Erdni Badmaev, Arkadiy Natyrov, Kalmyk Cows
Polina lived in a yurt until the age of four and a half. They had two dogs that Polina loved to play with. Polina and her sister helped their mother and grandfather look after the livestock, while their father was away fighting the Nazis. During the deportation of the Kalmyk nation, Polina’s family managed to take a chest and a duvet with them. When the soldiers came to their house, Polina’s mother pleaded with them, ‘How am I supposed to feed the children and look after my father-in-law who has sent his three sons to the front?’ The Soviet officer took pity on her and ordered the soldiers to kill a sheep so that Polina’s family could take the meat on their journey. The family was exiled to Tymen’. When they arrived at the place of destination, three cattle carts full of Kalmyks were unloaded in Tyumen’ and the other four carts continued their journey on to Salekhard in Altai. At the Tyumen’ train station some Kalmyks jumped out of the carts by themselves, others were helped out. The train journey lasted from 29 December 1942 to 14 January 1943. Having spent more than two weeks on the train, Kalmyks were dirty and unwashed. At the Tyumen’ train station when they shook their clothes the snow underneath them turned black. At the station the exiled were sent straight to a gender segregated Russian sauna with cold floors. Since there was no soap, the people washed themselves with hot water only. There were a few men among them, either elderly or invalids who had returned from the front. The majority were women and children. After the sauna the Kalmyks were ordered to line up outside in the cold. Polina’s sister caught a cold. On their way to the village of Kulakovo, her sister died of lung inflammation.
Upon their arrival, in the village Polina’s family received two cows, as her mother and grandfather had two different surnames: her mother’s surname was Indzhikova and her grandfather’s was Erendzhenov. But since they had nothing to feed the cows with, they were soon forced to give them up to the local kolkhoz. In the village Polina’s mother sewed military uniforms. Her grandfather did carpentry and helped people build fences. He also treated both sick people and livestock. As a fee he would receive food. Polina’s family did not go hungry, but they lived in cramped conditions, sharing a two-room house with five other families.
Polina Fedorova, About Cattle Breeding in Siberia
In his childhood Sanal helped his family look after their livestock that grazed in the countryside. In summer, he sometimes had to spend the night out with the animals. In the summertime, the animals were watered and then driven back to the steppe to graze for the whole day. Sanal thinks that horses, cows and camels are the most loyal helpers to herders. When young, he rode camels. Sanal recalls that riding camels was very comfortable – sitting in a warm place supported by the two humps.
Sanal Lidzhiev, About Cattle Breeding
Sangadzhi says that the traditions, lifestyle and folklore of the Kalmyks are closely connected to their livestock breeding practices. Not only was livestock treated with respect but nothing of animal origin was supposed to go to waste. Intestines, skin, etc. were all used in the nomadic household. Traditionally, the Kalmyks had a good knowledge of the anatomy and behavior of each animal, including sheep, horses, camels and cattle.
Horses were used mainly as a means of transport. In the past all Kalmyks could ride from an early age.
Each bone of the sheep has a name. By examining cracks on cooked blade bones nomads could tell many things about the sheep, including its health and place of origin. Blade bones are also used for divination. There is a custom in Kalmykia during weddings to give a sheep’s blade bone to the man who heads and represents the groom’s relatives. When given a blade bone that person is expected to crack it with his finger. Traditionally, each part of the sheep’s meat is given to specific groups of people. For example, legs should be given to your daughter’s children. The tail is given to the youngest child in the family. Sheep’s intestines were used to make a variety of dishes, including blood sausages.
In Kalmykia camels are regarded as sacred animals. In contrast with sheep, camels give birth less often. Precious young calves were usually kept inside the yurt where people lived. Camel wool was used for making felt. Since it was very expensive, in the past only the wealthy could afford camel felt.
There are many beliefs and rituals related to cattle (cows and bulls). Their pelt is used to make saddles, stirrups, boots, etc.
Sangadzhi says that all Kalmyk traditions have a deep meaning and in this sense are similar to Buddhist philosophy.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About Livestock Breeding and Kalmyk Culture
When a cow gave birth, it was customary for its owners to invite old people into their house and offer them boiled foremilk. The quests were supposed to say the following:
‘Let the owners (of the calf) live in plenty
Let the cows grow and multiply’.
Then the calf’s forehead was smeared with the foremilk. The well wishes uttered to the calf were as follows:
‘Be safe from wolves and dogs
Let no one steal you’.
Tatyana Boskhomdzhieva, Well Wishes to Newborn Calves
Ulyumdzhi says that the Kalmyk breed of cattle originates from Mongolia. In the 400 years that the Kalmyks have lived in Russia the Kalmyk breed of cattle has been gradually improved to adapt to the harsh Kalmyk climate and landscape with scarce vegetation and water. It is a strong breed and gains weight quickly in the summer, which helps it survive harsh winters. In terms of character, The Kalmyk breed is aggressive, stubborn and half-wild. Kalmyk cattle protect themselves from wolves with their horns. The meat of the Kalmyk cattle is also famous across Russia for its exquisite taste. This kind of beef is also known as mramornoe myaso (marble meat). Personally Ulyumdzhi likes calf beef the most. Ulyumzhi also says that the fact that Kalmyk scholars managed to develop the Kalmyk breed into several sub-breeds gives him a great deal of pride.
In Kalmykia horses are milked between April and May. During this period a horse can gain up to 2,5 kg in a single day. Like the Kalmyk cattle, the Kalmyk horses are also aggressive and protective of their young. When wolves attack, grown-up horses circle their foals and defend them with their hooves.
Valery Bolaev, who is another participant in the interview, talks about the genetic characteristics of the Kalmyk breed of cattle. He relays a story of an American minister who visited the Soviet Union and supposedly said that there was only one thing that he wanted to buy in the country – a Kalmyk bull. The Kalmyk breed of cattle is popular across Russia. People buy it from as far away as Yakutia.