Pasturage in the Carpathians

Sheep and cow pasturage was for centuries the most important part of the Hutsul economy. Moreover, it had changed the countryside of Hutsul land. Since the beginning the landscape had been transformed by the animals feeding. The first Walakhian immigrants were resided in the mountains during the summer and moved to the valleys for a winter. They had operated on the typical Alp meadows in Chornohora and Marmaroski mountains. Afterwards, they chopped and burnt the forest and enlarged the pastures so as to ruined the natural Alpine environment. The Walakhians had socialized with Slavic nations from the north east and settled on the hills, where their economy had grown. The timber from the forest was used in many brands of applications. It was used as a construction material, and in the production of goods as well as for the heating. Afterwards, the higher parts of mountains normally with the forest had been transformed in the glades.

It is hard to estimate how many herds were pastured during the highest economy growth, which was observed till the mid 19th century. Some believe that the number of 600-700 sheep was typical for a herd. They estimated the number of about 200 thousand sheep all over the Hutsul land. Not only the sheep but also the goats, and the pigs and the cows were growing on the glades. Nowadays, a number of sheep is about 30 thousand. Hardly ever goats and pigs can be found. Mostly there are white pigs growing in the pigsty on the farms in the valleys. In the past, there were the pigs of the Walakhian race, which could have been strong enough to live on the glades. Besides, the horned cattle were rearing. Normally, the cows and the oxen were rearing. The cows are found today in the Western Chornohora and the oxen are typical for Chyvchynski mountains. The mixed herds can be found in Svydovets or Kukula. The breeding a unique race of the Huculih0 was very popular there. A view of the flock of the Hutsul horses was characteristic. They were commonly used by the shepherds. They say „where is a Hutsul there must be a horse”. At this time the flocks of horses can be found but there are not the Hutsul race horses.

The organization of the seasonal pasture was done by the landlord or the tenant of the glade. When the glade was owned by the local community there was a delegate from the council (silska rada), who ran the task. The animals owners created common herds paying a fee and got dairy products mainly cheese and butter. Traditionally, the production was managed by vatag, who resided on the glade. There were several brand of cheese made of sheep and cows milk on the glades. The fatty one formed in wooden barrels (putyny) was called syr. The remaining part called dzer was used to make in copper or steel kettles a vurda. Syr and vurda were drained (budz) and later on mixed in certain amounts to produce different kinds of brynza. Another dairy product typical for the glades was a butter made in barrels called berbenytsya. At the present time, the only syr and vurda are made and sometimes only milk and a cream are delivered to the villages.

The animal owners had their herds even a 150 km away from their homes: Kolomyya, Snyatyn or Soroky. And now, the Hutsuls from Kosiv have their herds in the Eastern Chornohora.

The shepherds live on the glades for 3 – 4 months a year. The beginning of the season was a very special day in the Hutsul village. It called Polonynsky Khid. There were singing the songs and praying leading the herd to the glades. Later on, Soviets changed the name of that day to Provody na polonynu (Entry into the meadows). The tradition is strictly attached to the 1 feast of holly George on May 6th and the summer St Nicolas feast on May 22nd. The end of the season was on August 28 the feast of Holly Mother with the herds of the homed cattle and on September 21st the feast of the Virgin Mary with the sheep. Practically it is depended on the weather conditions (the snow melting and so on). Even now, planning the expedition it is important to keep in mind the opportunity to contact with shepherds and a fresh dairy purchase. And the possibility of view of the landscapes with alive herds guarded by dogs. During the trip beware of the dogs especially in Mormarosky mountains. It is I also possible to spend a night in I shepherd’s shelters.

The Hutsul farms are various and in different conditions. Usually, the only permanent construction is a hut called staya. Many of them could be found in Chornohora on Gropa glade under Pip Ivan, a beauty spot of Serelivka under Petros, in Gadzhina, on Holovcheska and Pechenizhska glades. The other parts of a farm are temporary shelters called zastoyki and enclosures for sheep called koshary and okoly and used for milking the sheep called strunki. Sometimes, there is more primitive shelter without windows and stove called kolyba. After the World War II Soviets built a number of large industrial farms. The ruins of the farms can be found on Rohniska and Zhumniska glades in western part of Chornohora. Many can be found in Hryniavsky and Chyvchynsky mountains – under Chyvchyn, Ledeskul or Stokh, and on Svydovets, where they are under Stara (Stare). Sometimes there can be found a lot of small cowsheds called korivnyky like in Chornohora or Kukul.

During XXth century in Hutsul land there were existed some public dairys and experimental stations. In 1899, on Pozhuzhevska glade in Chornohora it was established the Botanical and Agricultural Station as a branch of the State Botanical and Agricultural Station in Lviv. The first modern dairy was open in Dzembronia before the War. Some public dairys were built since 1906 due to the Hungarian governmental decisions. They were located in western part of Chornohora on glades Menchul Kvasovsky, Shumneska, Rogneska and Kinets. The governmental farm on Shumneska glade had 260 cows in 1914.

The transportation system was based on the local ways called play. Through play still the dairy products are delivering to the villages and farther to the cities Just before the World War play through the West Chornohora under Petros and Sheshul was built.

After the World War Czechoslovakians and Poles continued on the Transcarpathians the dairy production and svayceraye functioned on Menchul Kvasovsky, where you can find its ruins, and Rohnynska glades. The dairy on Rohnynska glade was able, in the twenties, made the products from 70 thousand liters of milk per year, likewise, the dairy on Svydovets. Another dairy was built in Marmarosky mountains on Petros-Gryn glade. In the north part of Chornohora on Pozhyzhevska glade the state owned farm existed, and in Hryniavsky mountains under Khust another dairy.

In 1945, on Rohnanska and Menchul Kvasovsky glades Soviets state owned farms. In 1949, the experimental farm Dzhordzheva Preluka under Menchul Kvasovsky was begun. Since 1952, all the stated glades were run by the state owned farms called kolhosp. There were also some community farms called radhosp, which owned more sheep and cows than the state there.

Since the end of communism era, the old landlords and their successors restore family farms with cows and sheep, but mostly cows. In the Transcarpathians, Hutsuls still have more herds of sheep than cows. Even now they use the natural farming methods, quite primitive and old-fashioned. The shepherds live in temporary shelters called zastayky and move from one place to the other with their herds. They bum the fireplace called vatra, and as in the past the vurda production is managed by vatah. Young trees and bush are removed, what helps in overgrowing the glades. Sometimes the land is burnt, what is outlawed but happens even in the national parks such as Carpathian National Park or Carpathian Biosphere Reserves.

Long term Hutsul agricultural economy has been changed the environment in the mountains. The dwarf mountain pines were completely wiped out from the biosphere there. The spruce forest is very limited only to Svydovets or west Chornohora. Lower forest consists either of maple-trees or beech- trees. The glades are filled with the sheds linked by the routes called play. The ruined farms and glades are grassy and the forest is growing on old pastures. These landscapes can be found in Hrynavsky and Chyvchynsky mountains. A rural development there is required and Hutsul try to promote the region with festival Hutsulska Brynza (Hutsul Brynza), which helps to support local products and encourage visiting the land. The number of sheep in west Chornohora is estimated about 3 thousand, but it is hard to have profits there. The economy there tries to hold not only the environmental balance but also helps keep the healthy diet among the local people.

As for the tourist it seems to be an old epoch preserved in the countryside of Hutsul land. The atmosphere has its own taste quite unique and fresh in the present century.

Magic of the glades

At late 19th century animals breeding played the most important role in the Hutsul economy. Hutsul bred the sheep (vivtsi), goats, cows (marzhyna), pigs (svyni) and horses. Several months a year the animals were fed far away from home villages on the glades. A special group of society was prepared for that task. They built their own folk culture, which could have been found in their rituals, ceremonials and legends and songs.

It was very difficult to become a good shepherd. The candidate had to be a strong enough, brave and experienced. The weather and the climate conditions of the mountains were very bad. There were infections and diseases attacking people and animals. And other people – robbers and outlaws, who steal the animals and the goods. Also wild animals were dangerous hunting for a food. Hence, the magic played an important role in everyday life of shepherds. All the magical beliefs and orders had to be sufficient for rescue of the herd and proper diary and meat production.

A landlord or a tenant (deputat) traditionally had reached the agreement with vatag, who resided on the glade and was responsible for the herd and dairy products. Vatag managed the herds and the shepherds, also prepared the food, and at the end of term he returned the herds to the owners. In the spring vatag announced the pasturage (vesnuvannya) and the day of milking and payment. It had happened after the church prayers. Vatag was the owner of all the equipment employed in the diary making. He was also a physician and a magician. This profession was inherited from generation to generation.

Vatag employed the shepherds. The shepherd should have been responsible and able to work in a team. There were diverse responsibilities of the shepherds. A vivchar guarded the sheep. There was one vivchar over a hundred milky sheep. A yelocher (yegnychnyk) was responsible for young sheep and rams. Korovar (haydey) was in charge of homed cattle, bovhar guarded the oxen, and telecher – the calves. Kozyar was in charge of goats, svynar guarded the pigs, and stadyar – the horses. There were some assistants on the glade called gonilnyky. They supplied water and timber, keep the fire and did other items. They were also called spuzhary (spuza means ash).

Sometimes, a young boy was engaged as a helper called strunkar (zagoyennyk), who assisted during the milking. At night the guard called nichnyk, bum the hearth called vatra, and using a horn warned the other team members. Vatag employed also his deputies called starshy vivchar. The shepherds were paid by cash and goods. They also got the livelihood for whole season. Vatag and starshy vivchar received a pair of leather shoes for a month and could have kept their own part of herd free of charge.

A part of a glade was the pasture (pasovysko), the other was a meadow (kizhnytsa).

The water was supplied via wooden pipes called churil from the well or a spring. The farm (stoyishche) was fenced with wooden perches called varynnya. The pasture was shifted moving the perches from time to time and fertilize the soil. Sheep lived in koshery, and cattle in zahorody.

The wooden shelter called kolyba (staya) consisted of the entrance room (piddashya), vatarnyk (vaternyk) and a chamber. In the middle of vatarnyk the hearth called vatra burnt all the time. Along the walls on the benches all the equipment was kept. In the chamber the food and all dairy products were stored. Near the wall the wooden verkluh (vertluh) arm for the kettle was set. In some of the farms, the huts called zhymarky were built. Inside there was a stable in which the animals were kept to the winter.
The shelter of a cooper (budnar) was a part of a farm. During the season the cooper produced and repaired the wooden objects used on the spot.

The animals were protected in the shelters built by deputat or vatag. The fences were made of the wood. Marry times they saved the animals lives. In the heart of the enclosure there was a shed called stayka (zastayka). Inside the shepherd spent every night. In front of a shed the fire was burnt. The sheep shelter had a place for milk milking called strunka (strunga). In the cattle shelter there was a crib with fresh hay. Sometimes there was another enclosure in the see-through forest, especially during the hot summer time. The part of the glade was separated and here hay was stored in stacks. Later on, it was used during the cold weather for animals feeding.

Before the season

The season was opened between May 7th and June 2nd. The horns of the shepherds were informed about it. The time of leading the herds from the villages to the glades is called Polonynsky Khid. The crofters in special way prepared their herds to the season. In some feasts they had not worked and had a fast. In the day of Svatogo Yuria (St George May 6th), the shepherd protector, they prayed in the intension of a good and safe season. At the day of Svatogo Matviya (St Mathews, August 9th) and St Catharine (December 7th), the crofters played in the intension of saving the cattle against the influence of the weasel, which was able to make the cow loose the milk or even kill the cow. At the day of svatogo Lupa (Lupula, August 23rd), the intension was to protect the animals against the wolves. At the day of the Holy Cross (September 11th), they prayed in the intension of protection against the snakes. In the day of svatogo Spirydona (December 14th), the shepherd prayed about the protection their herds against the wild animals. An exceptional was rakhmansky velykden, on Wednesday four weeks after the Easter.

That day the crofters fed animals before the sunrise with the boiled eggs to had a good health and protect against them the spell. People had eaten their food after the sunset. The same intention was in the first Didova Subota (Saturday) before Whitsuntide. That day they brought to the church as a gift first diary prepared after the winter and afterwards, they gave it to the poor.

A week after the day of Teploho Aleksiya (St Alex, March 29th), they cut the wool of the sheep. The kids took the fleece to the house taking care of not mixing the fleece from lambs, young sheep and older sheep. They believed that the mixing could had caused the skin disease. At the day of Blagovishchennya (Holy Virgin Annunciation April 7th) crofter cut the wool of every sheep near the genital organs. That day he had to prepare the thread and the rope from that wool. In the day of Polonynsky Khid, he knotted the rope on his naked body around his belly believed that the sheep would had a good and safe season. As a protection against the bad energy the sheep and the goats received a red wooden strip knotted on the ear and the cattle a red wooden strip knotted on the tale, while a crofter mourned an oath. Several days before set off to the mountains a crofter early after the sunrise, sitting on the stable door sill, broke the pieces of salt mourning an oath with the sign of cross over the salt. Afterwards, he fed the animals with salted food. This protected the animals against the loosing of the milk.

The way to the glades

The crofters, who had the animals fed on the same glade called mishanyky. Before the move with their herds on the glade, they had to fix the date in advance. The set off should not had been on Friday the feast. That day all the crofters and shepherds had a fast and had not drink an alcohol.

Early after the sunrise the crofter had prayed about his animals (marzhyny). Then, he went to the stable and asked the animals, whether they had a good sleep.

The sheep got the wax to eat to keep the herd together and get a lot of milk (it means worked as bees), and fodder with powdered wasp nest to be spiky like a wasp guaranteed the sheep to fetch a good food. Before the sheep had left a crofter stayed naked in a door and counted them walking between his legs. When the last one left he said the wish not to spell his sheep by someone else as it was impossible to spell his pants.

As far as the cattle are concerned a crofter prepared a garland from the leaves on the corncob and wrapped around the neck to protect against the sorcery and unite of the healthy herd.

In front of the farm, where the animals had spent last night the fire or the torch was burnt. The owner threw a sickle and a scythe (to protect against the spell) as well as a key of the chamber (to shut the jaws of the predators) to the fire. The animals had walked through the fire, while a crofter mourned the spells. After that the cattle had to eat blessed salt and were incensed by the herbs stolen from the church. The herbs were mixed with the burning woods place in a new pot. The new one due to the aspect to the herbs. The pot was put in a front of each cattle and a crofter spoke to the cattle. Then he sprinkled some drops of water blessed M church during the Jordan feast (January 19th) and praised the cattle. Then he hid the stick, which was used to move the cattle in a stable in order to wait for their happy returning.

Afterwards, the herd was moved to the route and the trip to the glade begun. It took even a couple of days so they moved spending the songs and spending the nights on farms they went across.


Prior to the new season vatag, deputat and some shepherds moved on the glade to prepare everything. Later on, the rest of shepherds with herds and the equipment came.

Vatag took off his hat entering the glade and prayed. Then, he hit the axe into the wall and threw the horseshoe into the old ashes. After that he burnt a new fire (zhyva vatra) with old fashioned way in order to have luck for whole season. Mixing some burning ashes with water, vatag prepared a mixture, which was used as a remedy for all the problems of body and soul. 14btra had burnt for whole season; otherwise it could have been a bad sign.

Vatag brushed all the stables on the glade to brush out all bad luck. Then, he waited for a herd burning the fire in the entrance. The animals went through the gate and the fire to be sharp as flames are. Meanwhile, vatag mourned the spells. Also people walked through the fire.

The season was expected to be good when an eagle was seen over the glade. On the other hand the season was anticipated bad when the ravens were observed. First night was spent by all the people on the glade in simple shelters.

The oldest shepherd burnt the fire at front of his shelter and all shepherds prayed and mourned the spells. They burnt the fires at the front of their shelters and slept with faces directed to the east.

The following day was magically as important as the first day on the jade. Vatag went to strynga – place for milking the milk and mourned another spells During the milking vatag threw a garlic to the barrels against the snakes, while he hit with his knife nine times at the bottom of the barrel. After the milking all the shepherds washed their hands and kept the water in one vessel wishing to have animals as a one herd. Then they prayed and took the herd to the pasture.

Moving out from the shelters the animals passed old chain, knife or scythe. Vatag sprinkled them with water from the vessel to preserve the animals against the misfortune and iron tools guaranteed good health and fit.

The milk milked for the first time was taken to the shed in silence, which should not have been broken. The milk was drunk by the shepherds with hope for good season.

One of the important steps was to prepare special dish called zhyr to eat by animals. It consisted of the dust of dry caterpillars of butterfly Cnethocampa pinivora mixed with salt.

At the noon, all the shepherds ate the first cheese made from the morning milk. During the first day, the owners milked their animals and fell the wooden vessel called mitruk (ca 1 liter). Meanwhile, vatag counted the number of vessels filled on a wooden stick. The stick cut into two pieces kept both vatag (koloda) and the crofter. Later on, it helped in accountings. Even if the animal was eaten the next day by a predator. The crofters never add the water to the milk because they believed that in such a way the herd would have been easier attacked by the predators.

At the end the animals of different owners were getting together and every kind was separated.


The milking was performed three times a day with special wooden tools called diynytsi.

A typical day begun at about 3 a.m. with words obuvayte-si (take your shoes on). The milking started by words davayte diynytsi (give me the udder). It happened with silence. It started with sheep, then after half an hour the cows were milked. The animals with dark colors were milked first. Every cow was called its name to give more milk and every time the shepherds washed their hands. It was not allowed to heat the hands.

The milk was stored in wooden barrel called putera, in which a powdered stomach of a calf or lamb was added. The barrel was warmed on the fire and milk was curdled. A cheese was mixed by wooden tool called butelev, and then dried in a cloth under the roof as a bundz.

A whey was warmed in another pot (kotel) with some milk. As a result another low fat cheese called vurda was prepared. The remaining part of the whey was called zhentytsa. The cheese was cut into pieces and stored in wooden pots compressed by special stick called bray, thick from one end and cut with teeth from the other. From the milk the sour milk was prepared (huslenka, huslanka). On some farms, only from cow milk, butter was made.

The sheep after the evening milking were moved to the pasture called pohirnyk, where the very dense grass and saffron were growing. They helped the sheep to have a lot of milk, but the sunset was magically dangerous.

All the time on the glade the shepherds were kept the magical rules. Especially, they observed other wild animals such as reptiles or lizards or frogs, which could had been dropped by witches or daemons.

Two weeks after, a magical ritual was performed. On the glade, vatag stuck an axe in the soil. Then he put some salt on and around the axe. The shepherds forced the sheep in the direction of the axe. While the sheep ate the salt, vatag shot with the gun and sheep escaped. Vatag wished to had the same reactions to the sheep every dangerous time. Then, the turf from that place was taken to the shed and kept. Afterwards, one of the shepherds three times ran naked around the herd with burning torch and shouted a magical charm.

The weather was one of the most important things. A lot of magical charms were prayers talked upside down with the cross sign made in the other way in order to get rid of bad weather.

The place where somebody had died suddenly called ksorovyshche was omitted by the shepherds as a dangerous one.

But the most dangerous magically was the curse put by someone. Especially when the animals stopped milking. It was possible by finding a reptile and a toad and burnt them in the pot, then dried and powdered. The powder should have been left on the animals paths. As far as the cows are concerned, it was possible sculptured the cow with Is We and stuck that knife in the soil, exactly in the same place, where the cows were milked. When the animal was sick or lost the milk, the only magical way to recovered it was to prepare the dough-nuts from the Easter palm and gave them to it. Sometimes, a balm made from garlic, urine and tar was effective. Of course, with magical formula whispered.

Another magical procedure was employed when an animal lost the milk. Water was collected from nine sources and taken to the shelter with no look back. Then, the timber from nine different kinds of wood was chopped. It was done lying on the ground and creeping to the shelter. Later on, two shepherds bum the fire with all the timber. After that the live embers were taken out of fire in the reverse order as the timber was given in and added to the water. Next, strunga was sprinkled with that water and the animals were washed. The remaining part was thrown away in a secret and safe place.

During the season on holidays the owners visited the shepherds on the glade and brought them food and drinks. Until St Peter and Paul (July 11th) the shepherds were not visited by women. After that date they were not allowed to come to the animals’ shelters. At the day of St Elias (Hromovy den, June 13th) the shepherds visited the churches and prayed for a good weather without the thunderstorms and hail.

Leaving the glades

The season for the cattle was ended after the day of the feast of Holly Mother – Persha Bogorodytsya, Uspinnya Bogorodytsi (August 28th) and for sheep after the feast of the Virgin Mary – Drugoyi Bogorodytsi (September 21st). A week or two in advance, vatag informed the crofters when he had planned to divide the herds. The crofters again built the shelters and spent a night. After that, they returned home. The shepherd with their own herds spent last days on the glade doing the farm and vatag packed all the equipment and waited for the fire went down. It was not allowed to put out the burning fire because the man who did it would die soon. The shelters were locked and the glade was left. Nobody returned there, because the lonely shelters were visited by ghosts called mara, who guarded the farm but also would burn the farm if the magical procedure was not performed. People returned to the glade in the next season and everything started all over again.