"To The Seter"
Contributed by Olaf Kringhaug, this article was excerpted and loosely translated from Malvik Bygdebok, Vol. I, pp. 104-6. Although it describes the situation in Sør Trøndelag in the mid 1800s, it reflects life in Telemark, too.
Spring was the time of year that a Norwegian farm would send their livestock to a seter. A seter is a summer pasture, usually in the mountains. In some areas it was called a støl and practices varied in different communities. The law obliged farmers to have a seter. Each farm had its own although some might share one. The few animals a cotter might have were usually permitted on the main farm's seter. When the livestock was turned out of their byres, usually in May, they would graze on the farm's infield pastures. These were not very big and when the grass was grazed to the roots, the cattle had to be moved. This would permit the infields to recover and grow the fodder for the cattle in the fall.
The setting off for the seter was quite an event as in this account from Malvik:
"The trip to the seter took place at night. We left home with the livestock and supplies at 8 o'clock at night and herded the animals along the road. Then we drove the animals through the woods to the seter, but the wagon had to follow roads as far as possible. The seter time lasted from the middle of June until the beginning of September."
Here is another account:
"Then we neared the big day! There was a lot of activity. First we hayed at the seter and stored the hay in a hay barn. On the day itself, down to the barn to milk and clean out. Then out with the pack saddles and baskets. The women brought out all that was needed of dishes, equipment and food and that was packed carefully in the baskets.
The horses were then harnessed and the baskets carefully placed and properly secured. Both the horse and the older cattle knew the way, so they didn't have to be guided. The seter girl had already gone up and cleaned the cottage and sheds, and put on the coffee pot! The horse came first and was unloaded. The cattle came slowly next and were turned out to graze. The seter girl then invited everybody for coffee and food - the first time at the seter.
Then all the supplies, dishes and kettles were set in place. The cow stalls were set up as well as the sheepfolds. Then came evening and the cattle came in as at home - the old ones knew their stalls from the previous year.
Then life took its usual course, the seter girl milked every morning and evening, herded all day and made cheese when necessary and kept the cottage clean and tidy. Every Saturday and Sunday and the last 3-4 days of her seter months, she got herder visitors from home.
So the days went - sunny days and rainy days. It was heavenly to herd the animals on a clear sunny day, but when days came with wind and rain and yes, sometimes sleet, then it was something else. It could happen that they would trudge all day, soaked to the skin - then it was not so great. It was impossible at the seter to dry clothes in one night, the morning after one had to put on the clothing that was still wet and cold - Huff! Some old women tell that they went barefoot until the first snow skiffs came in the fall. They warmed their feet when a cow urinated.
In the hottest time of summer, when the horseflies came, the cows were allowed to stay in during the day and were turned out about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. We called it night herding. About midnight they would lie down - cows and sheep - and rested until about 3 o'clock in the morning. They grazed peacefully and then ran home about 8-9 in the morning to escape the horseflies.
When it was time to return home farm, there was great activity again. The men came with the pack horses and most of the night was spent loading the horses. When all was finished the horses set off as surely as ever, followed by the men. Then came the seter girl and closely behind her the cattle and then the sheep. Finally came the herd boys and they shouted and blew their lurs as they neared home.
The cattle were let in when they got home. The house was
scrubbed and decorated like a bride. The floor was strewn with fine-cut juniper
branches. The coffee pot stood ready, as finely polished as an officer. The
table was decked with the best foods the house could offer. Everyone sat to the
table and had an excellent meal after all the work. Afterwards, those who were
home went to the barn to milk the cows - the seter girl was free now."
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