Mongolia Monday: The Five Snouts, Part 3

I’ll have to be honest and say that currently I don’t know much about Mongolian sheep. I hope to learn more on the next trip.

I did find a United Nations FAO report that included the following information;
Sheep in Mongolia may be grouped into five types. The common native sheep are multipurpose and low in productivity. The other four are used more specifically for their meat (mutton), carpet wool, milk and good-quality lambskins. Grazing is on year-round pastures with no supplementary feeding, even under severe winter and spring conditions. The sheep are well adapted to the unfavourable ecological conditions of steep mountains and poor vegetation.

One distinctive feature of the native coarse wool fat-tailed sheep is noticeable when new grass grows on the pasture: at this time they grow rapidly, are easy to fatten and have a remarkable ability to store 4 to 6 kg of fat around the kidneys, mesentery and the tail bone. This fat is drawn on in winter and spring.

Sheep are reared according to the natural and economic conditions of the different regions in the country. Improvement achieved by crossing exotic, fine and semifine wool sheep breeds has been rapid in Mongolia and the results reasonably good. The average fleece weight of improved (cross-bred) fine and semi-fine wool sheep is two or three times higher than that of the native coarse wool of fat-tailed sheep. Wool quality has also improved.

There are five distinct sheep breeding zones:

· the northern mountain and grassland zone;
· the central steppe zone;
· the southern semi-arid zone;
· the southernmost, semi-desert zone of the Gobi;
· the Altay Mountains in the west.

The northern mountain grassland zone and the central steppe zone are given over to the breeding of fine and semi-fine wool sheep. In the southern semi-arid zone and the northern enclave, Mongolian fat-tailed sheep are purebred. Selection of breeding stock increases the quantity and improves the quality of the carpet wool.

In the extreme south, the semi-desert area of the Gobi has been allocated to Karakul breeding for lambskins. The production of mutton, fat and carpet wool takes place in the western part of the country and includes the Altay Mountains.

Here are some photos that I’ve taken of sheep.

A small flock at the market in Hovd, western Mongolia

“King of the Mountain” at Khar Us Nuur, also western Mongolia. Goats in the foreground, but that’s for next week.

Part of a large group of domestic livestock coming down to the stream to drink at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, south of Ulaanbaatar

Finally, for comparison, a wild argali, the world’s largest mountain sheep. This old ram with the amazing horns let me follow him around for almost 20 minutes. As you can see, he is very thin. It was late April and a lot of the animals, wild and domestic were in rough shape from the winter.

One of the main uses of the wool is to make the big pieces of felt which cover the gers. Depending on the weather, there can be one to three layers. I’ve slept in a ger in cold weather with one layer and the next night, one with two layers and the difference was quite noticeable.

One of my most useful souvenirs from Mongolia are my felt slippers. I also got a pair of felt boots. Both are amazingly warm and comfy. I would recommend them to anyone who gets cold feet!

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