The horse as a zoologic variety possesses an organism of extraordinary plasticity. And it is not by chance that there exists such a wide diversity of its breeds and types - from dwarf horses and small ponies to gigantic heavy-draught specimen each weighing over a ton.
The horse easily adapts to all populated geographic zones and it accompanies a man on all continents except the Antarctic. What is most important, the horse is not referred to as used to artificial conditions but as to a domesticated animal easily subsisting in natural environment. In the deserts of Central Asia herds of horses are grazing side by side with herds of camels; beyond the Polar Circle - in the Region of Yakutsk - the horse makes a friendly neighbourhood with the reindeer, in Transcaucasian humid valleys it toils on a par with the buffalo, the latter being a typically tropical animal, while high in the mountains of Tien Shan and Pamir the horse feels at home the same as the yak famous for its mountain-climbing abilities.
Horse herds can subsist on natural pastures all the year round, winter including, when the ground is covered with snow half a meter deep. When grazing they wander from a water source as far as 20-25 km away and in winter they are able to quench their thirst with snow.
Herd horse breeding is of an essential importance to agricultural development of vast previously unpopulated areas in deserts, mountains and in some regions of the taiga zones. The possibility of raising the horse herds on natural pastures not easily accessible to other types of cattle helps to get hundreds of thousands of working horses required for servicing cattle and sheep breeding and other branches of agriculture, for producing the mare's milk and high quality meat. In the Yakutsk Autonomous SSR, for example, horse meat makes up to 20 per cent of all meat consumed there and 8-10 per cent in some regions of Kazakhstan. Koumiss-fermented mare's milk - is a traditional nutritious drink in a number of the country's eastern regions.
The herd horse does not need stables of solid structure as throughout the year it is kept in the open. Light and small shelters are required only for keeping the weanlings, breed improving stags meant for crossing and working horses. The herd horse satisfies 80-95 per cent of its yearly need in fodder by grazing in the open and in winter it searches for feed digging out the snow. The herd horse management does not involve high consumption of labour and expenses.
Among the local horse breeds well adapted to free but at the same time rigorous herd management the following could be mentioned: Kazakh (especially of Djabe type), Kushumsky, Bashkirsky, New Kirgiz, Altai, Tuva, Buryat, Yakut and their crosses with some stud breeds (Don, Orlov, Heavy-Draught).
The zone where meat horse breeding is practised falls on the area with sharply continental climate. All the year round herds are grazing literally at the utmost freezing point of the northern hemisphere, i.e. in the valleys of Yana and Oimyakan Rivers, where the lowest temperature of minus 68 °C has been registered. In central Kazakhstan frost is not so severe but winter snow-storms could be raging weeks and weeks at an end. And in summer long spells of heat and droughts are typical of this country where the annual precipitation rate hardly reaches 100mm. Another hardship befalls the herd horse in Caspian low lands, i.e. ice covered pastures making fodder inacessible.
Such horse enemies as frost, ice-crusting, unbearable heat, armies of blood sucking insects and others regularly befall the herds. But luckily come good spells when the spring sun is shining warmly, the green grass is in abundance and water is running in depressions. The same good are dry days of autumn, when merciless mosquitoes are gone, when bitten by the first night frosts various salty and wormwood fodder turns to being edible and nutritious. And no need to mention Alpian pastures and meadows which make of themselves a real health resort for the horse.
The proper herd horse management includes a skilful use and with a maximum return of favourable seasonal spells for getting the young stock, for the horse fattening and conditioning for marketing. Alongwith precautions should be taken against natural calamities, e.g. emergency hay supplies need to be secured to counter ice - crusting and heavy snow-falls, pastures should be taken care of for winter grazing, storm natural shelters are to be found and, if necessary, hand made shelters of brushwood and hay stocks made. It is required also to finda convenient water source, to provide wells with water delivery pumps, to perform veterinary checks of horses to carry out zootechnical work on the horse quality improvement.
The modern technology of the herd horse management is based on many centuries old popular practices and on the achievements of the Soviet zootechnical science. Employment of this technology helps to obtain high productivity results not only by leading highly experienced herdsmen but also by many rank and file horse farm managers in various districts, regions and autonomous republics.
With the herd horse management the working results are estimated by the animal yield per hundred mares, by the fulfilment of meat production plans and increasing the herd population, by the quality of horses raised and profitability.
High attention is paid to the improvement of the quality of the horse population in a herd. This work is being carried out along three directions: through interbreeding, crossbreeding and new breed development. The work with Kazakh purebred horses of Djabe type resulted in raising the average weight of mares from 370 up to 420 kg and that of stallions - from 410 up to 460 kg, the best of the latter weighing half a ton and over. But to reach such results four-five horse generations were required.
The results of crossings with stud breeds are highly effective. Here, crosses of the first generation surpass mares of local breeds by 60-130 kg depending on the breed of the stallion. However, such an effective method demands extra expenses and its employment is not possible in all climatic zones. For example, in Kazakhstan and the Yakutsk Autonomous SSR this method is not used and quite reasonably so.
New breeds of herd horses have been developed (Kushumsky, New Kirgiz). For their description see Section "BREEDS".
Specific peculiarities of free grazing herd horses include their complete freedom from taming, disobedience to a man, their unfamiliarity with a bridle. The vaterinary and zootechnical servicing of these "savages" is made possible only through the use of special drive-in stables provided with the so-called chutes. A horse is driven through a gradually narrowing corridor (funnel) into a narrow chute where it cannot turn about and thus becomes an easy target for any kind of treatment: weighing, measuring, branding, vaccinating and so on.
Horses when kept in the open are managed in large herds numbering 200-300 and sometimes 500 head. In mountainous taiga areas, where small grazing plots are spread over forest meadows and in between mounds horses are grazing in small herds each consisting of a stallion, 10-12 mares and their offspring.
All the main duties of servicing the grazing horses are performed by herdsmen. The herdsman is a skilful man of courage, highly experienced in his domain. He drives a herd over seasonal pastures, keeps an eye on beasts of prey, makes winter camps ready for the season, creates fodder emergency supplies, performs all connected with the reproduction of the stock.
In summer the herdsman makes his home in a yurt on the pasture, for winter he moves to a warm house provided with all conveniences. If in winter herds are driven at long distances attending herdsmen are provided with small mobile homes with all living facilities. Herdsmen are provided also with small mobile power generators producing electricity for lighting, TVsets and radio communication with a permanent farm base.
The herd horse management is inseparably and traditionally linked with the koumiss production. It has been trusted since long ago as a reliable source of vitamins in areas where severe climatic conditions do not permit growing vegetables and fruit. It was in the middle of the last century when medicine learnt how koumiss extremely benefited the man's health and since then it has been prescribed to tuberculous patients. For a long time it was thought that the wholesome koumiss could be made only of mare's milk subsisting in virgin steppe environment and correspondingly treatment with koumiss was performed in Trans Volga and Bashkir Regions. The highly important usefulness of this drink to the Bashkir population was vividly described by S.T. Aksakov, an outstanding writer of the last century. Leo Tolstoy was treated with koumiss at the place of Karalyk in Bashkiria.
The health authorities of to-day after thorough and prolonged studies have confirmed high dietary and medicinal qualities of koumiss. It has been proved that the wholesome koumiss could be produced not only in steppe regions but actually in any horse breeding area.
Koumiss as a healthy foodstuff, a wonderful drink and an effective thirst guencher enjoys wide popularity in many parts of the country. The koumiss production is widely practised in the Crimea, Orenbourg, Sverdlovsk, Saratov, Voronesh, Ryazan Regions as well as in Kuban, in Altai, Tuva, the Buryat and Yakutsk Autonomous Republics. Over 50 koumiss resorts are presently functionning in the Soviet Union.
Koumiss is produced mainly within May-October period and its making is primarily centered on special farms servicing the health establishments.
Benefits of koumiss are secured by a specific biochemical composition of mare's milk, viz. by protein and fats of special peculiarities, abundance of milk sugar and high level of vitamins. As discovered by health authorities mare's milk represents a highly valuable source for the production of baby milk formulae that greatly increases the importance of horse breeding as a milk producing source.
Earlier only a domestic method of koumiss making was known: a mare was handmilked, incidental ferments and primitive utilities were used for fermenting and separating koumiss. The koumiss quality fully depended on the skill of a professional and on many incidental factors.
Nowadays the scientifically motivated technology of horse breeding for milk purposes and koumiss making is employed and quite successfully. A wide use is made of advanced installations and equipment for mare milking as well as of the modern equipment for koumiss making factories. The best ferment formulae have been developed with new processes of the koumiss separation and maturing introduced. All these measures contribute to the progress in labour productivity and ensure the production of high quality koumiss being bottled in different capacities.
Koumiss making farms are stocked with specially selected mares of high milk yields with a preference made to Bashkir, Kazakh and New Kirgiz breeds and to their crosses. Mares of the Don breed and heavy-draught horses are known for their high milk yields. A lactation period of the mare lasts usually 6-8 months and an overall milk production per mare for this period makes up 1.5-2.0 thous.1. while the best specimen can yield over 3.0-4.0 thous. 1. The record milk yield of 6.0 thous. 1. for 300 lactation days has been registered for a mare of the Soviet heavy-draught breed. Daily milk production per mare usually averages 8-121. and 201. and more for the best ones.
It is specific of the milk horse breeding that a mare is not milked completely but depending on the conditions only for 35-75 per cent, while the rest of the milk is sucked by a foal. No horse breed has been developed yet for milk production alone and therefore milking is possible only when the mare is accompanied by a foal. After weaning the lactation stops. So milking is duly performed only in day-time and for the night the young stock is left with mares.
Another peculiarity of a mare is a small capacity of its udder - as little as 1.5-3.01. The udder is filled with milk quickly which makes it necessary to milk mares after every 2-3 hours and that in its turn complicates the technological process. With this in mind breeders pay attention not only to raising milk productivity of a mare but also to increasing its udder capacity. To ensure a proper development of foals of milking mares the former are extra fed during a sucking period with special milk substitutes, with grass, hay and concentrates.