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A Mongolian adventure

A Mongolian adventure
Camel shearing in the desert- a slightly different experience than Sam Bryan is used to. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Sam Bryan is home from his Mongolian adventure with a new appreciation for the people and culture. The Guardian caught up with him to see how his big trip went.

Fermented horse milk might not be for everyone, but it was just one of the Mongolian experiences Sam Bryan will not forget.

The Ashburton Rabobank agri-business associate and former shearer has recently returned from a three-week stint in the east Asian country as part of the Share Mongolia programme.

The programme aims to arm Mongolian shearers with training and modern equipment, enabling them to shear and farm more economically and sustainably.

Currently, most shearing in Mongolia is done using scissors, a time-consuming method that limits the number of sheep shorn to just thirty per day and makes it difficult for herders to support their families.

Bryan was one of around 13 Rabobank clients and staff who embarked on the trip throughout June and July, sharing their skills and getting thoroughly immersed in Mongolian culture.

Bryan says the group was warmly welcomed by locals who went out of their way to give their guests a taste of authentic Mongolian hospitality.

"The best part about the trip was the people, how well we were looked after and how hospitable they were," Bryan said.

"They put a lot of effort into looking after us and making sure we had a good time."

Bryan spent the first part of his trip in the Ömnögovi province in the south of Mongolia in the Gobi desert doing two full days of shearing, which he described as "the hottest, stickiest and sandiest" shearing experience he has had.

At the end of the second night in the Gobi desert, a visit to a family of herders ended with Bryan adding camel shearing to his repertoire.

Enjoying a meal with the locals. PHOTO SUPPLIED

"We called into this family on the way home one night and decided to have a go shearing their camels.

"It was pretty easy; we just grabbed them, sat them down, tied them and shore them.

"It's a bit like shearing an alpaca."

The Ömnögovi province suffers from over-grazing, which Bryan says has significantly impacted the grasslands, with around seven kilometres disappearing into desert every year.

Tens of thousands of animals were visible in the valley every morning of his stay, including horses, yaks, cattle, sheep and goats.

By teaching more efficient shearing practices to herders and looking at new markets for the wool, the hope is they can reduce stock numbers and lessen the environmental impact.

"We gathered some of the wool to send back to Europe, with the idea of adding value to the wool they got from running sheep.

"We are hoping that would encourage the herders to run fewer goats and reduce the impact of overgrazing."

The sheep farmed by the herders are Awassi, a fat-tailed, coarse wool breed adapted to the desert conditions.

"In the desert, they have next to nothing to eat, but they do alright because they have a big lump of fat over their tails.

"It sort of acts like a camel's hump; it's the same kind of thing."

Bryan's next part of the trip was to central Mongolia, to the Arkhangai province.

The journey took several hours in the Mongolian vehicle of preference, which, somewhat surprisingly, is a Toyota Prius.

"We travelled on these dirt tracks; they are not even roads – they are more like farm tracks.

"And these Priuses are just amazing; they would go everywhere."

Bryan and his group trained thirty-five herders with mobile shearing trailers and equipment donated from various banks and organisations, including one funded by Rabobank.

In exchange for the training, the herders treated Bryan and the New Zealand group to traditional Mongolian cuisine, including fermented horse milk and a dish similar to a hangi, a Khorhog.

"It's mutton and potatoes, cooked up in a sort of milk can with rocks heated over the fire," Bryan explained.

"It's actually pretty good."

Bryan said the Mongolians have a nose-to-tail approach to cooking and are adept at making do with very little, with horse and mutton being a menu staple.

"They run a lot of horses, milking them in summer and eating them in winter.

"They race them too.

"They are resourceful and a very proud people."

Bryan hopes to return to Mongolia next year to check in with the herders they have trained and ensure maintaining their equipment.

By Claire Inkson