Livestock Dung Use in Steppe Pastoralism

Renewable Resources, Care, and Respect for Sentient Nonhumans

in Sibirica
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Victoria Soyan Peemot Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland victoria.peemot@helsinki.fi

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Abstract

This article studies the use of livestock dung in the social and ecological context of pastoralism in the Tyva Republic, Inner Asia. In steppe ecologies, livestock dung, depending on its (mis)management, can be a valuable resource or a threat to animals’ health and herders’ well-being. Its use is embedded in the relationships between herder-livestock communities and landscapes, which are sentient and superordinate. Utilizing dung for household needs is simultaneously a form of care for livestock and a method of balancing the relationship with sentient homelands.

Theoretical Framework, Arguments, and Research Questions

When Broderick and Wallace carried out an ethnographic case study among farmers in Ethiopia, they revealed “that there is at least one example of a society in which the manure produced by livestock is of sufficient importance in and of itself to justify their keeping as an integral part of a distinct economic system” (2016: 39). They further noticed, “The importance of manure to arable production means it may well have been an important, if not the most important, product derived from animals in past economies” (ibid.). Livestock manure is part of many discussions on Indigenous ecological knowledge (Omo-Fadaka 1980), the ecological consequences of livestock farming (Albarella & Trentacoste 2011, Hubbard & Lowrance 1998) and on the economics of agriculture in places where dung has long been used as a fertilizer (Kazunori et al. 2006; Schroeder and Sell 2009). Ecological debates are concerned about the sustainability of farming and waste management, and researchers suggest possible solutions for the problem by finding uses for livestock manure as a fertilizer and biofuel. For instance, chemical and environmental engineer Eunsung Kan suggests a concept “closed-loop production” when discussing a sustainable dairy farm that reuses wastewater and transforms manure into a biofuel, which is enough to cover the farm's needs; this turns farming into a full cycle no-waste production model (Russel 2017).

Though it is tempting to use Kan's concept in the context of Inner Asian pastoralism, it does not fully define the patterns of livestock dung use by the Tyvan pastoralists who are the focus of this article. First, differently from Kan's concept where all manure produced at a farm is utilized to cover the farm's energy needs, the pastoralists’ use of dung as fire fuel and an insulation material does not cover all the energy needs of a mobile household. In this study's field sites in the Tyva Republic, herding families relied on a combination of electricity sources: solar panels, car accumulators, and diesel or gasoline generators. Second, suited for industrial diary production, Kan's model does not take into account the triadic social relationship between herding families, their livestock, and landscapes.

The more-than-human sociality, characteristic of communities in Siberia and Inner Asia, has been discussed extensively (see, e.g., Anderson 2000; Brandišauskas 2017; Davydov 2017; Fijn 2011; Forbes 2013, Humphrey 1995, Stammler 2005; Stépanoff et al. 2017; Takakura 2010). David G. Anderson writes about a sentient ecology which is “the mutual interrelation of person and place” and in contrary with “the premise that nature is passive, almost mechanical space which can be measured and observed in a more or less accurate manner by different cultures” (2000: 116). He further observes, “Evenki hunters act and move on the tundra in such a way that they are conscious that animals and the tundra itself are reacting to them” (ibid). Florian Stammler likewise highlights the impact of the environment on human-nonhuman animal relationships. He suggests approaching differences in behavior, body conformation, and movement patterns among various reindeer breeds as “a visual stamp of the peoples’ special engagement with the animal under certain eco-climatic circumstances” (Stammler 2005: 59). “For the reindeer herder, the relationship with reindeer is not so much a result of domestication technologies; rather, it is a continuous process of the social interaction where a human constantly responds to the animals’ condition and changes in the environment,” writes Vladimir Davydov in his analysis of human-animal-landscape relationships in Eastern Siberia (2017: 214; my translation). Davydov emphasizes that this type of social relationship must be analyzed in the context of everyday practices (ibid.). Elsewhere, I have also proposed approaching relationships between humans, nonhumans, and landscapes in Inner Asia as land-based more-than-human kinship (Peemot 2021). In doing so, I was informed by the Tyva pastoralists’ perception of landscapes as sentient, social, and capable of engaging in reciprocal relationships with their human and nonhuman inhabitants. I have also argued that multispecies communities, which comprise of a herding family and domesticated animals, are tied in multigenerational belonging with particular landscapes (Peemot 2019).

In this article, I draw on existing research on Siberian and Inner Asian pastoralism, as well as on my fieldwork observations and emic experience, to approach the Tyva pastoralists’ livestock dung-related practices as analytical tools that contribute to studies of the triadic relationship between pastoralists, their livestock, and shared multispecies homelands. I aim to investigate, first, how livestock dung-related practices reveal ecological circumstances of herder-livestock communities’ coadaptation to their home landscapes. Second, I approach livestock dung as a renewable resource paramount for pastoralist economies and highlight how traditional ways of using dung lead to no-waste production. Third, I study how dung-related practices are embedded in the more-than-human sociality, which involves multispecies care and acknowledgment of landscapes as sentient and, often, as superordinate beings. I approach these arguments through an inquiry into the following research questions: How do Inner Asian pastoralists make use of livestock dung as a renewable resource? How do dung-related practices organize the pastoralists’ daily and seasonal routine? How can we understand dung-related practices as multispecies care?

Fieldwork Sites, Community, and Research Methodology

This article draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 2015 to 2019 in the Sayan and Altai mountainous regions of Inner Asia (Mongolia and the Tyva and Altai republics, Russian Federation). I focus on dung-related practices among Tyvan pastoralists who live in the steppes of southern Tyva, in the Tes-Khem Province, which borders western Mongolia. My main field site was the territory of the Kyzyl-Chyraa municipality in Tes-Khem. It is also known for the name of its administrative center—the Ak-Erik village that has a school, medical center, and House of Culture. Approximately 900 people live in Kyzyl-Chyraa, with the majority belonging to the Soyan kinship group. It is my patrilineal clan, and I have conducted research with the Soyan horsemen, my kin, since 2015.1 The Ak-Erik herders raise several types of livestock: horses, cows, sheep, and goats.2 By-products of their husbandry—meat, dairy, wool, and hides—are consumed by the family; selling them provides a cash income.3 Herder Ailangmaa Soyan explained the importance of keeping livestock, “We are raising livestock. It gives us money to educate children. When a person comes to age, you understand how wise the old people were. They said that when there is livestock, and a person's hands are not idle, that person's belly is full. Speaking directly, livestock is cash. … If our sons-in-law are interested in livestock, our daughters know all the work. While working and living in a city, it is still possible to keep your own livestock. It is always tastier to eat meat from your own livestock” (video recorded conversation, Tyva, 2018).

This article relies on a variety of field research methods. The most important one was participant observation. My participation in different activities depended on the type of activity, or work, and my kinship ties to the herders-hosts.4 For instance, as a guest I was not required to participate in the daily chores at the seasonal camping site, especially those related to cleaning such as cleaning the campsite territory and livestock barns from dung, washing dishes, tidying up a dwelling. However, I occasionally sheared sheep and milked cows.5 When processing (cleaning and preparing) livestock intestines after slaughter, I was expected to help.

During semistructured interviews I asked general questions about the seasonal pastures and camping sites. In response, some herders have emphasized the importance of regular cleaning of the barns and campsite territory from livestock dung (e.g., interviews with Andrei Byzaakai and Khorlai Langaa, Tes-Khem, Tyva, fieldwork 2015). In addition, audiovisual documenting techniques were used. For instance, we photographed and filmed a process of making a Tyvan lasso (sydym), smoking the newly made lasso using bricks of körzeng, the hardened dung-bedding from the sheep barn, was part of the project. Photographs captured types of dung used as fire fuel and insulation at a camping site in different seasons. My emic experience complemented field research. I grew up with my grandparents, livestock herders, in the Tes-Khem province, Tyva Republic (see figure 1). Thus, I had also actively engaged in dung-related practices during my time with them.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

The summer encampment in the steppe, Lake Shara-Nuur, Tes-Khem, Tyva. June 2019. Photo © author.

Citation: Sibirica 21, 1; 10.3167/sib.2022.210102

Importance of Livestock Dung in Steppe Ecology

This transboundary region where I conducted fieldwork is situated at the border of western Mongolia and southern Tyva and is a part of the Uvs Lake Basin. Tyvan biologist and ecologist Lilia Arakchaa defined the climate in the Uvs Lake Basin as ultracontinental with the high atmospheric pressure, a low average temperature ranging from minus 5°C to minus 7°C, the high temperature amplitude of more than 100°C, precipitation of only 150 to 250 mm annually; all this explains long harsh winters and brief hot summers (Arakchaa 2015: 9–11). On the Tyvan side of the border, the area is mostly arid except the Tes River Valley, where the poplar trees, willow, and sea buckthorn bushes huddle close to the water. During winter, local herders stay at the place known as the Agar steppe. It is a strip of the open terrain between the northern slopes of the Agar Mountain and the Tes River.

Seasonal transhumance is adjusted to precipitation. Herders move to winter pastures at the end of November when there is enough snow to substitute for water for livestock. For people's consumption, the ice blocks from the Tes River are brought and melted. At the end of winter, melted ice water is given to malnourished and pregnant animals. The area between Agar Mountain's southern slopes and the Naryn River is the main spring to autumn site of the Soyan group. From mid-April to late November, local herders move between seasonal camping sites around Lake Shara-Nuur, spending summer at its southern shore and moving in autumn to the foothills of the Agar, north of lake. Water sources for animals include freshwater lakes known collectively as Khölchükter, springs (bulaktar) in the eastern end of Shara-Nuur, and the stream Khorlaash that flows into Shara-Nuur and causes fluctuations in its salinity level. The deep ground well provides water suitable for people. In addition, some families dig up shallow wells for watering animals; water from these wells has a detectable salty taste.

The Agar steppe and Lake Shara-Nuur area both have scarce vegetation though there are micro-ecological distinctions in soil and plants throughout the area. When driving down Agar Mountain to the lakeside, one can notice changes: the stony ground gives way to the large-grained sand with specks of seashells; closer to the lake the sandy areas become traps for cars; salt patches (kuzhur) and a bit of greenery is seen along the lake's southern shore. In semi-desert Shara-Nuur, the grass grows sporadically; some areas are covered in low-growing caragana bushes. Arakchaa, who studied Tyvan ethnoecology with a focus on southern Tyva, defines these caragana and grass islets as “the local nodes of ‘life intensity’ which support stability of the steppe and semi-desert ecosystems in the Uvs Lake Basin” (2015: 55).

Living in this environment for multiple generations, local multispecies communities are well adapted to it. Animals are accustomed to grazing at pastures with nutritious but scuttered grass nodes. In steppes where supplies of firewood and short, herders rely on livestock husbandry's by-product—dung—to keep dwellings warm. Moreover, multiple uses for dung—an insulation material, insect repellent, and as fuel for cooking and leather and hides’ smoking fire—make it a versatile and valuable economic resource.

Dry Dung: A Versatile Fuel

I begin with an excerpt from a letter that provides a historical background to the value of dung as fire fuel. The letter was written by Qing emperor K'ang-hsi to the crown prince Yin-ch'eng in Beijing in the spring of 1696.6 At the time, K'ang-hsi was leading his army in the first Dzhungar-Qing war. The emperor shared his observations about the army's life support, including fuel sources: “I have come quite a bit into the Mongol territory, have looked at everything myself and everything is different from what I have heard earlier. Water and pasture are good, heating material is abundant. Even if dung has become wet, there are different bushes such as uher karhana, sibak, deresün, budurhana, hailasun, burgasun and all kinds of grasses, and everything can be burned (Chimeddorzhi 1991: 75–76).7

This letter reveals dung's importance as a fuel source which it retains until now among pastoralists in Inner Asia.8 Dried livestock dung is a versatile fuel source that allows to control the duration and intensity of the fire and adjust it to varying purposes, for instance, cooking, baking, making smoke, and keeping fire overnight. Tyvan pastoralists use two types of dung fuel. Dried cowpies are collected in the vicinity of herders’ encampments in late afternoons after dung has dried out on the sun. Dry cowpies burn fast; they provide intense fire for a short period, which is suitable for making tea, boiling milk, and cooking meals. However, cowpies are insufficient for baking bread and keeping fire long-term (e.g., overnight or in the cold season). For these purposes, pastoralists use körzeng.9 Herders in southern Tyva, where I conducted field research, move to their winter encampments in late November or the beginning of December when temperatures drop below minus 30 degrees Celsius. From December to March, the entire sheep and goat flock spends nights in the warm barn, which is built with larch logs. During several months of occupation, the animals’ dung and urine form a solid floor. In March, when it is warm enough for the flock to spend nights outdoor, the barn's organic floor is broken into pieces and taken out. This seasonal work is done by the herding family with the help of their kin. Usually relatives, whose stock is looked after by the family, come to help with taking körzeng out of the barn.10

Next, these bricks of moist hardened dung are stored in a way that allows for natural drying by the sun and wind. During summer, herders visit their winter encampments and change positions of the dung bricks to ensure better ventilation. Körzeng is the most important fire fuel which is used all year round and especially in winter months when another type of dung fuel—dry cowpies—are unavailable. Körzeng is broken into pieces of different sizes and thicknesses using an axe. Thick and large pieces keep the fire on during the night. This is especially useful in the autumn when herders live in their felt and wood yurts despite the temperatures dropping to minus 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. Smaller and thinner pieces of körzeng are good for making fast fire when boiling milk or water for tea, to make pastries boorzak and boova, which are deep-fried in oil, and to cook regular meals. Sogazha (sheep liver wrapped in fat) is grilled over körzeng charcoals (see figure 2).

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Dried cow and horse dung, gathered at the pasture, produce intense fast-burning fire. Here it is used to cook meat and intestines of the freshly slaughtered sheep. June 2015, Tes-Khem, Tyva. Photo © author.

Citation: Sibirica 21, 1; 10.3167/sib.2022.210102

Baking bread in an iron stove requires thick körzeng pieces, which produce slow-burning fire with a stable intensity. As teenagers, my cousins and I often made sourdough for bread. However, only our grandfather and grandmother prepared the fire for bread baking. First, they made fire with thick körzeng pieces. When charcoals formed, grandparents took the windpipe (iandang) out of the stove and closed it with a metal lid.11 Then they formed a flat area in the charcoal and placed the metal molds filled with bread dough (after the second proof). One large metal lid covered all molds. The charcoal pieces were placed around and on the top of molds. After that, the stove's door and top were closed too. This bread was delicious with a spongy texture, large pores, and golden crust.

Insulation Material: Management and Use

Other dung products—fresh cowpies (chin) and dried dung (ödek) with fine sand-like texture—are used as thermal insulation materials. In November and December, herders gathered fresh cow dung in the mornings and applied it to the moss in the barn walls’ seams. Once the dung had dried, it formed a smooth surface.

Accumulation of ödek starts in winter when cattle is placed overnight in warm barns. Cows, heifers, and one- to two-year-old males spent their nights inside this warm shelter. Outside the insulated barn, there is a fenced open-air area called kodan kazhaazy; it is partially covered by a roof structure ser. Adult oxen and the herd's reproductive bull spend their nights outdoors under the ser. A thick layer of dried dung was spread regularly to insulate the stable floors and the ground in the outdoor fenced area against the cold.12 Soon after finishing morning work with animals (e.g., milking, nursing calves and lambs, releasing all stock to the pasture), herders clean cattle barns and the territory of the encampment from fresh dung. Cleaning cattle barns is the most laborious nonmechanized task, which takes up daily to two-three hours depending on the number of cows.13 Using a pitchfork (aiyyr) and a shovel (khüürek), dung and patches of wet, frozen ground are collected into a trough (ongacha) and pulled out; it is collected at the edge of the encampment's territory. After that the dry sand-like ödek is spread on the floor. In summer, piles of dried cow dung are gathered in one place and stored under the cover to protect them from rain.14

Calves are born between January and April, with a peak in late February and the beginning of March. Herders will often bring newborn calves into their homes for a couple of weeks. Here the calves would stay in a wooden box with dry cow dung bedding. Beginning in February, the calves spent their nights in a separate warm barn. This is a relatively small building, sheltering twenty to thirty calves. Dried cow dung was preferred over sheep dung as bedding in the calves’ barn. Herders assumed that sheep dung had more fine dust-like particles, which the calves might inhale, damaging their lungs. The peak lambing period is the end of March when outdoor temperatures reach minus 20 degrees Celsius. Lambs are usually born at the pasture or during the night in the warm barn. In these conditions, the local breed of lambs can survive in the flock's winter barn, a section of which is fenced to host offspring. The floor in the area, hosting lambs, is insulated with a thick layer of ödek; herders take out the moist areas and add ödek daily. A few early born lambs, weaklings, and orphans stay in the herders’ dwelling.15

In late autumn, before moving to the winter encampment with log cabins, herders use ödek to insulate their yurts. Ödek covers the bottom outside part of a yurt's wall protecting against the wind and keeping warmth inside. At the time, herders used large and thick bricks of körzeng, which burn for a long period to warm the yurt and keep fire overnight (figure 3).

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

A pile of körzeng at the summer camping site Bora-Tei. Körzeng bricks were transported from the winter place, which is situated approximately 30 kilometers away. June 2018, Tes-Khem, Tyva. Photo © author.

Citation: Sibirica 21, 1; 10.3167/sib.2022.210102

Other Uses of Dung: Smoke

In addition to two main uses as a fuel and insulation material, Tyvan pastoralists use animal dung to make smoke. At summer encampments, smoke is used as protection against mosquitoes. In early evenings, moist cow and horse dung is burned in metal backets. One or two of them are placed in the encampment territory, especially close to a place where cows are milked. A smoke backet is brought into a yurt too.16 During fieldwork in the transboundary region I observed using dung smoke as a repellent. For instance, when spending a night in the herders’ yurt in Zavkhan province of Mongolia (June 2016), I woke up to a child's cries, “Mother, the mosquitoes are eating me!” In the early morning, crowds of mosquitoes filled in the yurt. Soon our host, the mother of the crying girl, brought in a metal bucket filled with smoking dung.

Körzeng is used for smoking animal hides and leather equipment to ensure their water resistance. In July 2016, we observed horseman and craftsman Orlanmai Kaldang as he was making a lasso. After connecting leather strips into a lasso (sydym), the craftsman smoked it. For this purpose, he made a fire with middle-sized körzeng pieces using thin wood pieces as a starter. When the smoke started to come, he placed a bottomless metal barrel with a shelf inside. The lasso was placed there, and the barrel was closed with a lid. After smoking, he stretched the lasso and shaped it.

From childhood, I remember how my grandfather Soyan Kadyp-ool Kunuiaevich smoked sheep hides in early autumn. He chose uneven ground like a small hillside; a smoke traveled underground between a firepit and the smoking construction—a semi-spherical carcass made with fresh, flexible willow branches. Several hides were placed on the top of the carcass overlapping each other, so there were no openings between them. Grandfather used thick körzeng to make smoke, so the smoked hides had a yellowish color and a smoke smell that lingered for years. The hides of adult rams that were large, heavy, and long-haired were smoked. My grandmother Kadyp-ool Irisingmaa Norbuevna used them to sew blankets, and the warmest winter clothing—negei ton—which did not have a textile upper cover and was made with fur inside (for more on Tyvan traditional clothing, see Khovalyg 2018; Siianbil and Siianbil 2000).17

Other Uses of Dung: Medicine and Cleansing

There is limited use of animal dung as medicine. My grandmother used ödek for local heat therapy. She poured the powdered dung into small cotton bags and warmed them up on a dry pan. When the bags and their content were hot enough, she placed them in places where the treatment was needed. The following three examples refer to the use of wild animals’ dung. Horseman Roman Aldyn-Kherel talked about a Daurian pika (küzhügen), a tiny relative of the hare, which lives in the mountains around Agar and Iamaalyk (fieldwork interview, Tes-Xem, Tyva, June 2015). Roman Soyanovich has explained that people collect and eat the pika's droppings as medicine. It is because the pika consumes the mineral substance khaia chugu (lit. “the rock resin,” Eng. shilajit) and medicinal herbs. Khaia chugu is believed to boost immune system and heal broken bones (Serenot 2009).18 During fieldwork in northeastern Tozhu kozhuun of Tyva in July 2019, I had discussed a winter bear hunt with reindeer herder Daniil Kyrgannai. He mentioned that the Tozhu hunters sell a bear's rectal plug (bööshkün) that consists of the juniper (shaanak) and fir (choigan) eaten by the animal before hibernation. Daniil added that professional drivers are especially interested in buying the bear's bööshkün (fieldnotes, July 2019).

I have not documented the following practice ethnographically but have encountered it in a novel Stories by Anggyr-ool by Stepan Saryg-ool, Tyvan writer from the Övür province that borders Mongolia. In the novel, there is a description of the cleansing ritual (aryglaar) conducted during livestock epizootic disease. The ritual's temporal structure included:

  • dung in livestock barns is replaced by the dung of wild mountain goats and sheep, while livestock is herded far from the site;

  • the smoke of wild animal dung is used to purify the barns;

  • antlers of mountain goats and sheep are placed on the barns;

  • a flock of sheep and goats are brought in with the first star, and the hunt is imitated by shooting arrows around the flock; the adult castrated male goat (domesticated) is hunted—shot by an arrow and butchered;

  • blood from the goat's heart is offered to the stars with the prayer-complaint, “Here is a wild animal. It was hunted by a gun, by a crossbow, and a snare. It was hunted and was eaten. Nobody has seen a wild animal die of sickness. The Skies, look after (animals) and be merciful!”19 (Saryg-ool [1961] 2008: 127–129)

Regarding the quoted ritual above, I should add that I have listened to stories about, for instance, a group of wild goats, ibexes, living nearby the herders’ winter encampment for two decades (conversation with horseman Oleg Sambuu, fieldwork 2017). One can assume that obtaining wild animals’ dung is not an obstacle for people who are well accustomed to their surrounding landscapes, including the wild species in their whereabouts. Thus, wild animals’ dung adds up to the list of substances that Tyvans use for cleansing. Other cleansing substances include the dried branches of the juniper (artysh) and its powdered version (aidys); a mix of water, milk, and juniper (used for cleansing after returning from the graveyard), and fire. However, this topic needs more thorough ethnographic research.

Ecology

The uses of livestock dung by pastoralists in Tyva highlight differences in perception of dung in a pastoralist economy and industrial farming. The former utilizes all dung for its own needs. In the latter, dung is an ecological problem, the solution of which requires investments. Izugbara and Umoh discuss indigenous waste managing practices: burying, composting, burning, conversion, baiting, recycling, and making mulches, scarecrows, and animal bedding (2004: 90–91). The authors emphasized that “these techniques allow wastes to be managed and disposed in environmentally friendly and beneficial ways” and called for the implementation of traditional practices in waste management (ibid.).

I draw attention here to linguistic means of defining dung in different economic contexts. The term “waste,” which defines livestock dung in industrial farming, has a negative connotation. The Tyvan definition of dung does not imply waste. A definition of waste in the Tyvan language helps to understand the Tyvan pastoralists’ approach to livestock dung as nonwaste. In Tyvan, there is a general word bok, which translates as “trash” and “waste.” It is also a part of the term bok ünüsh, which means a “weed.” Despite the fact that bok used to refer to trash and dung in Old Turkic, and continues to encompass the meaning of dung in some contemporary Turkic languages (Khabtagaeva 2019: 105), it lacks the latter connotation in Tyvan. Instead, there are multiple words that define livestock dung; they are specific to species, health condition, and use. For instance, I have mentioned chin, which refers to fresh dung when cleaning intestines of slaughtered animals and to fresh cow pies when using them as a barn wall insulation; ödek is dry powder-like livestock dung; körzeng is sheep dung and urine which form organic bedding of the flock's winter barn, it is taken out in spring, dried and used as fire fuel; inek myia is a fresh or dry cow pie used as fuel during summer.

In their account of waste management among the Veps and Nenets peoples in the Russian North, Laura Siragusa and Dmitry Arzyutov create a dialogue between two approaches to waste: economic with concerns about sustainability and relational where the question “whose waste?” is equally important to “what is waste?” (Siragusa and Arzyutov 2020). Analyzing existing definitions of waste, the authors point out that “waste is constructed symbolically,” and there are “multiple, localized and situated conceptualizations of waste and consequent practices of waste management” (2020: 43).

Cleaning Dung as a Practice of Multispecies Care

This section investigates the sociality of livestock dung. I approach it through an inquiry into the contribution of dung-related practices to maintaining triadic relationships between herders, livestock, and homelands (Humphrey 1995, Pedersen 2001). Some practices testify for multispecies care where herders are concerned about the well-being of their livestock and put all efforts into securing abundant pastures, hay supply, and warm barns during cold seasons. Other practices are aimed at keeping in balance relationships with landscapes which, in Inner Asian ontologies, are approached as sentient superordinate nonhuman beings often personified as “a master of land” or cher eezi.

In winter, the herders of Ak-Erik turn their livestock enclosures into what Anderson et al. call “structures of comfort” (2017: 406). Winter enclosures are log buildings that herders clean every day and add, when necessary, a fresh layer of dry dung for floor insulation. The herders move into their winter encampments at the end of November, and they begin to shelter their animals overnight around mid-December and until mid-March. During this period cleaning a campsite territory and barns from fresh livestock dung and spreading insulation on barns’ floor comprise a few hours of a daily workload, which is completed despite freezing weather. Under these conditions, the herders’ care for their animals is an example of how “human agents will go to great extents to make enclosures comfortable and attractive to individual animals” (Anderson et al. 2017: 407).

In some years, my grandparents’ cattle herd consisted of twenty-five to thirty-five calving cows and up to thirty other animals: heifers, oxen of different ages, and one or two bulls. This meant that during winter we had to clean the barn from the dung of approximately thirty to forty animals every day. Cleaning cow barns is a physically challenging task. At age ten I was helping my grandparents by gathering dung with a pitchfork. At age twelve I paired up with my cousins of the same age to clean the barns by ourselves. It would take up to two hours daily. When grandmother joined us, it would take even more time because she meticulously cleaned the floor from the half-frozen patches of the ground insulation-dung and used a special pitchfork with a narrow space between its teeth to filter out the smallest lumps. After cleaning, we spread ödek in places where an insulation layer became thin. My grandmother repeatedly told us that without sufficient cleaning and insulation, animals would be cold, and they could catch a stomach disease and lose weight. All these factors would weaken animals and lessen their chances to survive through the harsh winter and long spring. Therefore, I argue, cleaning barns from dung is simultaneously a practice of caring for animals: first, by cleaning the barns properly; second, by managing a dung supply carefully to use as an insulation material for a barn's roof, floor, and walls.20

In conversations with herders during field research, it became evident that my interlocutors approach practice of keeping landscapes clean (of dung) as a daily task with utilitarian value as well as a way to balance their multispecies community's relationship with sentient homelands. In our conversations, herder Khorlai Langaa emphasized a necessity to keep the campsite (kodan) territory neat, “Inside of the kodan—this is the kodan of the summer campsite, and there are kodan in autumn, spring and winter sites—one has to regularly clean out the livestock's urine and dung and keep the kodan clean” (audio recorded interview, Shara-Nuur, Tes-Khem, Tyva, June 2015).21 Another Ak-Erik herder, Andrei Byzaakai, connected practice of keeping the seasonal campsite clean with respect toward homeland and care for the well-being of future generations. During our conversation, Andrei Angchyevich expressed his concerns about “people not paying attention to their homeland and leaving trash everywhere” (audio recorded interview, Kövürüg-Aksy, Tes-Khem, Tyva, June 2015). He compared a current situation with the past when “people chose camping sites which they grew accustomed to, and they prayed to that place and worshiped it” and emphasized that “our parents were neat and tidy, they cleaned their seasonal campsites before moving away because campsites must stay clean” (ibid.). Using the Russian word ekologiia for “ecology,” Andrei Byzaakai pointed out, “There is a change—people are not worried about ecology today. They are ignorant about things we leave for future generations. Our children will live here and make a living from this land. That is why we must think about our children's future and keep the land clean for them” (ibid.).

Andrei Byzaakai's observations bring into the conversation pastoralists’ sense of belonging with their homelands. This embeds taking care of homeland, including regular cleaning from livestock dung and prohibition on leaving waste, in regulations of the relationship between a sentient homeland and its human and nonhuman inhabitants. The Tyva pastoralists understand their homelands as superordinate in relation to humans and various nonhumans inhabiting them. Violation of regulations could cause “cosmological ramifications” (Humphrey and Ujeed 2012: 153). In my doctoral dissertation, I approached the Tyva herders’ understanding of their relationships with landscapes through an adaptation of Tyvan concepts cher törel or “land-based kinship” and aaldaar or “guesting” (Peemot 2021: 8–24). The concept of land-based kinship acknowledges the sociality of landscapes by approaching them, first, as sentient; second, as one's kin; and third, as a connecting bridge between humans and nonhuman beings. I approached relationships with sentient landscapes, which are understood as “something with energies far greater than the human” (Humphrey 1995: 135), in terms of the Tyvan guesting practice, I expanded on the practice's meaning by including sentient landscapes.

My observations on multispecies communities belonging to homelands sit in accordance with anthropologist Natasha Fijn's research with the Tyvans’ southern neighbors, the Mongol herders. Fijn writes, “Mongolian herders are a part of the landscape. There is not a distinctive dividing line between where nature begins and culture ends. To be co-domestic animal is to engage with others, human or non-human, and to be encompassed within the landscape, or co-domestic sphere of the encampment” (2011: 242). Other researchers who studied with pastoralists and hunters in Inner Asia and Siberia discussed normative regulations of human-nonhuman relationships as “cosmic economy of sharing” (Donahoe 2003: 122), “a demand sharing principle” (Willerslev 2013), and “an aesthetic of propriety” (Empson 2012: 10). Donatas Brandišauskas refers to “the morality of respect” in his investigation of bonds between humans, nonhumans, and landscapes to understand health among the Orochen people in Eastern Siberia (2011: 128). Alex Oehler (2020) studies the concept of balance in the relationship between humans and sentient nonhuman beings, including landscapes, among the Soyot herder-hunters in the Eastern Sayan Mountains. He approaches balance as “an underlying ethic governing the relationships of domestic and non-domestic animals with humans” (Oehler 2020: 237). Similarly, the Tyva pastoralists aim to balance their relationship with sentient superordinate homelands in multiple ways, including proper management of livestock dung.

Conclusion

Among byproducts of livestock husbandry, dung is often overlooked in research. However, studying dung management among Tyvan pastoralists gives insights into, leaning on Charles Stépanoff's definition, “the triadic nature of the ‘pastoral niche,’ characterized by an interaction between humans, animals, and the landscape” (2017: 376). In this article, I discussed an approach to livestock dung as a versatile renewable resource, which is paramount for the economics of mobile pastoralism in the Tyva Republic. I pointed out how livestock dung use can be framed in environmental conditions and biodiversity in steppe pastoralism (lack of firewood and abundance of cattle and sheep dung). By this, I revealed how the value and uses of livestock dung among steppe pastoralists support an argument about coadaptation of humans and domesticated animals in response to their shared environments (Fijn 2011; Stammler 2005). In summary, practices of dung management can be approached as forms of care, revealing the importance of balancing the relationships between herders and nonhumans—animals and sentient homelands.

Notes

1

In my doctoral dissertation, I approach research with communities in the Sayan and Altai mountains as “responsible guesting”; this term allows for relational epistemology of Indigenous knowledge making (Peemot 2021).

2

Previously, camels have also been a regular sight. However, the local camel population has declined significantly in the past thirty years. During my field research in the region in 2015 to 2019, there has been only one family with camels.

3

Although meat and dairy always have a market value, the value of hides and wool fluctuate and, in some years, it is difficult to sell them. Some amount of wool and hides are used for the household's needs to make clothing, felt, and tack. All horsehair goes for own needs to weave different ropes.

4

I have discussed a customary division of labor among the Tyvan pastoralists in Peemot (2019: 54–55). As a researcher-guest I also comply with this labor division, which is based on gender and proximity of kinship ties. A gender distinction in labor was noticeable, for instance, when I was invited to observe (and not to participate) how my kin, horsemen in their thirties, were doing seasonal horse-related works: castrating, branding, and trimming manes and tails of young equines.

5

During fieldwork in 2015, I helped with milking cows at the campsite of my kin Aisulu Noozun in Erzin province, Tyva. During fieldwork in the Tozhu Province of Tyva in July 2019 I tried to help with milking reindeer. However, I could not help much because milking reindeer was different from milking cows. With all my efforts, I managed to get only about 100 milliliters of milk. On the contrary, the reindeer herders-men could get twice as much from one deer.

6

For more on this collection of letters written by emperor K'ang-hsi, see Okada (1979).

7

I am thankful to linguist Florian Siegl for drawing my attention to this letter and translating it to English.

8

Ingvar Svanberg observes about the Kazakh pastoralists in Xinjiang, China, “The camp was the women's domain. They were responsible for the work at the camp and inside the yurt. They made food, gathered firewood and dung for fuel, milked cows, sheep and camels, took care of the children and had other minor obligations” (1988: 130–131).

9

The dictionary provides its spelling as körzeng, however many informants pronounced it as khörzeng.

10

During the socialist period, school children in grades eight through ten, who studied in the village's school, helped the herding families with taking dung out the barns. One class group was assigned to an encampment; the work was done in one day. The hosts provided meals for helpers-teenagers who were not paid but—despite the laborious task—considered this as a fun day away from the school routine.

11

Iandang is the iron stove's windpipe in the local dialect. In other parts of Tyva it is more commonly referred to as khoolai.

12

I discuss a variety of livestock shelters and their use elsewhere (Peemot 2019).

13

Thus, one could argue that a necessity to clean barns indirectly limits the size of the cattle herd per family. When looking at the livestock ratio, there is a noticeable difference in the numbers of horses, cows, and sheep. On average, a herding family in southern Tyva keeps from 300 to 600 sheep and goats, from 70 to 120 horses, and up to 70 cows. Out of these livestock species, cattle require the most care: cows are assisted in giving birth, milked regularly (ewes are milked only occasionally), and kept in warm barns which are maintained daily.

14

The autumn of 2020 was unusually warm and rainy in southern Tyva, so my relatives-herders were concerned about dung (fuel [körzeng] and insulation [ödek]) supplies not drying properly due to humidity (a private phone conversation, November 2020).

15

The local herders keep the Tyvan fat-tailed breed sheep which is well adjusted to the harsh climate. Newborn lambs already have a thick fur coat and, when born at the pasture, they can follow mothers back to the encampment. However, newborn lambs are easy prey to predatory birds, for instance, falcons which are common in the south Tyvan steppes. To minimize risks, herders visit the flock often during the day and bring ewes with newborn lambs to the encampment. For carrying lambs, Tyvans use a special felt bag (incheek) which accommodates two lambs.

16

The number of mosquitoes differs from year to year. Sometimes it is bearable, so smoking is required only occasionally. However, once every several years the mosquitoes are so much that it is difficult to stay at habitual summer pastures in Shara-Nuur. For instance, all Shara-Nuur herders had to move to the taiga area at the beginning of the summer of 2021 because of mosquitoes.

17

These thick and heavy blankets were used during autumn when living in a yurt until December.

18

A pika has another name in Tyvan (khulagan), which is borrowed from the Mongolian language. Herders in southern Tyva use both names interchangeably. The pika is generally considered a good being whose appearance in a yurt is welcome and believed to predict the coming winter's conditions. It is forbidden to harm pikas (Peemot 2021).

19

The original in Tyvan is transliterated as follows: Adyp-boolap, aiaalap, duzaktap chip choraan ang dep chüve-dir bo. Ang aaryp-kyrlyp choraanyn kym körgen. Kudai-deerler, körüp-ovaaryp örsheener!

20

The other care for cows included giving forage to pregnant cows with special attention to bred heifers (first time calving), after giving birth the cows would receive some tea mix (about forty liters of which was boiled before cows’ return from the pasture in evenings), covering weak one- to two-year-olds with blankets (chavynchak), and covering the milking cows’ udders with a warm cover for a day out in the pasture.

21

Khorlai Langaa was my grandfather's nephew. For multiple years, my grandparents shared seasonal camping sites with him and his parents, Dargan and Khorluu Langaa.

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Contributor Notes

Dr. Victoria Soyan Peemot is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Helsinki. Her doctoral dissertation, titled “The Horse in My Blood: Land-Based Kinship in the Sayan and Altay Mountains, Inner Asia,” was supported by Kone Foundation (2018–2021). Raised by her grandparents in the Tyva Republic, she spent her youth riding horses and herding livestock on the Inner Asian steppe. She takes a critical approach to these experiences in her research, which examines the complexity of bonds connecting horses and herders in the Sayan and Altay Mountainous region. ORCID 0000-0002-1307-6739. Email: victoria.peemot@helsinki.fi

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Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

  • Figure 1.

    The summer encampment in the steppe, Lake Shara-Nuur, Tes-Khem, Tyva. June 2019. Photo © author.

  • Figure 2.

    Dried cow and horse dung, gathered at the pasture, produce intense fast-burning fire. Here it is used to cook meat and intestines of the freshly slaughtered sheep. June 2015, Tes-Khem, Tyva. Photo © author.

  • Figure 3.

    A pile of körzeng at the summer camping site Bora-Tei. Körzeng bricks were transported from the winter place, which is situated approximately 30 kilometers away. June 2018, Tes-Khem, Tyva. Photo © author.

  • Albarella, Umberto, and Angela Trentacoste. 2011. Ethnozooarchaeology: The Present and Past of Human-Animal Relationships. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anderson, David George. 2000. Identity and Ecology in Arctic Siberia: The Number One Reindeer Brigade. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Anderson, David George, Jan Peter Loovers, Sara Asu Schroer, and Robert P. Wishart. 2017. “Architectures of domestication: On emplacing human-animal relations in the North.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23 (2): 398416. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12613_1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Arakchaa, Lilia. 2015. Etnoekologiia Tyva [Ethnoecology of Tyva]. Kyzyl: IKOPR SO RAN.

  • Brandišauskas, Donatas. 2011. “Contested health in the post-Soviet Taiga: Use of landscape, spirits and strength among Orochen-Evenki of Zabaikal'e (East Siberia).” In Health and Healing in the Circumpolar North: Southeastern Siberia, ed. D. G. Anderson, 125144. Alberta: CCI Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brandišauskas, Donatas. 2017. Leaving Footprints in the Taiga: Luck, Spirits and Ambivalence Among the Siberian Orochen Reindeer Herders and Hunters. New York: Berghahn Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Broderick, Lee G., and Michael Wallace. 2016. “Manure: Valued by farmers, under-valued by zooarchaeologists.” In People with Animals: Perspectives & Studies in Ethnozooarchaeology, ed. L G. Broderick, 3442. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chimeddorzhi, Jaqa. 1991. Die Briefe des K'ang-Hsi-Kaisers aus den Jahren 1696–97 an den Kronprinzen Yin-Ch'eng aus mandschurischen Geheimdokumenten: ein Beitrag zum ersten Dsungarenkrieg der Ch'ing, 1690–1697 [The K'ang Hsi emperor's letters of 1696–97 to the Crown Prince Yin-Ch'eng from Manchurian Secret Documents: A contribution to the Ch'ing's First Djungarian War, 1690–1697]. Asiatische Forschungen 113. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davydov, Vladimir. 2017. “Human-animal relations in the historic-cultural landscape of northern Baikal, Zabaikal and Southern Yakutia” in Social relationships in historic-cultural landscape of Siberia (ed. Davydov, V.): 210258. St Petersburg: MAE RAN.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • De Witt, Magnus, Hlynur Stefansson, and Ágúst Valfells. 2019. “Energy security in the Arctic: Policies and technologies for integration of renewable energy.” Arctic Yearbook—Redefining Arctic Security: 189196.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Donahoe, Brian. 2003. A line in the Sayans: history and divergent perceptions of property among the Tozhu and Tofa of South Siberia. Unpublished PhD diss., Indiana University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Empson, Rebekka M. 2012. “The Dangers of Excess.” Social Analysis 56 (1): 116.

  • Fijn, Natasha. 2011. Living with Herds: Human-Animal Coexistence in Mongolia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Forbes, Bruce C. 2013. “Cultural resilience of social-ecological systems in the Nenets and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, Russia: A focus on reindeer nomads of the tundra.” Ecology and Society 18 (4): [36]. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-05791-180436.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hubbard, Robert K., and Rirchard R. Lowrance. 1998. “Dairy Cattle Manure Management. Agricultural Utilization of Municipal, Animal and Industrial Wastes.” USDA, Agricultural Resources Service, Conservation Resources Report 44.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Humphrey, Caroline. 1995. “Chiefly and shamanist landscapes in Mongolia.” In Anthropology of Landscape, ed. E. Hirsch and M. O'Hanlon, 135162. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Humphrey, Caroline, and David Sneath. 1999. The End of Nomadism? Society, the State and the Environment in Inner Asia. Durham: Duke University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Humphrey, Caroline, and Hürelbaatar Ujeed. 2012. “Fortune in the wind.” Social Analysis 56 (2): 152167. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41633763

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Izugbara, C. Otutubukey, and J. Oscar Umoh. 2004. “Indigenous waste management practices among the Ngwa of Southeastern Nigeria.” Environmentalist 24: 8792. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10669-004-4799-4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kazunori Kohyama, Masayuki Hojito, Sasaki Hiroyuki, and Shoji Matsuura. 2006. “Estimation of the amount of nutrients in livestock manure.” Soil Science and Plant Nutrition 52 (4): 576577. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-0765.2006.079_5.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Khabtagaeva, Bayarma. 2019. Language Contact in Siberia. Leiden: Brill.

  • Khovalyg, Rolanda. 2018. Tyva ündezin khep [Tyvan traditional clothing]. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

  • McLean, Kirsty Galloway, Ame Ramos Castillo, and Brendan Barrett. 2012. “Energy innovation and traditional knowledge.” Traditional Knowledge Bulletin: Topical Issues Series. http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/energy-innovation-and-traditional-knowledge/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oehler, Alex. 2020. “The care work of balance apportioning life in Soyot herder-hunter households of the Eastern Sayan Mountains.” Inner Asia 22 (1): 237254. https://doi.org/10.1163/22105018-12340149

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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