Fäbod farming (a.k.a. no running water, no electricity farming)

by emergenceekit

“It was like a combination non-stop fieldwork on a hobbit-like meal plan”

Living the easy, yet not so easy life. No electricity, no running water only incredible organic food, a lot of love and a lot of time to reflect, smile and laugh.

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Two weeks ago Malin and I spend a week long vacation living and working on a Fäbod farm in Dalarna (see map).

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As you can see, the western side of Dalarna County is more mountainous as you head towards the border of Norway. So what’s a ‘fäbod?’ According to the Rättvik municipality (one of Dalarna County’s municipalities),

“it is really two words, “fä” and “bod” and together they simply mean “a place to put the livestock”. However, that is not enough to describe this very typical Swedish phenomenon. Actually it’s a summer grazing pasture.

We do not really know when exactly we started using fäbodar. The main theory, presented by Sigvard Montelius, suggests that in the old days the fields were small and hardly produced enough grain for the farmers and their families let alone provide grazing for the livestock. So the livestock had to graize in the forrests. When the farms changed into villages, due to distribution of estates, they had to go further and further away from home to find suitable pastures. Finally the distance was to great for them to be able to come home at night hence buildings were erected to house both livestock and the herds-girl (or boy). Yes, that’s right, herding the livestock was mainly the job for the young girl in the family or among the hired hands.

The fäbod tradition never died out completely in Dalarna but today it isn’t quite as hard. Women born in Dalarna are still called “kulla” and the men are called “mas”. These names originate from the “fäbodlife”.

A 100 years ago the fäbod life had its peak with about 20 000 fäbodar in the woods. Every village had at least one fäbod. The distance between the village and the fäbod varied but it could be as far away as 30-40 km.”

We stayed with an amazing couple named Ove and Yvonne in Kättboåsen,

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They let us settle into our small but extremely comfortable 1840s lodging for the week,

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and put us to work in the morning!

The plan of each day was rigorous and long but rewarding and (strangely) relaxing throughout. It was like a combination non-stop fieldwork on a hobbit-like meal plan. We went from 7am-9 or 10pm but also had about five or six meals/coffee breaks a day, which were thoroughly enjoyed by all.

We started each morning at 7am with coffee/tea (made over the fire place) and a simple breakfast of cracker bread & cheese in the main house,

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Our REAL breakfast was to be had after we tended to the animals first. That is, the 5 cows, 4 goats, 2 pigs, 54 chickens, 2 rabbits and 2 horses had to be either let out of the barn or fed accordingly,

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This feeding and letting out went quickly once we got the hang of it. The animals seemed just as anxious to move and get out into the forest as we were for our ‘second’ breakfast. We cleaned the barn of manure and threw it out the back of the barn (at which point the chickens would then scurry around back and pick out the most beautiful maggots) and strived to keep a dry barn with the application and use of hay and sawdust. We filled up water tanks, one with cold, the other with potential hot water (used for cleaning dishes, taking a shower, etc.) and started a fire under the potential hot water,

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All of the ‘filling’ was done by hand via wells that could be found throughout the property,

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Once every farm creature was fed or feeding, we went back to the house to eat breakfast number 2! This pictures doesn’t do justice to the actual color of yellow these yokes were (nor the homemade sourdough or goat salami),

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But you really were able to see the diversity of foods those chickens had the privilege to eat throughout the day… I’ve never eaten healthier, better tasting eggs.

After breakfast #2, which was drawn out, relaxed and enjoyable, we were on to the next daily task (which could be anything). For the first day, it was cutting and drying the hay. But no tractors were used in this processes. It was all horse powered,IMG_1123

Getting the racks set up and in place takes a little practice and a bit of muscle. But in truth, real success in hay racking has more to do with paying attention to weather patterns (the point is to dry the grass so that it can be stored for winter fodder for the animals). Malin was a quick learner,

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I preferred picking wild strawberries (kidding aside, this was merely another afternoon chore),

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Here’s the end result that our hosts kept telling us was one of the ‘finest racks of hay!’ (Malin and I couldn’t help but blush every time they said this),IMG_5541

The wonderful part about the afternoons was that they were always different so we never became bored with our task. That is, we knew that we had set chores with the animals in the mornings and evenings but the afternoon could be a crap shoot as to what we were going to do. Somethings were beyond our control (the weather, the calving of a cow (providing milk and cheese-making availability), the potential of somebody getting sick, etc.) Sometimes we were moving heavy things into storage,

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Sometimes we were weeding the garden,IMG_5477

Sometimes we were sewing a field full of heirloom, perennial rye,

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A lot of times we were chopping wood (much of the Fäbod’s energy dependence came from the forest),

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Or sawing down trees that the goats had killed by eating all the bark off….

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But almost all the time there was ample time for storytelling, walks and curiosities to be explored. Like how did that saw get stuck in there?

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Or how did that cat get up there?

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Around 2pm we had our big meal. After this meal I often felt like passing out for a power nap but Malin was ready to work in no time. A few cups of coffee later I was ready too. There was always something to do. Somethings were more necessary than others (e.g. bailing dry hay from racks into a barn before a rain storm blew in) and sometimes you had to apply yourself more than others.

By our second or third afternoon coffee break, we were nearing evening and the time to bring in the animals. We called and hollered for all the animals to head back to the barn and they usually came without a fuss (we usually left them a little treat by their place in the barn that they gladly ate up when they arrived). The animals essentially walked themselves into their own specific place in the barn and began to settle in for the night.

We washed our hands and prepared to milk Silvö, one of the rare fjällkos (Swedish Mountain cows) who was still milking (most of the others were expecting calves any day). Here’s Malin at work,IMG_0554

After one more meal, and some pre-planning for the following day before bed, Malin and I would head back to our little sleeping quarters… Absolutely pooped!IMG_5489

I know that I’ve written primarily about the animals and daily tasks of the fäbod lifestyle, but what perhaps impressed me most about this experience was how such a food-farming-practitioner-‘lifestyle’ encouraged and engendered a sort of humble, hardworking personality merely by default. You were directly able to see the results of your labor, you were physically tired but content by the end of the day. It certainly wasn’t easy labor, but 1) you didn’t have to do all the work (the animals took care of themselves for the most part, you only had to orchestrate! Easier said than done…) and 2) you got to eat incredible, yellow yoked eggs: work was edible(y) rewarding.

I will write more reflections about this farm in future posts.

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