History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-25

Summer Pasture - Fäbodar

Introduction

What was a fäbod?

The Swedish fäbodvall or fäbod was a summer pasture for one or several homesteads’ livestock. A fäbod consisted of several simple buildings such as dwelling-house, cattle shed, storage cabins and a cooking cabin. Each building had a specific purpose. These buildings were simple log cabins for summer use only. The place of the fäbod was carefully chosen. Access to water was a necessity, i.e. a nearby creek or small woodland lake. Brushwood was cleared away. The image is from Axi fäbod, Mora parish, Dalarna and was taken in 1920. Photographer Karl Lärka. Free image, Wikipedia. The usage of fäbodar (pl.) for summer pasture is very old; it originates from Medieval times. However, in the middle of the 19th century we can see a decline in the running of fäbodar but still at the end of the 1940s there were many fäbodar in use. In Dalarna province there still are about 80 fäbodar in use today. The fäbodar were solely being run by young women and children. However, women with very young children (below the age of 5) were normally exempted from work at the fäbodar. The women were herding the livestock in the forests and were to keep predators such as wolves and bears away from their their cattle, sheep and goats. It was therefore not suitable to bring young children to the fäbodar. These young women, often between 15 and 25 years old, were seasonally contracted and were called fäbodstintor, fäbodjäntor or vallpigor. Stinta (plural stintor) and jänta (plural jäntor) are both words for a woman, normally a young woman. Vallpiga means shepherdess in English. The men and the older women were needed at home running the homestead during the summer half of the year, harvesting crops etc. So, basically it was young women and boys running the fäbodar and herding the livestock during the summers (summer pasture). The fäbod itself was fenced in to keep animals out of the block of houses that constituted the fäbod. The livestock on the other hand were grazing freely outside the fences, in the forest etc. during daytime. After being milked in the morning the livestock were let out to graze freely. In the evening the livestock came freely back to the fäbod to be milked again or called in by the shepherdesses. During night they were kept in cattle sheds, protected from predators.

Where in Sweden were the use of fäbodar common?

Fäbodar existed foremost in the central parts of Sweden, provinces; Värmland, Dalarna, Gästrikland, Härjedalen, Jämtland, Hälsingland, Medelpad, Ångermanland, northern Uppland and south Lappland. They were formerly common in forest and mountain areas of these provinces. Other countries Fäbodar have also been common in Norway and in some respect in Finland. They are called seter (säter) or stöl in Norway. In the Alp region of Central Europe there has been a similar system called alpage. In the UK there has been a somehow similar system of summer pastures called shieling, once common in wild or lonely places in the hills and mountains of Scotland and northern England. Shieling has also been spelt sheiling, shealing and sheeling.

What was the purpose of keeping fäbodar?

The meadows were smaller in the areas where fäbodar were common and the yield normally smaller. The amount of fodder, such as hay and straw, that could be produced by the homesteads in these areas was barley enough to keep the livestock alive during winter. The meadows had to be used to produce winter fodder only. The cattle could therefore not be allowed to graze in the homestead’s meadows. If they did there would be no winter fodder. So, there was a shortage of meadow land (pastures) close to the farms. To survive, the farmers in these areas used special summer pastures on common land in the forests and hills. These summer pastures with associated buildings were called fäbodar in Swedish and were located in remote areas, often quite far away from the farms. The image shows a number of shepherdesses moving the livestock to summer pasture, arriving to the fäbod. The image was taken in 1908 in Hälsingland province. Free image, Wikipedia. The livestock, primarily cattle, sheep and goats, had to feed well during summer and therefore they were relocated to summer pastures. A fäbod was an important complement to the home farm’s pasture in central Sweden in former days. In mountain areas it was often necessary to have more than one summer pasture. A summer pasture (fäbodvall) could be shared by several farms. However, each farm had their own set of buildings, fäbod.

Running fäbodor

The fäbodar were, as mentioned above, located remotely either in forests or on highland in mountain regions. The livestock (foremost cows, sheep and goats) were being moved to the summer pastures at the fäbodar in June. There were seldom any roads to these summer pastures, merely paths or tracks. The moving of the livestock from the homestead to the summer pasture was called bodföring and the return home in late fall was called hemföring. A characteristic of a fäbod was that the processing of milk into butter and cheese was done locally at the fäbod. These were products that were easy to store and to transport back home and could be kept until winter. The shepherdesses milked the cows, sheep and goats, curdled cheese and churned butter. They also kept the whey of which they made a brown cheese called mesost and a soft cheese with spreadable texture called messmör. All these produces were kept cold in underground storehouses until they could be brought home. The shepherdesses were living in simple log dwellings with a hearthstone for cooking. Access to fresh water was a necessity, not only for the livestock and the shepherdesses to drink but also for the processing of cheese and butter. This processing demanded a strict hygiene. It was therefore needed to have a fäbod close to a creek or a woodland lake. In addition to herding the livestock, milking, making cheese and butter the shepherdesses also had other assignments at the fäbod such as; sheepshearing, teasing, carding and spinning wool, knitting and sewing for the needs of the homestead, picking berries and making jam, collecting birch-bark for handicraft etc. So, it was a hard life for the people at the fäbodar.

Calling

There is an old tradition of special music at the fäbodar using music instruments made of horn; herdsman’s horn. Singing was also an important instrument and with special voice techniques, unaccompanied shepherdesses at the fäbod could be heard far away. This type of singing is called kulning or kaukning in Sweden. The verb is “kula”. While herding the livestock in the forests the shepherdesses used several different oral signals to keep in touch with each other as well as with the cattle. The term for this is calling (Swedish: lockrop). Calling was needed to keep the livestock together and to communicate with the neighboring fäbod, for example when a cow or sheep had run away and had to be found. Two neighboring fäbodar could be far apart and with this special voice technique they could be heard for several miles depending on the terrain. Herdsman’s horns made of cow horns were very common at the fäbodar. They were used to send messages to other fäbodar, lure the livestock and scare predators. Also horns made of goat horns were used. Even birch-bark horns were used for this purpose.

Summary

Due to a shortage of meadows at farms in central Sweden the farmers in former days had to use summer pastures far away from the farm so that they could keep the fodder harvested on the farms’ meadows for winter usage. The fäbodar were only in use during the summer half of the year. The livestock was moved to the fäbodar early summer and was brought back to the farm late fall. The fäbodar were run by young woman between 15 and 25 called fäbodstintor, shepherdesses. The men and older woman were needed at the home farm harvesting crops etc. The shepherdesses did not only herd the livestock but were also milking, making cheese and butter, carding wool etc. The tradition of fäbodar in Sweden goes to Medieval times and there are written sources kept that date to the 1500s. However, archaeological investigations have proved that fäbodar have been in use since early Medieval times.

Source References

Wikipedia
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History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-25

Summer Pasture -

Fäbodar

Introduction

What was a fäbod?

The Swedish fäbodvall or fäbod was a summer pasture for one or several homesteads’ livestock. A fäbod consisted of several simple buildings such as dwelling-house, cattle shed, storage cabins and a cooking cabin. Each building had a specific purpose. These buildings were simple log cabins for summer use only. The place of the fäbod was carefully chosen. Access to water was a necessity, i.e. a nearby creek or small woodland lake. Brushwood was cleared away. The image is from Axi fäbod, Mora parish, Dalarna and was taken in 1920. Photographer Karl Lärka. Free image, Wikipedia. The usage of fäbodar (pl.) for summer pasture is very old; it originates from Medieval times. However, in the middle of the 19th century we can see a decline in the running of fäbodar but still at the end of the 1940s there were many fäbodar in use. In Dalarna province there still are about 80 fäbodar in use today. The fäbodar were solely being run by young women and children. However, women with very young children (below the age of 5) were normally exempted from work at the fäbodar. The women were herding the livestock in the forests and were to keep predators such as wolves and bears away from their their cattle, sheep and goats. It was therefore not suitable to bring young children to the fäbodar. These young women, often between 15 and 25 years old, were seasonally contracted and were called fäbodstintor, fäbodjäntor or vallpigor. Stinta (plural stintor) and jänta (plural jäntor) are both words for a woman, normally a young woman. Vallpiga means shepherdess in English. The men and the older women were needed at home running the homestead during the summer half of the year, harvesting crops etc. So, basically it was young women and boys running the fäbodar and herding the livestock during the summers (summer pasture). The fäbod itself was fenced in to keep animals out of the block of houses that constituted the fäbod. The livestock on the other hand were grazing freely outside the fences, in the forest etc. during daytime. After being milked in the morning the livestock were let out to graze freely. In the evening the livestock came freely back to the fäbod to be milked again or called in by the shepherdesses. During night they were kept in cattle sheds, protected from predators.

Where in Sweden were the use of fäbodar

common?

Fäbodar existed foremost in the central parts of Sweden, provinces; Värmland, Dalarna, Gästrikland, Härjedalen, Jämtland, Hälsingland, Medelpad, Ångermanland, northern Uppland and south Lappland. They were formerly common in forest and mountain areas of these provinces. Other countries Fäbodar have also been common in Norway and in some respect in Finland. They are called seter (säter) or stöl in Norway. In the Alp region of Central Europe there has been a similar system called alpage. In the UK there has been a somehow similar system of summer pastures called shieling, once common in wild or lonely places in the hills and mountains of Scotland and northern England. Shieling has also been spelt sheiling, shealing and sheeling.

What was the purpose of keeping fäbodar?

The meadows were smaller in the areas where fäbodar were common and the yield normally smaller. The amount of fodder, such as hay and straw, that could be produced by the homesteads in these areas was barley enough to keep the livestock alive during winter. The meadows had to be used to produce winter fodder only. The cattle could therefore not be allowed to graze in the homestead’s meadows. If they did there would be no winter fodder. So, there was a shortage of meadow land (pastures) close to the farms. To survive, the farmers in these areas used special summer pastures on common land in the forests and hills. These summer pastures with associated buildings were called fäbodar in Swedish and were located in remote areas, often quite far away from the farms. The image shows a number of shepherdesses moving the livestock to summer pasture, arriving to the fäbod. The image was taken in 1908 in Hälsingland province. Free image, Wikipedia. The livestock, primarily cattle, sheep and goats, had to feed well during summer and therefore they were relocated to summer pastures. A fäbod was an important complement to the home farm’s pasture in central Sweden in former days. In mountain areas it was often necessary to have more than one summer pasture. A summer pasture (fäbodvall) could be shared by several farms. However, each farm had their own set of buildings, fäbod.

Running fäbodor

The fäbodar were, as mentioned above, located remotely either in forests or on highland in mountain regions. The livestock (foremost cows, sheep and goats) were being moved to the summer pastures at the fäbodar in June. There were seldom any roads to these summer pastures, merely paths or tracks. The moving of the livestock from the homestead to the summer pasture was called bodföring and the return home in late fall was called hemföring. A characteristic of a fäbod was that the processing of milk into butter and cheese was done locally at the fäbod. These were products that were easy to store and to transport back home and could be kept until winter. The shepherdesses milked the cows, sheep and goats, curdled cheese and churned butter. They also kept the whey of which they made a brown cheese called mesost and a soft cheese with spreadable texture called messmör. All these produces were kept cold in underground storehouses until they could be brought home. The shepherdesses were living in simple log dwellings with a hearthstone for cooking. Access to fresh water was a necessity, not only for the livestock and the shepherdesses to drink but also for the processing of cheese and butter. This processing demanded a strict hygiene. It was therefore needed to have a fäbod close to a creek or a woodland lake. In addition to herding the livestock, milking, making cheese and butter the shepherdesses also had other assignments at the fäbod such as; sheepshearing, teasing, carding and spinning wool, knitting and sewing for the needs of the homestead, picking berries and making jam, collecting birch-bark for handicraft etc. So, it was a hard life for the people at the fäbodar.

Calling

There is an old tradition of special music at the fäbodar using music instruments made of horn; herdsman’s horn. Singing was also an important instrument and with special voice techniques, unaccompanied shepherdesses at the fäbod could be heard far away. This type of singing is called kulning or kaukning in Sweden. The verb is “kula”. While herding the livestock in the forests the shepherdesses used several different oral signals to keep in touch with each other as well as with the cattle. The term for this is calling (Swedish: lockrop). Calling was needed to keep the livestock together and to communicate with the neighboring fäbod, for example when a cow or sheep had run away and had to be found. Two neighboring fäbodar could be far apart and with this special voice technique they could be heard for several miles depending on the terrain. Herdsman’s horns made of cow horns were very common at the fäbodar. They were used to send messages to other fäbodar, lure the livestock and scare predators. Also horns made of goat horns were used. Even birch-bark horns were used for this purpose.

Summary

Due to a shortage of meadows at farms in central Sweden the farmers in former days had to use summer pastures far away from the farm so that they could keep the fodder harvested on the farms’ meadows for winter usage. The fäbodar were only in use during the summer half of the year. The livestock was moved to the fäbodar early summer and was brought back to the farm late fall. The fäbodar were run by young woman between 15 and 25 called fäbodstintor, shepherdesses. The men and older woman were needed at the home farm harvesting crops etc. The shepherdesses did not only herd the livestock but were also milking, making cheese and butter, carding wool etc. The tradition of fäbodar in Sweden goes to Medieval times and there are written sources kept that date to the 1500s. However, archaeological investigations have proved that fäbodar have been in use since early Medieval times.

Source References

Wikipedia