Ancient Mongolian agriculture

Mongolian agriculture

Mongolian agriculture

Ancient Mongolian agriculture was stated in the book of "The nature of Mongolians” by Luvsanchoindon that … ‘as the spring comes near and the rain falls, the seed is spread on soil and young horses are tamed on the field. After 40 days, wheat will grow to reach the stirrup and after 80 days, the wheat will grow and ripen and shadow sunlight...'.


It's an interesting evidence that Mongolians had unique agriculture methods used horses and cattle in cultivation instead of plow. The ancient agricultural tradition of Mongols were documented not only on historical recordings, but also its traces were as names of many land areas. For instance, only in Khaliun soum of Gobi-Altai province, there are mountains and areas called 'Buddha Wheat', 'Mountain range of Zurgaadai', 'Grain hill', 'Boom' and 'Bull ditch', which all have own legends for the name given. The moun rain range of Zurgaadai has a cliff on its peak, of which the shape resembles the 'Zurgaadai' barley ear. The cliff is worshipped by the local people to be the lord of agriculture that blesses the harvest. The names of 'Boom' and 'Bull ditch' were given because of the area's unique formation similar to the ditches of wheat field.
If one plants seed:

Let the seed grow abundant
Let the cattle be fast

Mongolians had a tradition to 'rest' the harvested field for 2-3 years or more. In 1847, Russian researcher A.M.Pozdneev wrote in his book 'Diary about Mongolia' that 'Mongolians have a system to leave the wheat field fallow' and B.F.Schubin noted that 'the vast land of the Mongolians provided the possibility of this system. They plant the seed in simple easy way with least expense and labor. But they harvest abundant grain. They chose the right place for harvesting and they know where, when, what and how to plant'. 'Letting the land rest' was of advantage to prevent from soil erosion and keep the soil fertility.

On the day of lunar calendar, Mongolians have a tradition to forecast the weather for the coming year. If the wind blows from the west, it's said that the harvest would be harmed by insects, if from the east, the harvest would be bad. If the wind is from the south east, there will be plenty of rain and the harvest will be abundant.

In Mongolian agriculture, not only the cultivation, but also the fertilization techniques are closely related with animal husbandry. Mongolians never prepare special fertilizer and had their own unique technique of fertilization. In spring they simply gather sheep and goat at the field when the animals feed on newly grown young grasses. In autumn, they gather livestock at the field or they pour dung ashes into the ditch so that the field is fertilized easily. To protect the filed from insects and mice, they used to dig wide ditches or hang wind bells and scarecrow.

Mongolians developed their own equipments and tools for cultivation, harvesting and threshing, which were made by those who were engaged in agriculture in each area. The wooden plow with horses ami cattle were used in most areas and the iron plow entered the use only in early 20"' century brought by Russian and Chinese merchants.

In spring, the cultivation area is divided into square fields called 'tagt' of 20-30 square meters, which are also named as 'khutrum' and 'zeseg' by Torgut and zakhchin ethnic tribes and 'chikh' by Durvuds. The main ditch is called as 'Bull ditch' as it provides water to other sub channels. Five to fifteen seeds per once are planted depending on the soil fertility and cattle-harnessed stone roller or harrow are pulled along on the field. The agricultural equipments such as iron rake abd harrow were made of feather grass, elm or willow by local people and the scythe, knife, wooden rake, stone mill, mortar and pestle are made by local smithsmen.

In the area of river basins of Orkhon and Selenge, the field was irrigated once before the cultivation and in western provinces 4-5 times during the wheat plantation. If the soil is sandy, the watering should be not less that 5-7 times, and that's why Mongolians say 'The wheat needs 5 watering session'. As warm water affects badly to the wheat growth, the irrigation is done only during cool days or at nights. For Mongolians, irrigation was important for harvesting, thus there were certain irrigational session of certain period. After the first 'soil water' session, the wheat sprouts. After 20 days since wheat got 'yellow ear', there should be the 2"J watering session called 'soil wettening' and after a week there comes the 'braid water'. The yellow ear of wheat turns intop dark green and after 3 weeks the wheat grows its ear and it's time for 'scythe water'. The barley is harvested after 45-50 days of plantation and the wheat 75-80 days.

When harvesting the wheat:
Let the harvesting be abundant
When threshing the grain:
Let the grain fill the floor

As the barley is sensitive to drought, the barley should be harvested first, then the wheat and millet, which can be harvested even after the first snow. For harvesting Mongolians mostly use scythe and knife. The harvested crops are bundled and spread on the round floor to drain. For threshing the grain, horses and catties are used and then the grain was kept in deep underground hole, which was of advantage to keep for longer period and to protect the grain from humidation. It was a tradition a Mongols to give a share if someone comes right during the threshing, which symbolizes sharing from the gift of nature. In the area of Orkhon and Selenge, stone roller was widely used in threshing the grain and wooden stick and feathergrass sieve were also used. Each family would keep the grain for daily food in leather bag and made flour from grain with stone hand mill.

Fried barley

The barley grain is boiled in small amount of water and then roasted to soften until it's dry. Then the grain is spread on wooden board to clean from peeled-off husks. The roasted barley can be eaten mixed with butter cream. Undercooked barley can be a good component for soup during winter.
After harvesting and threshing the grain, each family brings barley flour, dish of honor, milk tea and drinks to the threshing floor to celebrate the special ritual and praise the ode to the threshing floor to thank the lords of nature and to wish more harvest for the next year.


Ode of Wheat harvesting


Grown to the height of cattle
Grown for everyone's wonder and praise
Tliis year was very fruitful and exciting
That people on their way would stop to watch
People walking by would sit and watch.
This year we've harvested a thousand packs
Next year let it grow more than this year's, or
On the threshing floor
Round like the full moon
Flat as if glass and mirror
Vast as the steppe
We've threshed the grain
Of fine kinds ofxvheat
And we all bless the threshing place
With milk and yoghurt for the better future!
Walking heavily and bulkily
Were whipped thousand times
The cattle assisted greatly to us
In harvesting the grain and wheat
While walking and threshing the grain
All of us bless the cattle
We bless the shovel, plow and broom
With a cookie fried in butter and cream
We wish you to give us more harvest
In the autumn of the next year.
We all ask your blessing and gift
And more harvest for coming years!
Let us pile up the cookie and cakes
Full on the threshing floor
Let us have a great feast
And offer drinks to the Lords of nature
Let us sing joyful songs of autumn
And let us enjoy the endless happiness!

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