This paper examines the application of song as a herding tool. Based on participant-observation and twenty semi-structured interviews in pastoral encampments in the Gobi Desert over four months, I explore what the practice of singing to sheep can elucidate about interdependent human-animal relationships. The livestock birthing season in rural Mongolia in early spring is a crucial time for humans and animals alike. While pastoralists throughout the country have many different approaches for managing the challenges they face during this time, herders in rural Dundgovi province have a special set of tools for adopting orphaned livestock to new mothers: species-specific, semi-improvisational songs. The herders I work with in this province report that these songs are their primary method for instigating nursing and developing parental bonds between orphaned newborns and foster mothers. This musical practice is interwoven with other forms of traditional musical performance intended for human audiences. This paper contributes to a growing body of literature in ethnobiology that examines the musical capacities of non-humans. I take instances of livestock-singing in the Gobi as opportunities for the creation of mutual empathy between herder and animal. These performances implicate humans in the emotional worlds of sheep and give sheep the role of consumers of music—a position usually reserved for humans.
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Vol. 39 • No. 3