In addition to herding, I had a lot of regular chores that I helped my host family with. In between herding, I would typically: sweep the ger, collect yak dung, cook lunch & dinner, milk the goats, and fetch water at the nearby river. I really liked doing the chores, mostly because they gave me something engaging to do.
Most of them were interesting chores that I could only do at my nomadic homestay. For example, I can’t tell you the next time that I’ll have to collect yak dung to heat a ger. I found this to be the most enjoyable chore. Unlike herding, collecting dung is very straightforward. I can’t imagine that anyone would actually be bad at it, and I was no exception. After sometimes feeling useless in bigger chores like herding, I strove to be the best dung collector in my family!
On short trips, I would usually use the flap of my Mongolian deel as a basket for the dung, but on long expeditions, I brought a large basket to carry on my back. I would use the small rake to scoop up the dung because it was impossible to bend over. That thing was heavy! By the end of a collecting session, I was sometimes worried about straining my back, and would slowly shuffle my way back to the ger entrance.
Another chore I did was filling containers of water at the nearby river. At first, it was kind of concerning to see how much debris was making it into our water. There was a lot of “seaweed”, 2-inch long plankton/bug-like creatures, and plain old dirt. Of course the buggy creatures freaked me out the most. I would peer inside our jugs and see at least two-dozen swimming around. I asked a staff member about it later, and he said that they would sometimes filter it out “if I was lucky”. He then proceeded to tell me that it was better to drink “live” Mongolian water than “dead” Western water. Fair enough.
And of course, there was general animal care that I helped out with. We would herd the goats and sheep in and out every morning and evening. And it wasn’t just “herding.” Depending on the day, it sometimes entailed: splitting male from female, adding or subtracting baby animals, dividing sheep from goats, guiding them into certain pens, or directing them to water sources. Of course, I could never figure out exactly what my family was doing until about halfway through! A couple of times, I made big mistakes with herding. For example, I once brought all of the sheep and goats home instead of just the female goats! I’m surprised I didn’t make more mistakes because of the language barrier. Thankfully, they forgave me.
Other everyday animal-related tasks included milking the goats and giving tick medicine to the baby animals. My family usually milked the goats that didn’t nurse kids because they had either died or had been rejected. However, they did milk the goats that had some milk left over after the kid had had its turn. It was always a big show to tackle a targeted goat and to restrain it during the milking.
However, we had this one goat that was named and would come when called! I still don’t know why it was named. Mongolians don’t even name their beloved horses, and only give names to their dogs. My theory is that this goat was given immunity from a local monk. We heard that some families ask monks to choose a sacred animal that is allowed to live and die a natural death as an offering. Either that, or it was just a really intelligent goat.
Some mornings, we would search through the baby animals and find ones with particularly awful tick infestations. Most of them would have large clumps of big ticks and also thousands of tiny, tiny newborn ticks. It was disgusting! But it was usually fine after spreading medicine onto their infested areas. At first, I thought they were injecting them with the giant needles, but they were only squirting it onto the surface of the skin. Thankfully, I only found a couple of ticks on me during the whole homestay.