazakhstan and not in Mongolia. Mongolia is a separate country. Bordering with Kazakhstan. But it is a separate country.
Thank you and I am sorry if it came out offending.
I know you most probably did not mean any bad.
Have a good day.
Hello – Thank you very much for taking the time to state your concerns regarding my article and I understand why you would feel that the title was too much of a generalization. Therefore, I have updated the title to: The Reason Kazakh Women in the Altai Mountains Spend Half Their Life Milking. I hope that alleviates some of your concern. All the best, Susan
Thank you for reminding us —
how varied cultures are,
that ‘ a normal day’ can mean
so many different things.
It’s so true Elaine! Thank you for checking it out. Welcome to the blog. I hope you return.
I love this post, it reminds me of all the things I take for granted. Its fascinating hearing about how the women and children do this exhausting task and the child in the one picture has such a happy laboring look. This post also gives a lot of back ground on the culture of the area. All in all, I love the article; it brings a sense of gratefulness and cultural influence.
Thank you so much for such a kind and thoughtful comment. I am thrilled that you felt the post was a good one. Welcome to the blog and I hope you return. Consider sighing up for my updates if you’d like to see more. 🙂
Lovely post.. along with beautiful pictures😄
Thank you very much!
I love the way you write and connect them with your pictures. 🙂
Thank you so very much, Deepthi! I’m thrilled that you enjoy my work. 🙂
Absolutely Susan. It would be an honor, if you read a couple of my articles and gave me some suggestions as well.
I want to travel the world when I grow a little older and your post gives me an insight on what awaits me!! It provides fuel to my drive to embark on my journey around the world ❤😍
There’s an amazing world out there… I hope you act upon your drive. You’ll never regret it. 🙂
shock by those great photos, should try another way of life
love your blog! & you have amazing pictures! 🙂 can’t wait to read more
Thank you so very much. I really appreciate it. Did you sign up for the newsletter? It will make sure you don’t miss a post. 🙂
Plus it always includes a cool Travel Gem..an item I’ve used while traveling that I really like. Great tips.
please add a space between chewedtheir cud.
LOL.. sorry it was bothering you. Thanks for the heads up! 🙂
yeah, it’s okay. But sometimes people don’t really care and things jus get worse.
It’s always great to have a second pair of eyes look at an article. Unfortunately, I don’t always have that luxury so I appreciate you pointing it out.
I don’t always ead ther people’s posts, but can you visit my blog?
The photos are amazing! It is so interesting to learn about other cultures!
Isn’t it though? It’s crazy just the number of different cultures and how diverse they are.
Impressing photos and story!! Thank you for sharing!
Thank you! Glad you liked it. Welcome to the blog. I hope you return. 🙂
Sure! We can really travel with your pictures and articles, so I’ll return!
Brilliant! Did you ever give it a go?
This is was so interesting to read about
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you. 🙂
Amazing photos and great place ❤️ I like it🙆🏻
Just amazing… super like
Thank you very very much!
I would love to experience this culture. What interesting lifestyles they live
I highly recommend it. You’ll love it.
Fascinating dip into another culture – and beautiful photos. I’ve helped to shear the sheep once a year, but that’s nothing in comparison!
Wow. Interesting..love pic
What a lovely reminder of the things we take for granted. Well done 🙂
Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂
Great and superb pictures felt like just being there and living their lives. Thanks for sharing.👌👌👌👌👌
Thank you very much. It makes me so happy to know that you felt like you were there. Couldn’t ask for a better compliment. 🙂
yes. Always welcome.
I just stumbled upon your blog and this was the first post that I read – It was so interesting, I love your writing! And the photos were amazing as well, definitely following:)
That is sooo kind. Thank you. I’m really happy you enjoyed it. Welcome! If you’d like to get regular updates straight to your email consider signing up for my newsletter.
Wow! Impressing photos and story.
Mongolia is defnitively a place I also want to see one day.
Thanks for this nice post.
Thank you so much Dorie. Welcome to the blog. I hope you return. 🙂
What unique insight! These women spend half their life with a goats ass in their face. Not too much unlike life today in the US if you live in a highly dense metropolis! Please forgive my candid comment.
LOL.. Yes, goat/sheep butt is a common occurrence in Kazakh life. 😉
Amazing photos, I like them so much..
Thank you so much!
Great images and a well written essay. Thanks!
I just stumbled upon your blog and glad I did! Awesome article! Very interesting.
I’m so glad that you did too, Christina. Thank you for checking it out. Did you sign up for the newsletter update? It’s a way to make sure you don’t miss any future posts. 🙂
Very interesting, thank you for sharing your experience!
Glad you liked it Vera. Thank you for letting me know. : )
Thanks for a fresh perspective – it’s good to remember how lucky I am (though there’s a part of me that yearns to spend a month or two just milking, sometimes). Your photos are stunning.
It’s pretty rough that Milking. Lol
nice pic also getting good info
I can imagine how life is rough for the Mongolian milking women but indeed a blessing for their survival.
Thank you for the beautiful pictures!
I can see the difference between cows and goat/sheep here! Cows, where I worked one summer, where the most placid of the animals. Go there, queue up, get milked, get out, all with the aplomb of British gentlemen en route to the club.
I adore the sky and light of Central Asia that your photos show, someplace I wish to be visiting sooner or later…
Love the photos. Looks an amazing place!
Great story with complimenting pictures
Saya suka ini, salam kenal dari Indonesia
This was just fascinating. What a gift to be able to watch and learn. I was happy to hear they got to be let out to graze. How exhausting the women must be. But what a group effort !
So glad you enjoyed it! The livestock spend most of their time grazing in the day so that’s a great thing. It’s one of the reasons they have to be chased so.much. Lol
amazing story. once again thanks for sharing!
I really appreciate you taking the time to check it out. Thank you!
Amazing story and pictures!
Thank you so much! I hope you return!
Beautiful story and pictures, hard work gives you a long prosperous life, my hats off to those hard working women 🙂
They are truly salt of the earth people. Kind and generous and if such a noble spirit.
Wonderful images as always and a really interesting insight into a different way of life. I feel lazy.
Thank you Laura. So great to hear from you. 🙂
From my perspective, the goats appear to be pets first with their cute little faces.
Ha! They are pretty cute. Especially baby goats
I loved how you told that story and it really showed the immense amount of work involved. I admire these women. I did the “living off the land” for a number of years and remember the never ending shores. But there was also a great satisfaction and peace that came with making your own cheese etc. Great writing and pictures!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I think I would die quickly living off the land. Must have been very hard in today’s world. Thank you for sharing!
It was a great experience, a lot of hard work, but I learned so much from it!
Beautiful pictures, taking my mind on a journey…Thank you!
Thank you!! Really appreciate the kind words. 🙂
These photos are amazing. It’s all a bit surreal to know there are still a lot of traditional cultures & practices still being carried out. I wonder what it’ll be like in another 50 or 100 years.
Unfortunately, not as many as one would think, or like. Many are on the way out. Change is a hard thing to avoid in today’s world.
The title is titillating.
What a beautiful post! I sometimes dream of “living off the land,” but you’ve reminded me that living a simpler life doesn’t necessarily mean an easier life. Thank you for this glimpse into another culture. Your writing and your photos are stunning.
I have to admit, I really like my Trader Joes. Lol. So glad you liked the post.
Hear, hear! That’s right at the top of my “creature comfort” list too, Susan. 🙂
Have you ever tried their frozen oatmeal? It’s delish!
Frozen oatmeal?!! Does such a thing really exist? The way I’ve been craving carbs lately, I may regret having learned about this, Susan! 😉
Ha! You have no idea. So good, cheap and easy..
Oh boy. 😀
Nice shot, well done!
The pictures are heavenly
Thank you very very much!
Amazing photos and a beutiful post! Thanks for sharing these stories 🙂
Thank you for taking a look. I hope you return
A tough life…..
Unquestionably.. Thanks for checking out the post. 🙂
Great pics and story. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for checking it out!!