The mountain valley – polonyna building in Hutsulshchyna

Hutsul staya. Polonyna VesnarkaIn Hutsulshchyna under conditions of the Carpathian high mountains the traditional season pasture-keeping is practiced, when the cattle from the surrounding villages are pastured in summer on the high mountain meadows – mountain valleys (polonyna). In the warm seasons the cattle are pastured, the dairy products are processed and the Hutsul cheeses and butter are produced here.

The organization of mountain valley/polonyna in the Carpathians

The organization of mountain valley (polonyna) in the Carpathians hasn’t been changed for the last two centuries. The exclusively sheep mountain valleys disappeared in the last decades; oxen aren’t used any more in the farm. But in general the structure of farm and its management at the present mountain valleys are absolutely traditional.

Main types of polonyna

Three main types of mountain valley (polonyna) farming have existed in the mountains for a long time – sheep, cattle and mixed mountain valleys (cattle camps). Flocks of sheep with goats and sometimes with cades were kept in the cattle camps for sheep. Cattle (calves, cows, oxen) were kept in the stock-farms. And different species of cattle were pastured on the mixed cattle camps. Sometimes pigs were kept on the mountain valleys. The Hutsul horse as an untiring worker and helper for herdsmen was an integral part at the mountain valleys.

The polonyna farming in the Carpathians has old traditions and specifies the certain infrastructure, adapted for the Carpathian mountain conditions. A mountain valley is usually organized on a still windless southern slope of mountain where there is a water spring. A long channel for drinking (“valív”), hollowed out the wood, was placed near the spring. Shallow wells were placed at some mountain valleys and were fenced by poles. The territory of farming was fenced from the forest by “dínnytsia” – hewed branchy firs. Mountain valleys were placed far from villages at the height from 1200 to 1800 meters above the sea level. Mountain valleys for oxen were built at the highest places in the mountains, and mountain valleys (polonyna) for herding the cows – at the lowest places.

Place for building polonyna

The place for building on mountain valleys (polonyna) was chosen by a deputy (deputat) with plot owner’s consent. The buildings were constructed in the open place, but closer to the forest. The reason of choosing such places was the necessity of wood for building and heating.

Polonyna planning

House for Carpathian shepherds

To maintain the farming life on the mountain valleys (polonyna), the whole complexes of buildings were constructed. Besides, certain buildings were erected for every type of mountain valleys. Thus, at the cattle camps for sheep there was always a house for shepherds (“staia”) and an enclosure with a place for sheep milking (“strunka”). A sheepfold was usually placed near the enclosure. The enclosure was served as a temporary place where sheep were penned before milking. Sheep were milked in the “strunka”. Sheep slept and had a rest in the sheepfold. “Zastaika” was placed at the height near the sheepfold. This was a small building where a shepherd slept, protecting sheep from carnivorous animals. The small enclosure for sick and crippled sheep (“khromúl”) wasn’t put far from the “staia”. A pigpen (“kucha”) was certainly built at the mountain valleys for sheep where pigs were kept.

At the cattle mountain valleys/polonyna there was a “staia” where milk was processed into cheese, brynza (sheep’s milk cheese) and butter. The traditional enclosures for cows, calves and oxen were also constructed, called “buhárnia” or “bovhárnia”. The separate enclosure was made for milking cows near the “buharnia”. The simple constructions for tying cows were fixed – “kluichí”. Such farms had “zastaika”, pigpen and cooper’s house. During collective farming (USSR) the closed houses for cows were built –cowsheds.

The mixed farming occupied much bigger territory than the previous ones. Such farming has all peculiarities of sheep and cattle mountain valleys because it has houses and small buildings that were necessary for keeping all types of cattle. The enclosures and cattlesheds were placed close to the “staia”. Sheepfolds usually occupied the outlying territory of the mountain valley.

Farm buildings and houses of mountain valley


The main building at the mountain valley was “staia” that was used both as a farm building and as a house. There was a fire in the “staia” (“vatra”). Here milk was processed into hard cheese, out of which brynza and vurda were made. There was a separate rest place for a deputy, a chief shepherd, a fire-keeper, a chief shepherd’s helper and sometimes shepherds and cowherds here. The fixed dimensions of “staia” was from 5,55×2,5 to 10,1×5,05 meters, but in most cases they had such dimensions as 6,0×3,0-4,5 meters. “Staia” as a square was rarely found.

Gordi Polonyna. Pokuttya CarpathiansPsarivka Polonyna. Hutsulshchyna. Verkhovyna region

Staia. Type 1

There are two types of houses for Carpathian shepherds (“staia”). The first type has a long story. Such “staia” on the building scheme is rectangular and oblong. Constructively, it is a building of two parts, constructed from round timbers (fir), with a span roof and a front door on the side wall. Traditionally, the roof was covered with “posizhniak” (a cleaved wooden board was 2 meters long). There was a chimney on the pitch of the roof. Its dimension was similar to the length of “posizhniak”, and it was up to 2 meters high. A shield was placed above the flueway, it had a frame, covered with “posizhniak”. One side of the shield was fixed to upper board, other – leant on the props. It looked like an open hatch.

The foundation of “staia” was placed on the stone foundation wall or on the stones that were put in the corners. A shed was usually above a door, and it was made by upper joisting (“platva”), leaned on poles. Firewood and woodenware such as vats for cheese or sheep whey (“berbenytsia”) and vats for measuring milk yield (“giletka”) were kept in the shed.

Small windows are made on the longitudinal wall in the “vatárnyk” (one of the rooms in the “staia”), sometimes in the pantry. The traditional construction of “staia” usually has no solid ceiling (“povaly”). They are partly placed above the pantry and in the shed, and look like wide shelves where pieces of dried sheep cheese – budz – are kept.

Gropa polonyna. Inside the staia

“Staia” has two rooms, separated by a partition. The first room is called “vatarnyk”, the other is used as a pantry. “Vatarnyk” has a wooden floor. A fire (“vatra”) is on the right of entrance, more rarely in the middle of the room. The wooden part of crib and ends of floor around the fire are stoned. “Berfélo” or “verklíuh” is placed near the fire. These are two names of the same construction, derived from the names of its certain details. The construction of “verkliuh” is L-shaped and consists of vertical thick pile up to 2 meters high and a crossbar – that is “verkliuh”. A sharp lower end of pile is in the hollow – “kahanets”, the upper end is fixed to the wall of crib. “Berfelo” is fixed through the groove to the crossbar – “verkliuh”. There is a hook at the bottom of “berfelo” where a copper is hung. Several holes on “berfelo” allow the height regulation of the copper above the fire. By turning the pile you can move the copper, hung on “berfelo”, to the right or to the left.

The wooden floorings (“príchi”) where service staff has a rest are placed at the side wall and partition (“ostrub”) in “vatarnyk”. Benches and a table are at the back wall. Shelves for fresh cheese and hangers in which fresh cheese are hung for trickling sheep whey are fixed on the pantry’s walls. Sometimes separate flooring for resting a chief shepherd or a deputy (deputat) is placed. Dishes for milk are in the pantry (“pútyny”, “balii”), salt for cattle and food such as potatoes (“barabólia”, “buríeshka”), flour, bread etc. are also kept here.

While cattle are in “staia” in summer, milk is constantly being processed, cheese and brynza (sheep’s milk cheese) is being produced. It is often rainy in the Carpathians, and during the work a chief shepherd and his helpers always have to go out in order to carry out waste products, to wash up, to wash a cloth which is used for filtering fresh cheese etc. Thus, a wooden dais (“pomóst”) is placed before the entrance of “staia”. It is usually put on the floor beams (“kizlyky”). The width of dais depended on dimensions of “staia” and was 3 meters long. A long wooden channel was placed near the dais, one end of which overhung the dais, the other leant on a big gouged trough (“valív”). A chief shepherd or his helper carried out a sheep whey in the bucket (the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of curds) and poured out it in the channel, through which a sheep whey was flowing into the trough for watering cattle. A peg was put along the dais where home clothes were dried. The peg was fixed to two piles, dug in the earth.

Tarnytsa polonyna. Staia with a houseVesnarka polonyna. Hutsulshchyna. Nadvirna region

Staia. Type 2

The second type of “staia” has a construction similar to a house. It is also a building with a span roof, made by rafters (“kizly”). Such a type was recorded by the researchers in the thirties of XX century. It could consist of two, three or more rooms. A five-room “staia” with an annex at the side wall was found in 1996 at the polonyna Vesnarka, situated at the southern mountain ridge of Kostrych. A span roof with chimney was covered with slate shingles. A wall with an entrance door and a window is a central front of “staia”. The construction is separated by the narrow entrance hall. In the entrance hall there is “vatarnyk” on the right where there is an entrance to a pantry; there is a deputy’s room straight ahead; there is a big room (“chata”) on the left where there is a table in the centre and wooden floorings (“príchi”) with lizhnyks at the walls. There are windows in “chata”, deputy’s room and “vatarnyk”. All rooms in “staia” have ceilings (“povaly”), except “vatarnyk”. There is a fire with “verkliuh” at the back wall of “vatarnyk”.

Similar to “staia” of the first type a shed was also constructed in “vatarnyk” where at the level of ceiling (“podri”) was a wide shelf for keeping dried sheep cheese (“budz”). A place for resting a chief shepherd (“pricha”) and a table with a wooden vat (“boklah”) was placed near a fire at the side wall. “Glieg” was kept in this vat; it is an enzyme, extracted from a young sheep’s stomach (“yarka”, “yercha”), which was dried and powdered. This mixture is diluted with water and added to milk; in such a way cheese is formed in milk.

Wooden pales are fixed at the side wall in the pantry where filters are hung (it is a piece of cloth or cheesecloth for filtering fresh cheese). Traditional crockery with milk is also in the pantry – a bucket (“putnia”), a metal wash tub, and also “brai” (a beech pale for “striking” cheese) and other items for producing cheese and brynza.

Shepherds, a chief shepherd and a deputy eat at the table in the big room (“chata”). Shepherds, those people who came during mowing time (“kishnytsia”) and owners of cattle who rarely came to a mountain valley for getting their share of cheese and brynza had a rest here.

“Staia” of second type can also have a hipped roof. Such a building was found at the mountain valley/polonyna Pnivska. It has two rooms – “vatarnyk” and a pantry. “Vatarnyk” has a big window and an entrance door at the front side. The roof is created by rafters (“kizly”), lower joggles of which are placed on upper joisting of “staia”, and upper joggles in pairs make a ridge at the top. Some tops of side rafters are leant on beams, and others – on cross rafters. Such the construction makes a hipped roof at the side walls.

At the Hryniava polonyna (mountain valleys) there were similar “staia”, and in the Gorgany where pastures are poor and shepherds have to move from one mountain valley to another, a primitive “staia” with a single-pitch roof, covered by a bark, was built. This “staia” can be referred to a separate type. Its dimensions are 3,5×2,5 meters.

There were other farm buildings with traditional enclosures around any type of “staia”.


Shepherd’s cottages (kolyba) where shepherds slept were also popular among houses at the mountain valleys/polonyna. Cottages had one room where it was a fire in the centre. Shepherds slept either on the floor or on the wooden floorings (“prichi”), placed at the walls.

Zastaika. Chorna Tysza. HutsulshchynaZastaika. Vesnarka polonyna. Hutsulshchyna


Zástaika is also referred to types of houses at mountain valleys. This is one of the simplest types of houses. It was placed at the sheepfold and was used as a temporary room for resting shepherds who were hiding there in bad weather, slept at night, guarding sheep from forest predators. At night a fire was always burning in front of “zastaika”. A shepherd was cooking there. One or two shepherds slept there with legs toward the fire.

According to the constructive decision “zastaika” is divided into three types – stationary, hand-held and transportable. All types of “zastaika” had a simple construction with a single-pitch roof. The length of it is very often 2 meters, and the width can be from 1,5 to 3 meters. 

A stationary “zastaika” had the simplest construction – two pales up to 2 meters high were dug in the earth, and a single-pitch roof was leant on them. The lower end of roof was on the earth. The walls and the roof were covered with a fir bark, and more rarely with cleaved boards. The earth floor was covered with a bark and pine branches. The front side of floor was always uncovered. The other type of stationary “zastaika” has a wooden frame below (“vibliek”) which was approximately 2,7 x 1,3 meters. High poles are dug inside projections of frame’s longitudinal row of log sand a crossbar is placed on the poles. The roof is constructed by two beams, some ends of which are leant on a beam with poles, and others are placed on the back crossbars of frame. A roof and sides are covered with a fir bark. Boards are laid on the frame’s crossbar and are used as a floor. The front of “zastaika” is opened.

Hand-held “zastaika” had a frame construction. The elements of frame were constructed by four vertical poles, and a crossbar was fixed to them. Back and side walls were covered with laths. “Zastaika” had a wooden floor, laid with hay or pine branches. Two thick boards were fixed on the floor at the level of lower poles. The ends of laths projected outside by making handles for carrying “zastaika”. The front of floor was either uncovered or closed by a door. A roof was covered with laths.

Constructions of transportable “zastaika” were similar to hand-held “zastaika”. This “zastaika” differed from the previous one because it had as usual two bent beams as a ground base, and no long straight poles. Depending on dimensions such “zastaika” was transported by horses or by several men.

Farming buildings and enclosures at the Carpathian mountain valleys

Enclosures for cattle were built at the Carpathian mountain valleys (polonyna) where cattle were milked and kept in the open. According to the forms enclosures could be both rectangle and circle, and semicircular. The dimensions and names of enclosures depended on the number of cattle and their usage. Milking sheep were kept in the sheepfold (“koshíeri”). An enclosure was used as a temporary place before milking sheep. An enclosure for barren sheep was called barren sheepfold (“yalivnyk”, “yelivnyk”, “yelochier”). Lambs were kept in the lamb houses (“yancharka”, “yanchierka”). “Khromárka” was an enclosure for lame sheep (“khromul”). Cows were kept in “bovhárkakh”, calves – in the calf houses (“telietnykakh”), horses – in the stables (“stadarka”). Sheepfolds and “bovharka” were always bigger than other enclosures.

Vorynnia fence

Forest fence at Psarivka polonyna, Verkhovyna region

Types of enclosures in the Carpathian polonyna


Three types of enclosures were built at the mountain valleys (polonyna). The first, oldest type of enclosures was built without any nails. The ends of longitudinal piles (“voryny”) were placed between pairs of high piles which were fastened by “huzhva” (a steamed wooden branch in the form of ring). A pine thin disbarked round timber was used for piles that were dug in pairs in the earth. The height of piles was 4 meters. “Huzhva” was made of pine roots. Piles (“voryny”) were as usual cleaved and had a form of triangle at the ends. Such an enclosure was called “vorýnnia”, or “vorýnie”. Every segment of “vorynnia” was enclosed by pair of dug pales, was 4 meters long and up to 1,3 meters high. Next segments of “vorynnia” were put at a small angle because ends of every next segment must be placed on the ends of preceding one. If a plan was all-round, such a constructive decision had a zigzag form. “Voryna” was easily placed between piles and was also easily pulled out or moved aside. Having moved aside “voryna”, one could easily go into a sheepfold. Such a form of enclosure had a long-standing history and deep traditions, but in fact it is not used nowadays.


“Lísa” can be referred to the second type of enclosure. Nowadays it is the most widespread type of enclosure, built at the mountain valleys. The construction of “lisa” consists of two vertical poles and row of horizontal boards. Poles have horizontal holes up to 5 centimeters in diameter. Boards (“voryny”) are inserted in the holes and wedged out at the ends. An additional vertical pole is nailed to the boards in the middle of “lisa”. One board was nailed diagonally between middle and last poles. As a result a strong wooden construction up to 4 meters long and up to 1,3 meters high (at the level of upper board) was built. “Lisa” is fastened to dug piles by “huzhva”. Thus a closed enclosure is constructed with one entrance, made of separate movable “lisa”, one end of which is fastened in two places to dug pale by “huzhva”. In this type “huzhva” is used as a curtain and it allows an easy opening and closing “lisa”. Such enclosures have clearer outlines and can be lined easier than the previous type (“vorynnia”). We should mention that “lisa” for sheepfolds had 4 or 5 horizontal boards and “lisa” for enclosing cows and horses had two boards.

Brimka fence polonyna


We have the evidences that there was such an enclosure as “brímka” at the mountain valleys in the post-war years when many wolves lived in the mountain forests. The constructive peculiarities of “brimka” give us the right to distinguish it as the third type of enclosures. The carcass and manners of fastening the elements in this construction are similar to the second type (“lisa”), but among three horizontal boards of “brimka” one more row of vertical elements was fastened such as pine thin poles and a long cleaved bad board, interlaced among horizontal lines of poles. As a result a solid fence up to 4 meters long and up to 3 meters high was made and it was fastened by “huzhva” to high piles, dug in the earth. Such the fence was direct and at the top was non-lineal because of different heights of vertical elements. Some vertical elements were up to 4 meters high. Such the enclosure safely protected cattle from carnivorous animals. When the amount of wolves had decreased in the forests, the enclosure “brimka” grew out of use.

All above-mentioned enclosures had the same name – “vorynie”.


Traditionally, enclosures for sheep were similar to the figure of eight. Smaller circle was called “okil”, bigger circle – sheepfold (“koshara”). These two circles were always separated by “strunka” – a building for dairymen.

Koshara, Okiv, Zastaika. Vesnarka polonynaKoshara, Strunka. Psarivka polonyna. Hutsulshchyna. Verkhovyna region

Sheep from pastures are penned into “okil” and then they get into a sheepfold through openings in “strunka”. A dairyman is sitting at every opening; thus every sheep is milked. In addition to that, “okil” is purposely made narrow for flock of sheep, and a helper of dairymen (“strunkar”) is constantly whipping up sheep to “strunka”.

A sheepfold is usually twice as large; branchy firs often grow there (“khukhlate smerichie”), crown posts of which are truncated in order to make firs wide. Sheep can find shelter from the sun and rain under such trees.

Milking sheep. Vesnarka polonyna. Verkhovyna region. Hutsulshchyna


Strunka is a board roofed pier between “okil” and a sheepfold. The length of pier is 4-5 meters, and height – up to 1,2 meters. The pier is constructed by two thick poles (“paliukhý”), dug in the earth, and two boards (“pobédryny”) are fastened to them at the top and at the bottom. There are 4 stumps for dairymen at the pier (“sidtsi”). The height of stump is up to 40 centimeters. The boards in the pier are placed in such a way that some of them can be easily pulled out in order to make openings for passing sheep from “okil” to “strunka”.

A wooden single-pitch roof (“povirkhnyk”, “prykalabok”), formed by rafters (“kizlyky”), is constructed over the pier and stumps. One end of rafters is leant on the longitudinal board over the pier, and another end is on the construction, formed by two high (1,4 meters) poles (“slupy”, “paliukhy”) with a long board. The roof is covered by boards.

Strunka. Psarivka Polonyna. HutsulshchynaConstructions of “strunka” are similar to each other. They can be notable for their dimensions and arrangement of passages for sheep. For example, “strunka” at the mountain valley Psarivka is 4,5 meters long, and in the pier a small single-leafed door is placed instead of boards. The door wing is constructed by two boards, fastened together by a crossbar. The side of door is nailed to a pile, a lower part of which is deepened in the earth, and a top is cramped to “pobedryna” (a horizontal crossbar) (ill.99, 100). The pile with the door is easily turned, making a passage in the pier. Another construction is also known when a double-wing door is placed in “strunka” (“vikonnytsi”). Such the construction occupies the whole height of the pier, and every board which is actually a door wing is fastened to the pier by a piece of leather, used as a curtain.

If it is necessary, “okil”, “strunka” and a sheepfold can be easily dismounted and transferred to a new place. Undoubtedly, all these buildings have deep traditional roots, but they still exist at the Hutsul mountain valleys.

Dilnytsa fence. Polonyna. Hutsulshchyna


At the highland farming such enclosures as “dinnytsia” or “dilnytsia”, “lomy” were often used. If three previous enclosures had closed forms with any planning, then “dinnytsia” had a curved line. The construction is very simple. The crown post of big fallen pines are cut off and piling along a line on the earth. At the top hewed branches are thrown. Another way of such enclosures is piling of pines with hewed branches on the forks of trees. The territory of farming in the mountain valleys was fenced off from the forest by “dinnytsia”. The enclosures were 2-3 meters high; they protected safely from carnivorous animals. When a bear was trying to overcome such the barrier, it made a noisy crash that woke up shepherds who scared off a wild animal. When flocks of sheep are depastured out of sheepfolds, some sheep can run away to the forest for mushrooms, and “dinnytsia” hinders them.

Cattle sheds

Among farmeries closed cattlesheds existed at the cattle- and mixed cattle camps such as cowsheds and calf-sheds where cattle were kept.

Big cattleshed - buharnia. Hutsulshchyna

A big cattleshed (“buharnia”) was found at the mountain valley Vesnarka where cows and calves were kept. The building is constructed from pine logs and has a long rectangle form in the project. An annex abuts along the right side of the entire wall. The general dimensions of the cattle shed are 21×8 meters. The building is covered with a span roof, hanging over the annex. A wide double-wing door leads to the cattleshed, and a single-leafed door – to the annex. The entrances are at the side wall; there is a wooden floor before the entrance to the cattleshed. A floor in the cattleshed is laid at the different angles with an inclination to the center where a long channel is placed. The longitudinal walls in the cattleshed are separated by poles, making partitions for cows. A floor in the annex is leant to the outside wall, and partitions are placed along the inner wall that is similar to the partitions in the cattleshed. Cows are kept in the cattleshed, and calves – in the annex. At the time of exploring that cattleshed the inner part of it hasn’t been completed, and the roof was partly slated.

Svynynets. Velyka Gropa Polonyna. Hutsulshchyna


Pigs were often kept at the Hutsul mountain valleys. Pigpens were built for them (“svynyntsi”, “kuchi”). Such buildings were both cribbed and frame. A cribbed pigpen with a span roof was found (ill.61). A frame pigpen with dimensions 2,5 x 2,5 meters in the project was placed at the mountain valley Psarivka (ill.62,63). That building was constructed by four piles at the corners, dug in the earth. One more pile is dug before, separating a wall and a gate. Boards are horizontally nailed to the piles and make the walls of the building. A wooden floor is laid inside the pigpen. A roof is single-pitch, covered with oilcloth.

Trough and channel. Psarivka Polonyna. Hutsulshchyna

Water was the necessary attribute at the mountain valleys. The territory of farming was projected in accordance with the access to water. The mountain springs are always used as water sources at the mountain valleys. There are no natural watering places in the mountains. Traditionally man-made watering places are near the flows or springs. A trough (“valiv”), hollowed out a pine log, and a wooden channel (“churkalo”) are placed near the spring. The channel is placed in such a way that water from the spring flows in the channel and then in the trough. Such watering places were several at the mountain valley and they watered flocks of sheep or cows at one time. The simplest watering place had one trough (“valív”). The length of trough was from 3 to 8 meters. Materials for making the trough was a pine log 40-50 centimeters in diameter, one side of which was hewed and then a trough was hollowed out. A channel is made of pine thin log, in which a kennel is hollowed out. The length of it depended on the distance between a trough and a spring, and it can be 5 meters long. Sometimes a shallow well (“kirnytsa”) was dug near the spring, out of which water through the channel flowed in the trough for cattle, and water from the well was used for people’s needs. The spring with channel and well were as usual fenced by “vorynnia” to protect from cattle that were only watered in the trough. It provided purity of water.

Wooden troughs for salt that is given to the cattle were not placed far from sheepfolds at the mountain valleys. Troughs for sheep whey are often placed at “staia”.

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