Milking a mare – гүү саах

Small Nomadic Atlas: Өлзийбүгэн and Өлзий milk a mare. from Loes Glandorff on Vimeo.

How to milk a mare? Stay away from the hooves and have a strong guy holding the colt. During my four week stay with the family I was only allowed to milk one or two friendly mares. The horses are half wild and every once in a while a mare or colt will kick someone in the shoulder or leg. But horse milk or саам (saam) is the one ingredient of the national drink of айраг (airak). It is a fermented and mildly alcoholic drink that is produced during the two summer months that mares give milk. To me it tastes like strong buttermilk (karnemelk for the Dutch) and is supposed to help to clear your digestive system. In my case this meant emptying my stomach with a sunset view. The Mongolians love it and drink it especially around the Naadam festival.
Selling айраг is good business. The family sold a liter at the door for 3000 ₮ or about 1,50 euro. Since they milked around 55 liters a day, most саам was brought to a local producer at night.

So how is it done? This season all 21 mares gave birth to a colt. Mother and child stay together during the night and in the morning all are round up and sent into the paddock. The colts are then captured and tied to a line on the ground. A tricky business as the colt is almost as strong as the man and does not want to move to the line or lower its head.
The two lines divide the herd in two for the day. Often one group of mares stay with their colt. Four times a day the remaining mares are called in by one of the children on foot, horse or motorcycle, and the actually milking will begin.

1 Өлзийбүгэн takes a colt to its mother and let it drink for about 10 seconds, often making a sound like gorooooooo or aoooruus.
2 Then the colt is pulled away by its headstall and held just a meter away from the utters. The mare is held by the manes to make sure both won’t wonder of.
3 Өлзий comes in with a bucket and kneels as close as possible to the hind legs of the mare. Өлзийбүгэн makes the same sound while Өлзий quickly milks with both hands. She wets the teats with a bit of milk, holds the teat with thumb, index and middle finger and moves the last two down while pulling the teat. She milks about half a liter per mare.
4 When the milk is gone she steps back and Өлзийбүгэн pulls the colt back to the line on the ground.

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