Herder-children | roaming the mountains all alone | Norway

In olden Norway, the farm-animals were sent off to the mountains and forests all summer. With them came a herder to guard them, and a maid to turn their milk into cheese and butter.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
A Norwegian herder-boy in 1903 - possibly Kristen Skogen. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.
A Norwegian herder-boy in 1903 - possibly Kristen Skogen. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Norsk Folkemuseum DeOldify cc pdm.

Pronunciation

Gjeter

With summer came freedom

On the historical Norwegian farm, the livestock spent the long winters locked up in cramped and dark abodes, relying on the humans to feed and water them. But during the summer months, they spent their days in the mountains and the forests, feeding on Mother Nature’s rich resources, moving freely outside the fences, through the open landscape.

Looked after by the children

It was often the older children who looked after the animals during the day, when they were out grazing. The Norwegian word for a herder is a gjeter. In old Norwegian records, we often find the words gjeterpike or gjetergutt listed as someone’s profession, meaning herder-girl and herder-boy. The word for herder-children is gjeterbarn.

Off to the seter

The summer pastures – the seter – were often located far away from the home farm. There were usually a simple cabin there for the milkmaid and the herder to live in, and a simple night-shed for the animals. The milkmaid – budeia – milked the cows and the goats twice a day, and made cheese, butter, and other dairy products. After the morning-milking, the herder took the animals out to feed in the surrounding landscape. Between June and September, both the milkmaid and the herder had a lonely existence, and a big responsibility.

Guarding the animals against danger

Guarding the farm-animals against predators was one important task. But the herder also had to make sure that the animals did not wander off too far away from the seter. And that they stayed together and did not mix with other livestock nearby. There are many stories of how animals fell off cliffs or got stuck in a bog somewhere. Sometimes, the herders had a dog to help them, and as a companion.

Protecting the mountain meadows

Haymaking-meadows were often established in connection with the summer pasture farms. These meadows were usually cut late in the summer, by people coming up from the home farm. There were usually no fences, and the herders were under strict orders to keep the animals away from the lush grass. Anyone who has experienced a wilful cow knows how difficult a task that can be.

What if a wolf came along?

In some areas of the country, predators posed a significant threat: bears, wolves, wolverines, lynx, eagles, and others. And what could a child do if a wolf decided to attack? Often, they tried to scare the animals away by making noise. This could be by screaming and shouting, blowing a small birch trumpet – stuttlur, a goat’s horn – bukkehorn, or similar. A large dog was also of great help. But if the intruder had made up its mind, it was little the herder-girl or -boy could do but to run for help.

Knowing the time without a watch

The herder had to make sure that the animals were back on time for the milking in the early evening. Instead of a watch, they used the sun to guide them. Often, the milkmaid called them home with her distinctive and long-reaching call – the kulokk.

A shout-out to Norway’s gjeterbarn

We would like to give a big shout-out to the herder-children of all times. Despite the hard work and the lonely existence, many happy memories have been shared over the years. In particular, we would like to mention Anna Ingebrigtsdatter Bolme (1886-1982), who in the year 1900 worked as a gjeterpike at the Storholtan farm in Rindal, aged 14.

Main source: «Gjeterbarn» by Magne Engernes – Trysil-forlaget 2000 | Kari Gården Strømsborg.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

What beautiful needlework. A bonnet from the collections of Slottsfjellsmuseet - in the city of Tønsberg.
Like all buildings on the old Norwegian farm, the stabbur had a clear purpose: it was a building designed for the storage of food.
Here are 12 historical photos representing the fascinating Sami culture - with deep roots in the Norwegian and Nordic landscape.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
For many, it may come as a surprise that the history of rose painting and its place in Norwegian folk art is not as old as one might think.
In the old Norwegian farming society, a husmann was a man who was allowed to build his home on a small section of a farm’s land, and pay with his labour instead of rent.
Lystring is a Norwegian verb that means catching fish or other water creatures in the dark, using a fire torch to attract the fish and a multi-pronged spear.
Once you start taking an interest in the old Norwegian farming and family history, then the people of the past start coming to the fore.
After a troubled ten-year courtship, the current King Harald V of Norway finally got to marry his Miss Sonja Haraldsen on the 29th of August 1968.
Some vintage photos - and more to come.
In 1942, Hans Hyldbakk wrote the history of the local cotter's holdings in Surnadal, Nordmøre, Norway. The book was updated in 1966.
Some of the beautiful Norwegian wooden stave churches are almost 1000 years old. Today, there are 28 of them left.
With a growing population and public sector, Norway pushed through significant reforms in several areas: public structure and organisation, welfare, health care, tax, policing, public services, and more.
As a first such an event in modern times: the Norwegian counties Sør-Trøndelag and Nord-Trøndelag have now merged.
In a cold country like Norway, warm clothing is essential. This is a refined and old version of a woollen sweater from the district of Setesdal.
1769 was the year of the first complete Norwegian census. Today, Norway has a population of more than 5 million, in 1769 the number was 723,618.
Bondegård is a Norwegian noun that means farm. In informal speech and in many dialects, people only use the single word gård or gard.
Norway's mainland coastline, with its many fjords and islands, is the second longest in the world - next only to Canada. Here are some more facts for you.
On the historical Norwegian farm, the skoklefallsday is the last day of planting in the spring. Literally, it means the day that the shafts attached to the workhorse's harness come off.
The first Norwegian Buhund breed-standard came in 1926, based on a dog that had evolved, lived, and worked with the Norwegians since time immemorial.
The old Norwegian farm needed hundreds of litres of water every single day: for food-making, cleaning, and human and animal consumption.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history