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The Herdsmen's Dilemma Karma Ura, 1928- 2002

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Karma Ura*
Migratory herding is still an important part of the livelihood of
a significant section of the Bhutanese people; but it was
central to our traditional pastoral economy.   Cattle, grazi     ng
land, labour and cultivatable land were the four primary
sources of wealth in the past. A balance among these four
factors of production had to be struck for the agrarian society
to be sustained. Obviously, the area of grazing land, and the
number of cattle depended on it, could not have been so large
as it was if forests were allowed to grow with rampant vigour,
as we do now.
Migratory herding embodies considerable empirical knowledge
about ecology, climate and topography among the herdsmen,
although   this is not widely acknowledged. This fund of
knowledge have enabled the herdsmen to know the best
grazing places and the most nutritious plants, which can be
foraged by being at the right place in the right time, by
moving with precision. Being always out        in the open, the
herdsmen, and to some degree their cattle, have acute
perceptions of weather patterns. They have an acute sense of
timing to move from one place to another to avoid frost at a
pasture, or snowfall on a pass, or to escape the vampirish
experiences of ticks and leeches drilling into their eyes, noses,
and groins.
1 This article is a small fraction of information that exists among villagers
and herdsmen. It has been further supp lemented by reports relevant to the
topic. I am grateful to a number of informants, in particular, Choeten of
Trashi Yangtse; Dasho Karma Gayleg; Ap Wanghuck of Zursuna, Haa;
Tshewang Darjay of Ura, the late Jowo Thinley Tshering and many others. I
thank Dr Pema Gyamtsho for activating my interest on this topic.
* Director, The Centre for Bhutan Studies
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
The traditional cattle breeding system has a marked
preference for jatsham, a cross between   thrabam and bamin,
unique to Bhutan. Jatsham is the main breed adapted to long
distance    migration, as its characteristics are highly
favourable when judged on the criterion of disease resistance,
longevity, foraging ability, milk -fat content, fertility, mobility,
and ease of management. Although jersey and brown     -Swiss
breeds perform better on   the scales of milk yield as well as
duration of lactation, farmers in many parts of the country
rank jatsham above cross breeds of brown   -Swiss and jersey.
Issues about breed selection and grazing land on the one
hand, and cattle breeds and organic farmin  g systems on the
other, can hardly be separated: they are closely interrelated.
Besides several other desirable characteristics, jatsham breed
fits the high milk -fat content and mobility requirements, and
mobility in turn enables migration to optimise fora ging across
different regions.
Grazing land ownership ranges from holdings by villages or
monastic institutions as corporate entities, to holdings by
private individuals. There are conceptually six different kinds
of holdings. Ownership is sometimes seaso       nai because of
overlapping users: a patch belongs to a cattle herdsman in
winter and a yak herdsman in summer.
The dissemination of exotic breeds is usually accompanied by
exotic-fodder based pasture promotion around villages. This
has far-reaching effects on land use and the farming system,
especially in view of the expected decline in the number of
native cattle that will reduce the supply of manure for organic
traditional farming.
This article also discusses the Draft Livestock Policy (1995)
and inquires into the consequences of its implementation, if it
is passed as law. The divorce between forest and livestock
that is underway will profoundly modify vegetation
composition on the one hand and herd diversity on the other.
The Draft Pasture Policy, if en forced, will dramatically tilt the
breed selection towards jersey and brown Swiss crossbreeds;
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
the consequence of this choice will carry over into many other
spheres, with outcomes that have not been contemplated.
Overview of Rangelands
Nature created ope n rangelands in the rugged mountains in
the northern part of Bhutan where grassland dominates. But
most of the rangelands in our country were fashioned by man
for human and livestock uses. Rangelands have been
developed, through human effort, by clearing and burning out
undergrowth. Alpine rangelands in Merak, above 3,900
metres, were created several hundred years ago; according to
its settlement history, the name Merak means "settlement
created by burning out". Rangelands and pastoral activities
have been    a pastoral societies in the Himalayas. In our
country, the concept of rangeland is not limited to open
grassland as is the case elsewhere, but extends to forest floor
grazing in lower elevations with chirpine, broad -leaf and sub -
tropical forests. A registr     ation document of rangeland or
grassland (rtsa 'brog khram) specifically mentions what were
traditionally entailed in the ownership of a rangeland:
terrestrial surface, water, river, mountains and valleys (sa chu
klungphu mda).
The area devoted to rangelands in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan
region has a staggeringly large area of rangelands as a
percentage of total land area. At 0.34 percent, Bhutan's own
rangeland area is highly underestimated    2, and there is no
credible basis for this estimate.
From a narrow economic point of view, which does not take
account of ecological and environmental functions,
rangelands have very low opportunity cost.  Because of the
2 See Miller D. et al, 1997. Rangelands and Pastoral Development in the Hindu
Kush-Himalayas. Kathmandu: ICIMOD, 1997 . Rangeland accounts for 60.8
percent   of Tibetan Plateau, 19.4 percent of Pakistan, 9.7 percent of
Afghanistan and 8.7 percent of India. Miller gives a figure of 0.34 percent
rangeland for Bhutan, but in the absence of an accepted criterion for what
constitutes rangeland, this figure cannot be assumed as accurate.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
lack of an alternative use for agricultural or other purposes,
and due to remoteness, steepness, and    poor soil, rangelands
are marginal land. It is therefore best to convert plant
biomass into essential animal products.
In fact, wealth and prosperity in traditional society were
generated by four primary sources: labour, arable land, cattle
and grazing land. These four factors had to be kept in some
sort of proportion for the society to be sustained. Excessive
forest regeneration at the expense of grazing land can
negatively affect cattle farming, and hence production of dairy
Substantial knowled ge, cults and rituals have developed
around migratory cattle. A significant part of pre -modern
administration was geared toward tracking cattle and yak
populations for the purpose of in  -kind tax collection. A good
deal of empirical ecological and geographi      c knowledge has
accumulated as a result of migratory herding, but it remains
oral and localised among a group who do not find media or
academic voice. This fund of knowledge has enabled the
migratory herdsmen to find the best grazing places and the
most nutritious plants for foraging, by being in the right place
at the right time, which in turn depends on moving with
precision. Being always in the open, the herdsmen, and to
some degree the cattle, have an acute perception of climatic
or weather patterns. Th ey have to know when to move from
one place to another on time, if they are to avoid frost at a
pasture and snowfall on a pass, or if they have to escape the
vampirish attentions of ticks and leeches drilling into their
eyes, noses, and groins. Although th ere are research findings
on certain aspects of pastoralism, a comprehensive analysis
of how the whole sphere of pastoral activities is integrated
within various eco     -systems the herds frequent is yet
unavailable. In contrast, research stations have devoted
considerable time and resources on crossbreeds, and the
improvements of their pastures near the villages.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Founding   Grassland   (rtsa   'brog)   and   Claiming   Holding
Title (Thram)
The establishment of Merak as a rangeland   -based village by
burning fir and juniper   forests is mentioned in their origin
history (' byung rabs). It mentions that Merak was named in
that manner as fir forest was set on fire to establish the
village ("Merak zerwani spa mai nags la me rgyab nas grong
chags pa la Merak tu thogs")3. Merak's history gives a detailed
list of grazing land patrimony (brogs    skal meaning
patrimonial share of rangeland) in Merak, Sakten and Sapo. A
rangeland, like Throlemang, was   bought by the herdsmen of
Merak and Sakteng from a certain Rakha Jowo, who occupied
it in those days, by paying gold dust        measured in a bowl
("gser sder ma la jai nas nyos").
Another rangeland called Jomo       -choyi-nangi    'brogsa was
bought by paying 17 horses. Thus, rangelands were either
created or bought. Those which were bought had already
been created earlier. The notion       that a grazing land      (rtsa
'brog) is a free natural resource is only a half-truth.
The information on existence of rangelands so long ago is
cited here mainly to illustrate their long history, and to
suggest that continuity of pastoral culture and communiti    es
for hundreds of years implies sustainable use of grazing land.
As in the case of the herdsmen of Merak, a rangeland has to
be first claimed from nature by certain means and made fit
for grazing. In the traditional lexicon, this process is known
as 'creation of rangelands' (gbrog gsar drup) involving input of
human labour. The creation of this resource by investing
human labour is expressed in the phrase 'created by welding
knife on the shoulders'  ('gri gnya wa lu 'bag ti drup drup yin).
Grazing land is carved out of wilderness or forest which is not
occupied, and not in any dispute or ambiguity over prior
ownership, but which has water and potential for forage. No
doubt water availability in the centre of a grazing land for
mimun-cattle is the key requi rement, as expressed in ba 'brog
[ Untitled handwritten manuscript found with Dorji Tshering of Sakteng
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
chu dang blang 'brog rtsa, meaning water at grazing land for
cows and grass at grazing land for oxen.
Tracks have to be opened for foraging and watering. Routes to
forage and to water holes are opened by following tracks u sed
by tahr    (jara),   shou and other wildlife. A good rangeland
therefore presupposes herbivorous wildlife occurrence. As will
be discussed later,       brog  sar grup (establishment of new
rangeland) has to be followed by brog gsal or rangeland
maintenance every     year to keep up the quality of the
rangeland and avert its constriction by vegetative growth. An
absence of maintenance of grazing land  (brog gsal), will result
in the rangeland being overtaken by regeneration of
unpalatable plant species and the obstructio     n of routes to
forage and waterholes by plants and trees.
But to continue on the origin of grazing land (rtsa  'brog),
physical creation of a rangeland was followed sooner or later
with the effort to stamp it with legalization of ownership. The
founder of a new rangeland (brog gsar) approached legitimate
authorities for securing the title. A founder of     rtsa 'brog was
usually granted an order document       (bka shog, which was
sometimes known in compound phrase   bka' khra) and it was
registered in the land register (sa yig khramo bskod de).   Sa
yig now stands also for signature; originally it meant land
record. Some of the      bka shog or   ka thra belonging to the
people of Bumthang are known as      Chotsip, meaning  khram
issued by  Trongsa Ponlop, alias  Chos Zhab. In other regions,
bka  khra might have been issued by the respective       ponlop.
But it appears that eventually, the central authorities, such
as the Desi who meted out the square red seal of the central
government, had to be party to the legal recognition of land
title. The  bka shog (order document) with   dmartham chenma
(red seal) of central government, with druk imprint, validated
the title completely. Land and    rtsa 'brog title issued as    bka'
khra  khra  moi rgyab gnon (additional warranty for order)
document were usua lly issued at the Palace of        sPunthang
bdewa chen po. In one particular land title dated 1887, who
actually issued it is not mentioned. Such khram were
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
prepared in triplicate: one for the title   -holder, one for record
in Punakha, and one for the ponlop of the region.
Land title bearing red seal    (Khram gmar tham chenma) for a
rangeland mentions five essential pieces of information: year
of issue in sexagonal cycle; name of the rangeland; extent of
boundaries described in terms of landmarks though this is
not always precisely defined; means of acquisition; and the
name of the title holder.
As regards the means of acquiring rangeland, establishment
of a new one, purchase, gifts or donations as yo   byed
(donations to religious institutions) and inheritance were    not
the only means. Some old        khram refer to the transfer of
khram by   khram  bskred (cancellation of    khram), from   rtsa
s tongs household (household in which family line has died
out completely either through deaths or disintegration) to
those people who agree     to fulfil the obligations of the       rtsa
stongs household. A       rtsa   stongs household had literally
ceased to exist due to lack of descendants to carry out the tax
The red -seal land titles were the sources from which the
existing land register syste   m was constructed. However, in
the case of grazing land registration, in addition to
demarcation based on natural landmarks, acreage of grazing
land was estimated in a very imprecise way. Grazing land
titles incorporated area measurements only in the 1960s   and
1970s: but the measurements were carried out by direct
ocular estimate, or were based on innocently misleading
reports by the village headmen who were compelled to put a
figure, with no attention paid to inaccuracy of measurements
and its consequences in future. The purpose at that time was
to systematise a form of new grazing land tax. Nominal tax on
grazing land based on the area of holding was paid for a
period of time during the reign of the third king, until the
cattle owners were officially requi red to register for licences to
use the grazing lands registered in their own names. The cost
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
of licence for a year is now Nu 100 irrespective of herd size or
the extent of grazing land.
However, as already mentioned, the quantitative
measurement of grazi ng land is unreliable because of the
methods involved. To use the data on grazing land derived
from the land register for such purposes as carrying capacity
or livestock   - grazing land relationship is highly erroneous.
Until now, the vast extent of grazing       land, stretching into
jungles and mountains, has not been surveyed, in spite of
bold figures cited in numerous documents.
Typologies of Rangelands in Land Register (Khram)
Having discussed the ways by which a title to a grazing land
is acquired, a brief   typology of grazing lands as reflected in
khram is presented. This typology is the same as the present
system of grazing land registration which took its current
classification from the old typology, similar to the adoption of
the old cultivated land typolo gy in today's land registration. It
must be clarified that the olden typology was based simply on
uses of a   rtsa 'brog and was descriptive, whereas when the
olden typology was transposed into the current land
classification, it became prescriptive. That is    to say, that in
the current system under the Land Act, 1979, there is a
prescriptive interpretation. A dry land (kamzhing) must
continue to be a    kamzhing, rizhing (field far away from the
village in the mountain used for swidden or bush - fallow
cultivation) must continue to be rizhing and so forth. However
the prescriptive rigidity has been relaxed in the Land Act,
1979, for certain types of land. It permits certain deviation
from this prescriptive principle and allows construction and
plantation in any    land one owns, except grazing land     ,  sog
shing (leaf-litter wood lot land) and paddy fields.
Nye    'khor   rtsa    'brog   (Local    Grazing    Land    or    Local
The location of     rtsa   'brog relative to the position of the
livestock owner's village is the first approach to classification.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Rangelands can be classified on the basis of whether they are
at the centre; close to the village; or at the periphery, far away
from the village.
In every village, there are patches of grazing land at the
perimeter of the village; the        se patches are conceptually
equivalent to local commons, providing strategically located
open spaces, necessary for the movement and grazing of
village livestock. These collective grazing lands are designated
in the land register    (khram) as  nye khor rtsa 'brog (local or
neighbourhood pastures), and they are to be grazed as
needed by everyone (je mnyam 'za). They are not registered in
anybody's name, being understood to be traditional
community grazing ground; they belong, in principle, to the
state (shungsa). The Land Act (1979) defines       nye khor rtsa
'brog as "government land within the radius of one mile from
the village which has not been treated as registered in
anybody's name". But one doubts precision ofthe radius of
one mile, for the grazing land may     lie at a distance beyond
this prescribed radius.
Nye khor rtsa 'brog, fallow fields, and crop residue grazing are
the most important grazing resources for sedentary livestock,
as opposed to migratory livestock. These grazing lands which
are the only buf fer between national forest and
untresspassable private properties, are foraged by a breed of
cattle known as Boed nor in alpine regions, and by   thachong
cattle found in almost all villages. With the decline of the
practice of grazing horses, tended usual   ly by horse -seers in
far flung rangelands, horses have come to graze year round
also on nye khor rtsa 'brog.
Local commons are increasingly subject to pressure from
multiple sources: they are host to many new things: schools,
clinics, private saw mills, and market sheds are being built on
them. Individuals seek kidu (humanitarian gift) land from the
local commons. The establishment of animal pens outside the
perimeter of a village, for sanitation promotion, has led to the
local commons becoming occupied     by structures. With the
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
advent of livestock -proof fencing and enclosure of the fields
by barbed wire on one hand, and forest regeneration on the
other, neighbourhood grazing lands or local commons have
come under further pressure.
Blang 'brog (Oxen Pastures)
A bit further away from the perimeter of a village lies another
kind of grazing land called blang   'brog, for the draught
animals of a village. Some is exclusive grazing land, and not
available to migratory or sedentary cattle of the village.
Productive pasture within some hours' distance is set aside
as oxen pasture or grazing land where draught animals may
regain strength following intense energy expenditure during
peak agricultural seasons. Oxen grazing lands have virtually
disappeared on the ground be    cause of forest regeneration,
although they are intact on khram (land register). The
disappearance of nutritive grasses in pastureland for oxen is
perhaps accompanied by a corresponding deterioration in
their general powers of endurance.
Migratory Cattle Pasture (bla)
At the furthest radius from the villages are the      rtsa 'brog or
bla for migratory cattle and yaks. The furthest bla or rtsa
'brog from a village, that I know of, lies at a distance of 15
days, but most of the migratory routes taken by herds
belonging to the people of Paro, Haa, and Bumthang stretch
for about ten days in one direction. If a herd moves at the
speed of 15 km per day, this means that most of the
migratory herds loop back on their pre       -determined course
after travelling 150 km or so      in one direction. Some herds
pause for varying durations, from ten to 30 days, in different
places along a route. Other herds, which do not have their
own rangelands along the way, travel without a break to their
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Privately Owned or Individually Owned Rangeland (Rang
dbang or sger dbang gyi rtsa 'brog)
Having shown the range of distance of grazing land from the
owner's village, a typology of grazing land according to the
regimes of property ownership, ranging from the individual to
the institutional, is now described.
Firstly, there are grazing lands in the name of individual
holders, which means that these are rang dbang or    sger
dbang, meaning privately owned rangelands, distinct from
group, or institutional rangelands.
Rangeland of Specific Group Members (mThoen Mong gyi
rtsa 'brog)
Secondly, there is multiple holders' rangeland described
usually as mthuen mong gyi rtsa 'brog.  This is not the same
as a holding of an entire village. Here, the multiple holders
are named individually   , and may be a subset of all the
households in a village.
Community Rangeland (dMang spyi rup gyi rtsa 'brog)
The third category of grazing land owners are villages as
corporate entities. In contrast to the ownership of   sger dbang
rtsa 'brog by private individuals or mthuen mong gyi rtsa 'brog
by a group of individuals, there are rtsa   'brog which are
owned by the village as a whole, without going into the names
of the owners in the village. These are qualified as dmangs
spyi  rup  gyi  rtsa   'brog.  This defini    tion leaves open the
possibility that any new household established in the village
will have access to the  rtsa 'brog by virtue of being a member
of the village.
Royal Family's Rangeland (sKu khor gyi rtsa 'brog)
There are two other categories of grazing    land owners which
transcend the tax paying households: the royal family and the
monastic community. Thus, the fourth category of    rtsa 'brog
owners are aristocracy or      sku khor. There are some such
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
grazing lands in western and central Bhutan, but none to my
knowledge elsewhere.
Monastic Communities Rangeland (sDra tshang mgon sde
gyi rtsa 'brog)
The fifth and last category of rtsa 'brog, by ownership, is that
of the monastic establishments. Monastic establishments
such as retreats (mgon sde), colleges (sdratshang), and lamas'
estates  (bla  drang) possess rangelands, for their religious
estate-cattle (chos nor). They also have agriculture land called
chos zhi. These properties were donated to them as offerings
(yo byed) or bought from their corporate resources.   One vivid
recent example was a successful bid put by a monastic
establishment, in 1997, for a rangeland auctioned by Bhutan
National Bank. The Land Act (1979) exempts the need for
obtaining license for grazing in rangelands for herds owned
collectively by        monastic establishments, although the
rangelands must be theirs.
Summer and Winter Rangelands (dGun 'brog dbyar 'brog)
Rangelands can be further categorised on the basis of
seasonal usages. Many peripheral     rtsa  'brog, that is, those
which are not local com mons, can be seasonal grazing lands
for two different owners. They can be winter grazing land
(dgun 'brog) for some and summer grazing land     (dbyar 'brog)
for others. The right of access is season   -specific, resulting in
dual access rights on rangelands in        temperate and alpine
regions. A grazing land registered as summer pasture in a
cattle owners'   khram (land register) appears simultaneously
as winter pasture in, say, a yak herdsmen' khram.
Synchronization of migration of cattle and yaks enables such
pastures to be grazed without conflicting use of resources. As
cattle vacate their summer pastures in autumn, yaks start
descending from their pastures in elevations as high as 5000
m and conversely, as cattle reach temperate regions in May,
yaks go upwards to forage on very high mountains.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Taxes Related to Cattle and Yaks
At present cattle tax amounts to Nu 5 per head. Cattle tax
should yield over Nu 1.5 millions, but only a fraction of this is
collected, due to reasons not yet clear enough. A feature of
tax administration in pre -modern Bhutan was that there was
no tax on grazing land, whereas there were taxes on
cultivated land with a great deal of variation within the
country. In the past, before in      -kind taxes were abolished,
high rates of tax was imposed on pa      storal communities on
the basis of ownership of cattle or yaks, which might be
closely correlated to communal, institutional or individual
ownership of grazing land. This obviated the problem of
identifying who actually owned communal or institutional
grazing land, since the grazing land property regimes were
complex from the point of view of taxation. A substantial part
of grazing land was communal holding characterised as
mnyam za myam mthung (equal grazing and equal drinking).
There was a form of cattle or yak tax known as martrel (butter
tax) in certain areas like La Gongsum, Dagala, Bumthang and
Kurtoe, where pastoralism predominated. Other districts paid
taxes depending on their specialization of production,
whether it was cereals or textiles. In the      case of Bumthang,
which was predominantly pastoral before forest regeneration
changed the land's productive capacity, and before the third
king reformed the tax system, there were two types of butter
taxes, namely, annual and monthly butter taxes. The mont hly
butter taxes were further divided into two types:       benda and
khodrup butter taxes. The annual butter tax was levied
according to the number of milking cows in the herd. 1.5 kg
(five sang) of butter was paid as taxes for each cow in a year.
It was three sang a cow in Kurtoe. For the two monthly butter
taxes in Bumthang, the tax -paying households had to
collectively pay one hundred    sang of monthly butter levy as
benda butter tax, and another one hundred    sang of monthly
butter levy as khodrup butter tax.4
4 Tshewang Darjay gave a different quantity paid as butter tax. According to
him, in Bumthang, Kurtoe, Merak Sakteng, seven       sang of butter tax was
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Butter tax was not the only form of direct taxation on cattle or
yak wealth in Bumthang. It was estimated that a tax of
approximately 40 live cattle was paid as beef animal tax to
the meat master of Jakar dzong from the district as a whole.
This meat tax wa s meant for a hierarchy of officials: Tongsa
Ponlop, Jakar      zimpon (chamberlain), Jakar        gorap (gate
master), tsa gnyer (fodder keeper), and of course the   sha nyer
(meat master) himself. These live animals were not
slaughtered but exchanged for carcasses of      cattle that had
died through natural or accidental causes. To enable this
exchange to take place, it was mandatory for the people of
Bumthang to declare the death of their cattle. During butter
tax collection, there was an informal fee that had to be paid
directly to the official known as        nortsi sgar pa (official for
cattle census). who came to collect butter taxes and assessed
the cattle tax base. He pocketed one   shiki (25 paise) levied on
every yarma    a cow below fourth year - that did not yet have
a full set of teeth.
Butter and meat taxes were probably prevalent under every
ponlop, though not under every fort -governor (dZongpon). The
administrative organization of the country was on a regional
basis controlled by the  dZongpons in Punakha, Wangdue and
Thimphu; and three ponlops in the rest of the country. Each
region ran on a north -south axis, which allowed it to cover all
agro-ecological zones. Whether the north -south axis
arrangement could have been motivated by the aim to have a
diversity of tax base,     including taxes on cattle and yaks,
remains an interesting question.
levied for every cow which had turned so-nyis (two-teeth). Further, one extra
sang had to be paid for every seventh cow, as a kind of progressive tax on
cattle holding. This butter tax was paid on the first day of the 8th month
every year. He also said that benda butt er tax for     Lhamoi Domchoe in
Punakha amounted to four sang on every third cow and it had to be paid on
the 9th day ofthe 10th month. This must have been the individual liability
for collecting 100 sang a month in Bumthang as a whole.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Choice  of Breed Based on Mobility:   'tha steng and 'tha
Based on whether a breed of cattle is highly mobile over a
long distance, or forages around the village, travelling only a
short distance from it, cattle breeds are broadly divided into
mobile (mtha steng) herds and sedentary (mtha skyong) herds.
The term sgo nor (domestic door cattle) is also used for    mtha
skyong herds because they are cattle who live, so to speak, by
the door, often penned in the ground floor, immediately at the
main entrance.
Choice of breeds which can wander and forage on their own is
extremely important for migratory livestock. Jersey and
brown Swiss crossbreeds are part of the sedentary mtha
skyong herd  - though not native    - and an increase in their
numbers will have immense implications for the nature of
cropping patterns and also increase pressure on
neighbourhood commons (nye khor rtsa 'brog).
The classical breeding system, on the other hand, has
focussed on rearing    jatsham by crossbreeding     bamin with
khrabam. Mobile or migratory herds consist mainly of
jatsham.   Jatsham have strong appeal to the herdsmen
because of several noteworthy traits they possess.        Jatsham
display relative immunity from diseases; this is a vital
consideration for risk-averse small farmers. They are not only
disease resistant but also have a longer life span. There was,
in 2001, a   jatsham in Pema Gatshel which was already 31
years old and had calved 21 times5. The comparative longevity
of jatsham and their fecundity are significant considerations.
The butter fat content of jatsham s milk is the highest among
all breeds of cattle. They have skilful foraging capabilities in
jungles or different terrain. When they are in jungle, they
cruise with their nozzles at a height of four feet, gobbling
creepers and foliage. They have a fine instinct, as though
developed by training, to set out foraging in the morning and
5 For this informatio    n I thank Dasho Phuntsho Wangdi, a well known
jatsham breeder, of Chungkhar, Pema Gatshel.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
to return to  bla or camp in the evening without the necessity
for the herds     men to round them up. This is highly
advantageous for a herdsman who usually has to manage a
herd of 50 to 60 heads of cattle in jungles and thickets. While
milk yield and fat contents have been examined as
parameters for comparisons of one breed against another,
other criteria have rarely been taken into account in any
comparative analysis. Comparisons of performance of
different breeds on selected parameters are summarized in
the table below.
Table 1: Average productive and reproductive parameters of different
breeds according to farmers from Chaskhar and Tsakaling gewogs of
Mongar dzongkhag.
Siri (Thra
Jatsham X
Jatsham x
of Free
Same as
Cross When
Age at
Age at
Age at
Length of
8 -9
Per Day in
4.8 - 5.2
1.5 - 1.9
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Siri {Thra
Jatsham X
Jatsham x
Yield Per
Yield Per
Litre of
2 Calvings
2 Calvings
in 3 Years
in 3 Years
with Good
Feeding and
Source: Temsina, M.P., Dr. 1999. Farmers' Views on Cattle Breeds
and Breeding: A Survey, RNR Khangma: MoA, RGOB, p. 6.
Note: Although gestation period of cattle is on an average nine months, the
difference between age at first service and age at first calving is sometimes
more than nine months. This can be explained by the fact that not all cows
conceive at the first service.
Table 2. Average productive and reproductive parameters of different
breeds according to the farmers from Menji and Menbi gewog of
Lhuentse dzongkhag.
Jatsham X
X Jersey
Slower than
ment and
Age at
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
X Jersey
Jatsham X
Age at
Age at
Length of
10 -11
Per Day in
3.3 - 3.5
Yield in
Yield Per
Litre of
Source: Temsina, M.P., Dr. 1999. Farmers' Views On Cattle Breeds
and Breeding: A Survey, RNR Khangma: MoA/RGOB, p. 7
Table 3: Body size (in cm) of mithun, native breeds and crossbreeds
Heart Girth
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Shoulder to
Source:  C. G. Hickman et al. The Classical Breeding System in
Bhutan. The Journal of Animal Husbandry, Volume 5, (Thimphu:
RGOB, 1982).
Its productive and reproductive capacities place the     jatsham
breed on a very high preference level. The   Jatsham breed was
central to the traditional pastoral production system.
However, jatsham breeding is threatened by the decline in
pure female siri (thrabam).
In this context, particular attention needs to be drawn to two
short but important articles: "The Classical Crossbreeding
System in Bhutan" and 'The Present Cattle Breeding
Structure in Bhutan" both of which were contributed by C. G .
Hickman and Dorji Tenzing to the Journal   of  Animal
Husbandry, Volume 5, September 1982. The authors were the
first to work out conceptually and mathematically the
interdependence of numbers of      jatsham and pure     siri. To
breed best  jatsham, pure   siri is ne eded to crossbreed with
bamin. They worked out mathematically whether the
population of siri would be stable. The question they raised
was that if majority of the pure   siri are crossbred with  bamin
to produce    jatsham or   jatsha, "there will not be enough
female siri replacements and the   siri population will decline."
This problem is not resolved by obtaining thrabam as
replacement by backcrossing because "continuous
backcrossing ... does not even come close to substituting for
the internal siri population replacements." The change in the
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
status of Sombay district in the early 1990s, where no
crossbreeding with     siri was allowed to protect pure siri
breeding, further increased the risk to the instability of good
jatsham breed which depends on pure siri cow population.
Migration Towards Sub-tropical Forests
With this brief discussion of rangelands and breeds, the
ground is laid to discuss the movement of cattle and yaks
between summer and winter rangelands, with particular
attention to the forage availability in each place and ecological
reasons why they migrate seasonally. Examples are drawn
from herds migrating from Bumthang to Kheng and Mongar
and herds migrating from Paro and Haa to Samtse.
There are four gewogs in Bumthang: Choskhor, Chumey, Ura
and Tang. Winter pastures for Chumey gewog are in Mongar,
Zhemgang, and Tongsa; winter rangelands belonging to
Choskhor    gewog are in Mongar and Tongsa; winter
rangelands of Tang  gewog are in Lhuentse and Mongar; and
winter rangelands of Ura gewog are in Mongar and Kheng.
The migration of herds from Paro and Haa to Samtse follow
three routes. One route goes to Samar      gewog by the Selela
route: through Pangtsakhar, Zhigokha, Nyintsa Dongko,
Togchena, Jeluna, Denchukha, Machupharkha Dophuchen,
Zamkhar and Yawala. It ta kes ten days to reach Yawala from
Pangtsakhar.  The Jabana route goes through Tsip Lakha,
Domtsho, Shingphukha, Namnana, Kharina, Do Zholmo,
Gyango, and Namthakha, taking seven days. This route is
taken by seven herds. The Zurtsuna route goes through
Tshopaga, Kyabzhi, Bazhikha, Chumgo, Zusbji, Cholegkha,
Pajikha, Zula, Tshochena and Dolepchen, taking ten days.
Five herds come up to the two Zurtsuna villages of
Jungzhikha and Jago. Another five herds migrate further
south as far as Dolepchen.
Winter grazin g areas exclusive to migratory cattle of the
people of Haa consist of Lamtsa, Gangtsekha, Guchey and
Shingkathang. Winter grazing areas, which belong jointly to
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Haa and Paro, include Nugathasa, Dorithasa, Benphentona,
Kadoree, Dumthodu, Yabala, Bumtaringu     and Samtseringu
(mountains above Samtse).
The rhythm of migration follows the rhythm of plant growth
processes that vary between temperate and sub -tropical
regions. The cyclical movement of cattle between their
summer and winter pastures take place to opt   imise foraging
opportunities. The concept of grazing land is not limited to
grassland, as is the case elsewhere, but include forest floor
grazing in lower elevations in chir   -pine, broad -leaf and sub -
tropical forests. Migratory cattle spend roughly seven to   eight
months in sub    -tropical region. Summer pastures in the
temperate region are grazed for relatively shorter duration,
giving more time for grasses to recover, as the growth period
in summer grazing land is short.
In Bumthang and Haa, as in other area s of temperate region,
grasses flower between late July and August, and wither in
October. It is crucial for the cattle to leave the summer
pastures well before grasses stop growing. If the withdrawal of
cattle is delayed, grazing undermines the pre -winter nutrient
storage of grasses, and their growth in the following summer
can be adversely affected. This is the reason behind the
departure of cattle before the autumn has fully arrived. Some
herds' start leaving for warm places in August and all are
gone by the end of September. Frost falls soon after migratory
cattle leave; migratory cattle cannot tolerate the frigid night
temperature, unless they are penned deep in insulated
ground floor, as it used be done in the past for a few heads of
cattle that were detained.
The furthest grazing land of a herd going away from its
owner's village lies roughly at a distance of 15 days. Most of
the migratory routes, taken by herds belonging to, say, the
people of Paro, Haa, and Bumthang take about ten days in
one direction. The migration of herds from Paro and Haa to
Samtse follow three different routes: the Selela route takes
ten days to Samar, ending at Zamkhar and Yawala; the
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Jabana route takes seven days, ending at Gyango and
Namthakha; and the Zurtsuna route takes     ten days, ending
at Tshochena and Dolepchen. If a herd moves at the speed of
15 km per day, this means that most of the migratory herds
loop back on its pre   -determined course after travelling 150
km or so in one direction. Some herds pause for varying
durations, from ten to 30 days, in different places along a
route. Other herds, which do not have their own rangelands
along the way, travel continuously, to their destination
At the height of winter, cattle reach the furthest point in their
southerly migration toward broad -leaf or sub -tropical areas.
These places may be somewhere in Mongar, Kurtoe, Samtse,
Sarpang, Kheng or Chukha. What can be foraged by cattle
depends exactly on the type of forest. A winter pasture, say in
Mongar, consisting of ch     ir-pine or broad   -leaf forests has
numerous fodder trees. Cattle are fed lops of omshing,
phoseng, les, moram, guli (wild avacado),   zho rufi (a creeper),
domzim, karsingla (hard wood often used as pillar timber) c ha
lampa6, tekar and tshartung (two creepers that flower and die
out once in 12 years). Fodder trees and creepers, which are
the main sources of forage, give more shoots if they are
headed back every year. In open patches in broad  -leaf winter
pastures in Mongar, cattle graze on many kinds of grasses      :
posola, laptang, clamtor, ngoseng, ja chagpa, khari kang kong
and koi (nettle).
If a herd is kept near any sub -tropical hamlets, cattle feed on
crop residues in kamzhing (rain-fed fields) in autumn, and on
crop residues in wetland in winter. Cattle manu    re is a vital
input into the farming system, and allowing cattle to graze in
fields after the harvest is reciprocated by direct manure
delivery to the fields. The economic and social benefits that
migration promotes are not only limited to herdsmen
themselves, but extend to a multi -layered symbiotic
6 The names of fodder plants are given in the dialects of Bumthang and
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
relationship between sub -tropical and temperate
While the cattle forage on foliages, grasses, shrubs, creepers,
and crop residues, herdsmen extract from forests various
kinds of cane   (rey, craat, wawa) - to make household goods
for barter and sale. Herdsmen support their families through
handicraft production like        rung,    thakpa (rope),     ju   zhai
(bucket), tshang (basket), rattan shoots , damparu (vegetable),
paan etc. even when there is little income from diary
production during the winter. A herdsman is able to supply a
stream of edible forest produce to his relations, and markets
the surplus, especially in alpine region where perishable
foods are scarce for half a year. And while attending to all of
these tasks, a prayer    -oriented herdsman profits spiritually
from keeping his mind focussed on prayers in the tranquillity
of wilderness.
Forage and Cattle Population Decrease
A herdsman is often not a family member as it used to be. A
sibling or patriarch of the family was the principle herdsman,
and his or her superintendence helped to maximise output
from a herd. Hired herdsmen, who are not kinsmen, are a
cause of lower dairy output. A hired herdsman can falsify
output by under reporting diary produce, to divert it
elsewhere. Therefore, there is a tendency among herd -owning
families to sell off their herds due to lack of herdsmen whom
they can trust. The population of migratory herds have, thus,
Grazing land maintenance, or       'brog gsal, to keep     up the
quality of the rangeland and avert its constriction by
vegetative growth is an important routine for herdsmen while
they are at the winter pastures. Grazing land and its network
of routes will otherwise be overtaken by unpalatable plant
regeneration. Hence, a herdsman spends a good portion of his
time on   'brog gsal to improve it, by repairing tracks, bridges
and felling non -palatable fodder plants. Yet, forage has been
getting progressively scarce over the decades, in spite of the
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
decrease also in the  number of cattle. Livestock Master Plan
(1995) noted that cattle population is almost static at 0.5
percent annual growth rate. Protection of forest by the
Department of Forest has prevented effective maintenance of
grazing lands in traditional ways, res ulting in the
deterioration in quality and carrying capacity.
The overall shrinkage of grazing land is caused by several
factors. Rangeland clearing activity has decreased due to its
prohibition, coupled with shortage of labour to free grazing
lands from     clogging by undergrowth and canopies that
screens out sunlight. Pasture used to be burnt once a year
through a practise known as       brogshed around January in
both temperate and sub     -tropical regions. Undergrowth in
chirpine (thingdo shing) forest used to be   regularly cleared by
fire. There is no periodic burning to sterilize the soil and
stimulate new grass growth. Certain species of plants and
animals whose habitats depend on periodic fires for clearing
are dying out due to cessation of burning. In alpine reg       ion,
there is a well -founded suspicion that diminutive annuals
floral and medicinal plants - are becoming less abundant due
to colonization of the meadows by coniferous forest. Although
forest fire is prohibited, a Royal Edict issued in 1981 makes
exception to yak herdsmen who are permitted to burn alpine
pastures under the supervision of the Departments of Forest
and Animal Husbandry. This is, however, rarely done:
supervision is difficult to provide. The last contributing factor
to deterioration of fora   ge potential of grazing lands is the
change in migratory routes. Attracted by the ease of walking
along motor roads, herdsmen are re -routing their journeys to
stay close to motor highways, quickening the reversion of far -
flung grazing lands to forests.
Return to Temperate Grazing Land
At the end of the Spring, forage resources gets exhausted in
the winter grazing lands and this becomes obvious from
several indications, most of all from the agitated behaviour of
cattle. Cattle return early in the evening to     the  bla or camp
and stray further from the grazing boundary during the day.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Shoots of grasses disappear. Milk yield decreases but butter
yield decreases faster than milk yield. All of these signify the
time to leave for temperate region so that the sub -tropical
pastures can have a spell of regeneration. Moreover, by April,
the air begins to buzz with teeming insects and flies, falling
dreadfully into milk, water and food kept in any storages in
the camps. Flies and insects like fuyongma,   brocktula,
sheybrang, and nyongkha feed on cattle making them restless
and driving them away in the direction of cooler places. In
extreme cases, herdsmen resort to smoking out the insects
and flies by burning greens beneath the twitchy cattle. Not
only flies, tick vectors clamp on the tender the parts of cattle.
There are four types of ticks, which are carriers of diseases, of
which boophilus microplus is the main tick prevalent below
an altitude of 1000 feet above sea level. More severe threat
appears in the form of leeche s - both zaang paat and sa paat
- that multiply exponentially in wet conditions and cause
external haemorrhage by boring into cattle. The weather
becomes too hot and milk goes off every day; curdling
prevents milk from being turned into butter and cheese
unless it is churned instantly. An average herd has only five
to six milking cows: that means the quantity of milk is not
sufficient to be churned into butter daily. At the same time,
planting season commences for summer crop while winter
crops are ready to       be harvested in sub       -tropical places.
Migratory cattle's continued presence is a nuisance and a
source of conflict when they stray into mellowing fields.
There are other reasons for cattle to move away from
settlements in the sub-tropical areas by May or June. Grazing
is stopped by customary practices in local commons (nYe
khor  rtsa   'brog) in many villages in sub -tropical region.
Ladam (mountain -closure) is imposed, for example in Digala
and Langdurbi (550 to 1100 metres above sea level) in
Zhemgang in the fifth month corresponding roughly to June.
Similar suspensions of grazing are prevalent in several
districts including Tashi Yangtse and Tashigang. For
instance,   ridam (mountain -closure) is observed from late
March onwards in Gortsham village in Metsho gewog in
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Kurtoe. This kind of embargo stops people and cattle from
interference in the germination and sprouting, and enhances
natural regenerative capacity of forest fodders.
By May, all the migratory herds move up from Samtse to Haa
and Paro; and from Kheng, Mongar and Lhuntse to
Bumthang. All over the country, herds move from many other
hot places to cool mountain zones, whence it came some eight
months ago, last October. Grasses in the temperate region
becomes most palatable and nutritious by this ti me, reaching
a height of 5-10 cm by April in altitude ranging from 2500 to
3500 metres. Grasses reach the same stage of growth only a
month later, in May, in altitudes above 3500 metres. If cattle
reach their summer pastures earlier, it will damage the
pastures, for they can be grazed before they reach their full
potential. However, this is the right moment, we noticed,
when the herds arrive in temperate areas, for example, of
Bumthang and Haa.
For the next four months (fourth to seventh Bhutanese
months), coinciding roughly with June, July, August and
September, herds graze in summer pastures.   Numerous
nourishing wild fodder trees are found in summer pastures in
Bumthang. Cattle are fed foliages of        zhaoku (yoke timber -
tree), leksengma, takpa, gokham, thrangluwa. They graze on
several species of grasses and bushes: dyalma (resembles
spinach),   dyalchen,   dyalchung,   tsigar (the most nutritive
grass), singmi tewa, jamtewa, wamtewa, zhingkham tewa and
clam.    Grasses grow continually during this period, in
response to rain and warmth. It is a period of abundance of
grasses, foliages and water and is known among herdsmen as
the time of tsa 'bot chu 'bot (abundant grass, abundant water).
A cycle of migration is completed by September, and it is time
again to head south.
The processes of migration described above pertain to
transboundary migrations, involving different districts and
different ecological zones. But on a scale of shorter distance,
it happens throughout Bhutan, because of the foraging
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
opportunities offer ed by vertical micro     -climatic variations.
Over a year, livestock are moved to different ecological zones
for a fixed duration.
There are mini    -migrations of cattle travelling a shorter
distance from their villages. For example, in Tama, Kyekhar,
Berti, Buli, and Dakpai in Kheng, cattle are grazed in chirpine
forest from May to June to partly avert infestation of leeches
and ticks found in broad    -leaf forest. Chirpine forest offers
lemon grass, spear grass,       bauhinia,  pochongla,   brangdula,
saguncha (broom gras    s), and     karmala7. In June, cattle
migrate to the bed ofthe Mangdechu. In July and August,
cattle are let out in kamshing (dryland or rainfed fields
growing maize, wheat or millet) and   tseri (swidden cultivation
field) to feed on crop residues and stubble. And later on,
cattle are let loose into the forest floor, which forms part of
grazing lands. This pattern is followed in many sub     -tropical
regions, but the distance involved is very short.
There are several reasons for cattle to be away from
settlements in the sub  -tropical areas by June. Grazing is
stopped by customary practices in neighbourhood pastures or
local commons (nye khor rtsa 'brog) in early summer in some
villages. Ladam (mountain closure) is imposed in Digala and
Langdurbi (550 to 1100 metres ) in the fifth month
corresponding to June. Nimshongpa are barred from going up
the Malaya slopes, Shingkharpa are barred from crossing Kuji
temple, and Wamlingpas are barred from going beyong Purji
hill. These embargoes probably stop the people and cattle
from interference in the germination and sprouting of forage,
and enhance natural regenerative capacity of the forest
fodders. Similar suspension of grazing is prevalent in many
places including Trashi Yangtse and Trashigang. For
instance,   ridam (mountain -closure) is observed from late
March onwards in Gortsham village in Metsho gewog in
' The names of these plants are given in the Kheng dialect.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
How Communal Rangelands are Divided
Grazing land owned collectively by a village need fair rules of
access and utilization to be devised. How this is done is
illustrated through two cases. One among herdsmen of Ura,
Bumthang and the other among herdsmen of Haa. The
procedures for dividing communal pastures are different in
each of these two places, partly because the livestock species
are different in each place.
The Mongar Omdaar Model
The allocation of summer pastures belonging to Ura   gewog in
Bumthang is not carried out according to any rules.
Herdsmen can camp wherever they prefer in any of the
communal rangelands. This latitude is explained, according
to a well-known herdsman8, by the fact that there is no forage
constraint in summer. The herdsmen see no reasons for
allocating pastures according to any strict rules.  They are
free to take their herds wherever they want.
However, winter pastures in sub        -tropical   and broad -leaf
forests have to be divided fairly because the herds are in a
smaller grazing area for a longer period. To divide communal
pastures located in Mongar, but owned by the herdsmen of
Ura village, the herdsmen will take into account only milking
cows (zhoma). All others type of cattle are excluded when
grazing lands or pastures are allocated so that unproductive
cattle heads are not given any weight in the division of
grazing lands or pastures. There are five main pastures and
each rangeland has   a predetermined stocking rate, which is
40 lactating cows for Namling; 40 lactating cows for Samdang
Yajadi; 80 lactating cows for Gorzombi; 40 lactating cows for
Mongleng Medchiri; and 50 lactating cows for Lingmethang. A
fixed stocking rate for each range land suggests knowledge of
the carrying capacity of each rangeland.
Herds are amalgamated to form the right number according
to the stocking rates given above, so that the herdsmen
! Tshewang Darjay of Ura, Interview, August 22, 2001.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
forming a particular group can bid for a rangeland the group
wishes to get. An excess of five milking cows is accommodated
during the division of rangeland. These pastures are, as far as
possible, allocated by consensus. But allocation can rarely be
determined through discussion when it comes to good
pastures, which are vied for    by many herdsmen. Then, the
herdsmen resort to allocation by lottery. The names of
pastures are written on pieces of paper and thrown in a
jumble in a bag. Who gets which piece of pasture depends on
blind chance. The allocation is valid only for a season. A
large number of herdsmen from central Bhutan, who own
communal pastures, are said to use an allocation mechanism
relying on the drawing of lots.
The Haa Gyechukha Model
Another model of division of pastures for yaks occurs in
Gyechukha village in Haa 9. In this version, both the summer
and winter pastures of yaks are taken into account. A winter
pasture is paired with summer pasture as shown in Table 4
after the ranking of pastures has been done individually by
consensus in a meeting. Twinning of winter and summer
pastures aims to equalize the access to pastures in all
seasons and among all herdsmen in a systematic way. The
best summer pasture is paired with worst winter pasture and
the second best summer pasture is paired with fourth best
winter pasture     and so forth. Individually ranking both
summer and winter pastures and then pairing the most
preferred summer pasture with the least preferred winter
pasture is a mechanism which compensates the loss a
herdsman may find in winter by gains in the summer.
9 For full text, see Karma Ura (1995), "Nomad's Gamble", South Asia Research
Journal, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 81-100
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Table 4: Paired ranking of summer and winter pastures communally
owned by Gechukha village in Haa.
Summer pastures ranked by
Winter pastures ranked by
5. Richey
2. Lungkhamekha
3. Phodey tshang
1. Yangathangkha
Source: Communication with the late Jow Thinley Tshering, a noted
herdsman from Haa, Talung.
Pairing is done prior to allocation of a pair of pastures.
During the pasture ranking and pairing stage, all are ignor ant
about who will get a particular pair of pastures. Anonymity of
the recipient at that time ensures that there will be no
personal incentives to mismatch the summer and winter
pastures in a biased way.
Since there are five patches of summer pastures and five
patches of winter pastures for the Gyechukha community, for
the purpose of allocating pastures, the yaks of Gyechukha
community are also grouped into five equal sized herds. Thus,
five groups of herdsmen are formed. When the allocation was
done in 19 93, the size of each herd was about 300 yaks. The
size of each herd in any given year is dictated by the total yak
population in Gyechukha since total yak population of the
Gyechukha community must be divided into five groups
corresponding to the number of pastures. A household
usually does not have as many as 250 yaks, so several
herdsmen join together so as to be able to fulfil the numerical
requirement of yaks and be eligible for the allocation of a
pasture. Herdsmen who are related to each other or have
some other basis of solidarity with each other form a group to
compete in pasture allocation. This does not mean that they
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
will merge their yaks together to form one large herd or that
they will put up together in jaa (black tents of yak herdsmen).
It mea ns that they will camp in the neighbourhood of each
other and move their herds together to the allocated pastures.
With the formation of five groups of yak herdsmen and five
pairs of winter and summer pastures, a day long ritual is
conducted in the communi     ty shrine. At the end of the
ceremony, dice are cast to randomize the allocation of
pastures.  One member of each group of herdsmen (usually
the one who has the greatest number of yaks) is given the
privilege of throwing dice on behalf of his group. Each     of the
five selected group representatives casts three dice at a time
in turn. The herdsman who scores the highest can pick up
the best paired winter and summer pastures. The second
choice is given to the herdsman who scores the second
highest dice and so     forth. The allocation is valid for three
years in Gyechukha, but the duration has been increased to
11 years in certain parts of Haa.
Lease of Rangelands and Herding Arrangements
It is to be expected that distribution of cattle, pasture and
family-labour ar e not correlated perfectly. Those who own
rangelands may not necessarily have labour to tend and
manage them. Those who have cattle may not necessarily
have any pastures. A family may possess two of these
resources but lack the third. In theory, eight diff erent
combinations are possible, from having all three resources to
none of the three resources. Such deficiencies and
mismatches in asset portfolios of households emerge
particularly in a dynamic situation when resources can shift
both within and between  households. Therefore, institutional
solutions develop to mediate these disequilibriums.
Privately owned pastures are, like any capital or resource,
able to be taken on lease for a fixed period of time. Those who
do not own any patch of rangelands, or fin      d their holdings
insufficient, rent rangelands. The fee paid to the khram holder
is known as    rtsarin churin (forage charge water charge). A
written lease contract is rarely drawn up and fees do not
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
seem to be based on herd size, or duration of stay in a
rangeland. Rangelands are leased for lump sum payment, for
labour services, or for in      -kind payment like dairy goods.
However, the renting out of rangeland is now legally forbidden
(though this is not heeded) except among pastoralists, such
as those living in  Laya, Lunana, Merak, Sakteng, Sephu, Soi
and Naro, who do not own any other type of land.
Where a family owns rangeland and cattle, but is without
manpower for herding, the whole herd is handed over for
management and grazing by another family on the own       er's
rangeland. Two types of arrangements exist between the
contract herdsman and the herd's owner in such a case.
These arrangements are known as skyesmed  chimed (no
birth, no mortality) and skyesyod 'chiyod (birth and mortality
According to    skyesmed chimed herd management, a fixed
quantity of dairy produce is paid to the owner on the basis of
the original number of cattle handed over to the contract
herdsman, irrespective of increase or decrease in the number
of cattle when the herd is handed b ack. For instance, 20 sang
(6 kg) of butter is usually liable to be paid to the owner for
each milking cow at the time of handing back the herd to the
owner. The balance of the produce accrues to the contract
herdsman. At the end of the management term, th     e herd is
returned in original size by making up the loss, while the
herdsman retains the increment in herd size. However, in
skyesyod    'chiyod management, allowance is made for
fluctuation of herd size within a certain percentage range,
say, one-tenth of the original number of the cattle per year. If
the loss within a herd exceeds the limit, the contract
herdsman has to give substitute cattle to make good for the
missing cattle.
There are other variations between the two main schemes of
management, in whic h herd management is carried out on
contract. A herd is managed completely by a contract
herdsman on the owner's rangeland, in which case his only
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
obligation is to pay a fixed quantity of butter, say, 20   sang for
each milking cow or yak, in addition to giv ing up the meat of
dead animals to the owners of the rangeland. This is more
popular than other arrangements because the risk is less
biased against a herdsman.
Lastly, there is an arrangement prevalent in Haa, Paro,
Chukha and Samtse known as       normthus; it is close to a
rotational herding scheme between households located near
summer and winter pastures. The management of a herd
alternates between certain households, say, of Haa in
summer and of Sambay in winter. For the period a herd is in
summer pastures, it is managed by a Haa household and for
the period the herd grazes in winter pastures in Sambay, it is
tended by a household in Sambay. It will be noted that the
herd management period of a household in Sambay is twice
as long as that of its Haa or Paro     counterpart. This obviates
the need for the people from Haa or Paro to stay with a herd
in sub -tropical places. The produce of the herd is shared
equally between the two households. Initial investment to
purchase the herd is made by the households of Haa or Paro.
Nature of Disputes Over Rangelands
There are a variety of disputes and conflicts in rangelands.
Conflicts are now mostly resolved in courts of law, but a
number of minor disputes are settled by intermediaries
(barmi), out of court. Verbal sanctio   ns may be meted out to
minor defaulters. In serious cases, defaulters have to
compensate the owners of rangelands in cash or kind.
A brief description of the nature of disputes about rangelands
follows. Rangelands are delineated by natural landmarks. For
example, the rough coordinates for a       rtsa  'brog (rangeland)
around Kyekyela pass between Choskhor and Chumey is
described as: this side of Kyekyela, below the central trunk
road, this side of Pharzhur stream.  These coordinates
presume other reference poin ts, by which 'this side of and
T>elow', which are not explicit in     khram, can be understood.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Coordinates of rangelands are also defined in relation to other
rangelands and so on, forming a chain of references in a
mosaic of rangelands. However, for the pur     pose of herding,
the landmark boundaries help to restrict the movement of
livestock. Cattle, especially jatsham, retain memories of forage
boundaries after repeated seasonal cycles of herding and do
not overrun into adjacent rangelands. Nevertheless, there   are
occasional grazing overlaps along the borders of two
rangelands, described as 'overreaching legs and hands'
(rkangthel lagthel), which are taken in good faith among the
The second instance of letting others use a rangeland is when
their her ds are in transit. An area specified in a      khram and
owned privately is occasionally not under the exclusive
domain of the owner, because of the temporary right of way
that has to be provided. This happens when the rangeland is
on the migratory routes of th      e herds of others. Herds in
transit can usually stay between one to three nights at a
place on the migratory route. But a breach of this limited
duration of stay in a rangeland belonging to others on a
migratory route is considered an offence.
The third instance when some one else's herd is allowed, by
custom, to use a rangeland is for grazing on residual forage.
When a sub -tropical rangeland on the fringes of a village is
owned by a herd -owner from the alpine or temperate region,
its accessibility to the local cattle combined with the absence
of the rangeland owner's herd for four months or so, makes it
highly tempting to the local cattle. In many parts of the
country, local cattle owners have customary right, although
not reflected in a     khram, to graze    on residual forage    (rtsa
bshul), after the rangeland owner's herd has departed from
these pastures. However, disputes have often arisen because
of the illegal grazing by local cattle before the arrival of
migratory herds. Illegal grazing on first sprouting   (rtsa ngo) is
considered theft of rangeland.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
The fourth kind of conflict, which often led to serious
litigations in the past, results from the establishment of
swidden cultivation      (rtseri) or permanent settlement in
rangeland. This is different from a th reat to grazing land from
illegal entry of others' cattle, without paying water charge and
grass charge (rtsarin churin). The threat arises from expansion
of the frontiers of land for illegal occupation by settlers.
The fifth and last kind of dispute cone       erning rangeland is
international or transboundary in nature, with its resolution
dependent on bilateral negotiations. Substantial parts of
rangelands in Haa, Trashi Yangtse,  and Kurtoe, which were
accessible to Bhutanese herds, are now grazed by Chinese
herds. In Haa alone, several pastures such as Tsegangkha,
Sinchong, Nangjumo, and Phartoe, which were originally
owned by the herdsmen of Haa, are no longer accessible to
Impact    of    Land    Law    and    Forest    Act    on    Pastoral
With the enactment      ofthe Land Act, 1979, which drew
heavily from 1957 Thrimzhung, rangelands became the asset
ofthe nation, i.e. state property. Herdsmen were given right
to graze only. Burning of rangeland had already been
prohibited long before this Act came into force.       Thus, there
was a shift in property relations between individuals and the
state. This was further reinforced by forest legislation, which
defined forest in a vague way. Tree cover was not a condition
for forest: forest was any land, including rangeland, whe       re
private individuals have only right to graze.
The Land Act, 1979, includes a number of principles related
to rangeland:
Registration  Principle. The validity of rangeland ownership
depends on recognition by official land register (sa khram).
Usufruct Principle. There is no ceiling over usufruct rights over
pastureland, woodlot   (sogshing) for collection of leaves and
roofing material plants (kharbari).
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Exchange and Transaction Principle. Rangeland may not be
bought or sold, since the owner has only usufruct right.
Land Conversion Principle. Land registered as grazing land,
cash crop, sogshing and kharbari should not be converted to
another category. Other types of land may be converted to
specific categories for land use.
Tree   Ownership  Principle.   The government owns all trees
found growing on private land with the exception of fruit trees
growing in the orchards. This provision was deleted from the
Forest Act, 1991. It is still part ofthe Land Act, introducing a
certain degree of inconsistency between the two.
Crop and Rangeland Depredation and Compensation Principle.
Although not directly bearing on rangeland, the Land Act has
a whole section on crop depredation by livestock and
compensation. The rates of certain compensations have not
been revis ed since 1979, and that has been perhaps one
reason for the high level of out        -of-court settlements. The
livestock owner is liable to pay back the value of a destroyed
crop in full, after mutual assessment of the field. Deliberate
grazing of livestock in a field is punishable by a fine
amounting to Nu 400 per animal, plus three months of
imprisonment for the livestock owner with compensation for
the destroyed crop. This penalty provision is equally
applicable to deliberate illegal grazing in other people's
rangeland. If a field is rented out, the compensations accrue
to the lessee. In case of share -cropping, compensation
likewise accrues to both the sharecropper and the landlord.
Leaving livestock to range freely without concern for crop
depredation, in spite  of reminder, is liable to a fine ranging
from Nu 50 to Nu 300.
The declaration and expansion of protected areas represent
another shift in rights over rangelands. Protected areas now
comprise more than a quarter of the country's total land area.
And a large part of protected areas are also rangelands where
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
herdsmen have legal rights to graze. Conflict between courses
of action that may be taken to effectively manage the
protected areas within the framework of western -style
conservation, and continuation    of grazing rights cannot be
ruled out in future. The potential for conflict can be avoided
only through introduction of a new management system for
protected areas that recognizes that total protection is never
to the advantage of conservation. Failure to   act now may well
lead to complete dominance of a few species in the course of
time. Controlled grazing, which largely characterizes current
practices, will contribute to the maintenance of balance
between plant species for a very long period of time.
Draft Livestock Policy, 1985
The Draft Livestock Policy, 1985, is titled as such though its
content constitutes an act in the sense that it will overwrite
the Land Act. The Policy not only lays down the goal and
objectives but also defines the broad strategies ,
implementation methods and enforcement mechanism. The
main objectives ofthe Draft Livestock Policy, 1985, are to
sedentarise the migratory cattle by giving tenurial or lease
rights to improved pastureland for A duration of 30 years.
The Policy states that leased pastureland is to be improved by
the planting of exotic grasses over a period of five years, or
else it will revert to government ownership and a fine will be
The salient features of the Draft Livestock Policy are as
Nationalization   and   Compensation   Principle. All registered
private and community pasturelands will be nationalized.
Registered private pastureland will be acquired at the rate of
Nu 200 per acre and registered community pastureland     (nye
'khor rtsa 'brog) will be acquired without compensation.
Tenurial     Redistribution     Principle. Pastureland will be
reallocated to farmers on lease for a period of 30 years at a
time. The allocation will be made at the rate of 10 acres per
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
livestock unit in the alpine region; one acre   per livestock unit
in the temperate region; and half an acre per livestock unit in
the sub-tropical region. One adult head of cattle is considered
one livestock unit. Two calves below two years or five sheep or
eight lambs are considered equivalent to one livestock unit.
Ceiling Principle. Maximum leased pastureland per household
will depend on the altitudinal zone to which the household
belongs. The upper limits are: 1000 acres per household in
alpine regions; 50 acres per household in temperate regions,
and 10 acres per household in sub-tropical regions.
Mixed Holding Principle. Alpine herdsmen will be allocated
50% pastureland in alpine areas and 50% pastureland in
sub-alpine areas. In the livestock priority areas, a farmer who
owns less than 15 lives tock units will be given 300 acres in
the alpine region, or 15 acres in the temperate region, or 3
acres in the sub-tropical region.10
Allotment of Open Grazing Land Principle. Surplus land in an
area that remains after allotment will be made into open
grazing land to which access will be given by licensing.
With the exception of alpine herdsmen, whose livestock
migration is recognized as unavoidable and natural, a
rigorous implementation of the Draft Pasture Policy is
envisaged to sedentarise the herdsm en and change them into
western style dairy farmers.
The Draft Pasture Policy opts for a Tiands off approach to the
forest so that migratory cattle, and hence the herdsmen, and
the forest will eventually have no interdependence. The Draft
Pasture Policy     is meant to be conservation oriented by
keeping highly productive animals near the homestead and
providing pastures to produce enough forage and feed for
10 Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry Animal Husbandry Department. 1985.
Draft  Pasture Policy, p. 5.
 The Herdsmen's Dilemma
Yet it is now very clear that a strategy for promoting a new
livestock policy needs to be cons       idered more on its own
ground, rather than in terms of environmental conservation.
The Livestock Master Plan, 1995, noted that, given the data,
the average annual rate of increase for cattle was 0.5% for
1986-1990. This implies that the cattle population     is almost
static. It is tempting to speculate that the over 10,000 heads
of cattle slaughtered yearly in border towns are actually cattle
from our own herds being recycled as beef, demand for which
has shot up with income growth. And a static population
raises the question whether cattle really are an increasing
threat to the environment in general.
The Livestock Master Plan further noted that an average
family needs two draught animals, two milking cows, a dry
cow, and as many cattle as possible for manur   e purposes. It
concluded that "any programme to reduce cattle numbers in
line with grazing resources cannot be introduced among small
holders, who need all the cattle they have        11. The spillover
effect of shortage of manure that changes the organic farming
into high input chemical fertilizer -based farming will
fundamentally impinge on our consumption of naturally
grown foods, and the hazards of chemical  -based farming will
be much more acute in mountainous areas.
Despite all the childhood experience we have o f tending cattle,
pastoralism is indeed a difficult topic to understand in its
totality. Pastoralism is a vivid example of "interdependence
across spatial, ecological, sectoral and institutional
boundaries"12, as it has been aptly described. Any activity
that cuts across as many borders as migratory herding
involves - spatial, ecological, sectoral and institutional       - is
bound to be complex. Any activity that is imperfectly
understood can provoke measures to clarify and simplify it by
the development planners . However, pastoralism in Bhutan
"Ministry of Agriculture. 1995. Livestock Master Plan, RGOB: Thimphu.
12 See Miller D. J. Rangelands and Pastoral Development in the Hindu Kush-
Himalayas. Kathmandu: ICIMOD, 1997
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
seems to be a highly sophisticated and symbiotic land and
animal management system.
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