One day in the life of a shepherd in the Carpathians

carpathian highlands and shepherds

Carpathian shepherds (photographer Рома Михайлюк)

Shepherds are the same type of people like we and it is only the job, values and views that are somewhat different. When I was wandering in the mountains of the region of Rakhiv, where one rises to the summit of Pip Ivan Marmarosky, I succeeded in meeting shepherds at a height of 1400 meters above sea level and to listen to their life stories on the highland meadow called “Lysych”, where they lead sheep to pasture from year to year.

When we approach the camp of the shepherds in the Carpathians and wanted to develop a discussion, then the shepherds showed little will to communicate, as if we would be urban people that once a year visit the mountains and should a weak rain begin to fall, we immediately return to our cities and what do we really know about the mountains?

We countered that we oft wander in the Carpathians and that our parents come from the region of Mizhhirya and Ivano-Frankivsk. After that an interesting conversation developed, the shepherds for a moment forgot their daily routine and told us about “being shepherds as it really is”. First of all, they assured us that the pasturing of sheep is not such an easy job as some think.

Working with sheep is a job where you enjoy yourself and do not tire.

With a smile on their faces, they told us that they once had met tourists from the coal mining region of Donetsk who said that working with sheep is a job where you enjoy yourself and do not tire – it is not like digging coal in a mine. A senior shepherd, or as they call him leader, with the name Ivan explained danger threatens on every step when pasturing sheep – there is the unexpected weather – rains, lightning, hail, furious winds and then the local landscape with rocky ravines and then the wild animals. So recently, wolves had snapped two sheep in the neighbouring fold. It had happened earlier that bears found a taste for lambs. When the claw-footed animal has once tasted meat and blood, then he will always strive for the occasion to renew this taste. Therefore, one needs to gain experience in order to pasture sheep securely.

Working day of a shepherd in the Carpathians

The working day of the Carpathian shepherd commences at around 6 a.m. in the morning with the milking of the sheep. After that some shepherds leaves to lead the sheep to pasture, others make cheese from the milk and prepare meals. At lunchtime, the shepherds return with the sheep to the camp for milking and so the shepherds can take their lunch. Later the sheep are again led to the meadows to pasture until evening when they are returned for milking.

Carpathian shepherd dogs

It is worth mentioning the loyal assistants of the shepherds – the dogs. They are of some special local pedigree in the Bukovyna, enduring, intelligent and they quickly learn to listen to commands. It was not only one time that the dogs saved the sheep from the wolves and warned the shepherd of “grey ones” in the neighborhood. In the household of Ivan there are four grown-up dogs and a welp.

Generally, the season of sheep keeping in the Carpathians (highland) commences in the middle or the end of May, depending on the weather.

Sending of sheep to the meadows in the Carpathians

In every Carpathian village, the sending of sheep to the meadows is a very colourful event, where great attention is paid to traditions and habits that make the pasturing of sheep secure and easier. In the rule, local villagers surrender their sheep to the shepherds for the summer season, paying them money as an art of salary. The shepherds on their side the cheese that they produce from the milk hand it over to the owners of the sheep. When we asked the shepherds to sell us some cheese, the shepherds refused saying they are not the cheese-owner.

The season continues to August and if the weather holds – until September.

The season continues to August and if the weather holds – until September. In the Carpathians, the shepherds milk the sheep three times daily, produce cheese, and local specialties called brynza and vurda. Nearer to autumn when there is less grass in the highlands, one milks the sheep twice daily or even only once.

The fold of Ivan counts 170 sheep. He tells that in a season 4-10 sheep are “lost” due to diseases or the wolves or the animals are lost in ravines. Obviously the more experienced the sheep-leader is, the lesser is the number of “lost” sheep. The caloric intake of the shepherds is generally based on porridge, especially from maize, noodles and soups and very rarely meat. We watched as beetroot-soup and buckwheat were cooking in the campfire. At the end of the discussion, the shepherds confessed that they are following this hard occupation not due to a call of their heart, but due to an absence of other forms of earning money. Only certain individuals are employed in this sphere, while they really enjoy it.

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