Before I decided to go to Kyrgyzstan, Sharon told me that she had drunk Kumis, fermented mare’s milk. My immediate response was “Where in the world do you get mare’s milk?” Duh, from a mare. I was intrigued so as soon as I made plans to visit Sharon I told her to see if she could arrange for me to learn how to milk a mare. Little did I know that milking a mare was difficult and could be dangerous. I am a city kind of gal who likes to think of herself as a country gal. In other words I am naive.
The colt was skittish and the mare had let the woman know she didn’t want to be milked. But I am getting ahead of myself. After a wonderful night’s sleep on the ground in our yurt B&B, we were off to find a family that was milking mares. It was still early in the season and most of the herds hadn’t arrived.
The minimalist infrastructure meant that we drove through a mountain stream instead of using a bridge, and then came upon this herd of yak grazing.
We stopped at this neighborhood so our guide could inquire about who was milking and were told there was one up ahead.
We sat in the van because the wind was blowing and it snowed for a few minutes – I told you it was cold. We spent some time watching this toddler wander around – she didn’t go far and there wasn’t much to draw her away except when a family member walked somewhere.
Soon we saw a couple of men leaving one of the family yurts and walking a ways out in the pasture to where a young goat was tied to a stake. We were really perplexed until we figured out that they were castrating the animal. As they were working, this toddler wondered over and nonchalantly walked under the animal’s belly. None of the men seemed to think anything of it. If I would have figured out what they were doing before they were done, I would have walked over to watch. It would have made an interesting picture. 🙂
We also noticed some men in the far distance beyond the family’s yurts. I watched for a long time to understand their pattern. (Sorry for the lack of clarity of the photo, the white specks are blowing snow and you will have to imagine horses in the distance.)
Four men spread out and formed the corners of a large square with horses in the middle. These men kept the mares and colts from running. Two other men went inside the herd and attempted to grab a foal and wrestle it down so they could tie it to a rope. This was a lot of work because the foal didn’t want to be caught and the mares became very agitated.
Once the foals were all tied to the rope, the mares would stay close by because they were still nursing. Now we got to see how they milked the mares.
A colt was untied and placed close to its mother so the mother’s milk would drop and to keep the mare calm. The woman knelt down and milked. The foal was very young and the mare hadn’t been milked often so she watched very carefully to make sure all were calm. In the first picture, she is jumping back because the mare had gotten jumpy. They didn’t milk that first mare.
Yup, that’s me drinking fresh-from-the-mare milk. They don’t get much milk from each mare and they do this every two hours. The milk was very white, thicker than cow’s milk, and very sweet. It was really good. The woman offered to get a glass from the yurt so I could have more but I graciously declined. They had to work way to hard to get just a couple of inches in the bottom of this pail.
At night they untie the foals and put their strongest stallion with the herd so they can go up into the hills to graze. The process begins again the next day.
As we were driving down the pass, Zermat, our guide, pulled out a quart glass bottle and handed it to us. Yup I tried kumis, and it is horrible.