Smallholdings and semi-natural grasslands in the Romanian Carpathians
The smallholding year
The smallholding year in Moeciu de Sus can be broadly divided into two phases: autumn, winter and spring when the livestock are on the smallholding (beginning of October to the end of May) and the summer months when they are communally pastured in the local mountains or in the lowlands (beginning of June to the end of September).
Autumn, winter and spring
In Moeciu de Sus the summer grazing period ends on October 1st. Cows are herded en masse back to the village on or around this date if they have been pastured in local mountain grasslands. Sheep are moved to lowland arable stubbles and don’t return to the village until the first fall of snow.
Cows are then grazed on the aftermaths of once mown meadows until the first fall of snow from which point onwards they are barn kept along with sheep if any are kept. Livestock are moved between their owner’s barns throughout the winter to consume the hay produced on each meadow and to provide a source of dung for each meadow. Livestock are commonly housed in the furthest barn, which can be as far as an hours walk away, in the first part of the winter. They are moved to the nearest barn before calving (typically in March).
After calving, smallholders once again have a ready supply of milk some of which is used to produce a cheese called cas which may be smoked. Male calves and surplus female calves are slaughtered and consumed at home before the cows once again leave for the summer pastures. Lambs are often slaughtered in the summer months and are also consumed at Easter.
After the snow has melted the sheep are collected and taken to the lowlands before moving to the summer pastures in June. Cows graze meadows but are removed first from those which are used to produce two cuts of hay. The second cut of hay, otava, is valued because it is more nutritious and is fed to cows and sheep at calving and lambing time to boost yields of milk. Dung is spread in both the spring and autumn and is raked across the meadows by hand.
In March, smallholders make arrangements for the summer pasturing of their livestock. There are four locally used pastures, three of which are commons administered by the village and one of which is privately owned and rented out. The number of livestock in Moeciu de Sus (approximately 450 head of cattle and 2000 sheep) exceeds the capacity of these four pastures and around 100 cows and 1000 sheep are sent (by lorry in the case of cattle or by foot for sheep) to one of several, often privately owned and leased, pastures in the lowlands.
Arrangements for the lease of the three locally owned and administered pastures are complex. These pastures are let by the village authority on an annual basis. Shepherds apply to lease a pasture and are required to state the grazing tax that livestock owners are charged per cow and per sheep. The shepherds are also required to state the amount of cheese the livestock owner will receive. For example, a shepherd may propose that livestock owners will receive 8kg of hard cheese (brânza – a matured version of cas) and 2 kg of soft cheese (urda) per litre of milk produced on a specific milk measurement day. If a cow produces 8 litres of milk on this day its owner will therefore receive 64 kg of hard cheese and 16 kg of soft cheese.
Villagers vote at a public meeting in March to decide which applicant secures the lease of which pasture. The tenure of each pasture can change from year to year should an application not be renewed or, less frequently, if an application is rejected by public vote. Once a lease has been secured the successful applicant then has to employ further shepherds (normally 6 or more) to assist in the tasks of herding and cheese making. The income of the shepherd that leases the pasture is the money that remains from the grazing tax and from the sale of surplus cheese, after the payment of the hired shepherds.
Livestock are moved to the summer pastures by June. In the case of Moeciu de Sus these movements can be described as short-distance transhumance (this type of movement is termed pendulation by Romanian academics). June is then a relatively quiet time on the smallholding until hay cutting commences in earnest in July. The lowest meadows are the first to be ready to be mown. It can take a day or more to mow a meadow depending on the number of people available to scythe, a task normally undertaken by men. The hay is dried, this may only take a day if the weather is good and then stored in the loft with any surplus stored on a hay stack.
When the hay in the loft has been depleted the hay on the stack is moved inside. Most families manage to produce a surplus which is used as insurance in years when the weather is particularly bad (whether a long winter or a poor hay crop caused by a wet summer). Hay making can last in to September when the more productive of the meadows are cut for a second time.
Meanwhile, livestock are grazing summer pastures in the uplands and the lowlands. The highest pasture used by the villagers in Moeciu de Sus is located at approximately 2000 m on the plateau of the Bucegi Mountains. Weather conditions can be very harsh on the upland pastures with frequent storms. The shepherds endure tough working conditions often sleeping outside with the livestock to prevent attack from wolves and bears.
It is becoming very difficult for the shepherds who lease the local upland pastures to find sufficient skilled shepherds to hire. Men are being attracted out of the profession to livelihoods which reward similar salaries for less arduous working conditions. Livestock are less well tended when unskilled men are hired. The shepherds walk the cows down off the mountain on October 1st of thereabouts and the sheep are walked to the lowlands to graze arable stubbles until the first fall of snow.