Fäbod culture

A Fäbod can be described as a form of small-scale farm where the animals are sent to a pasture for summer grazing, consisting of a number of buildings with different functions in the outlying areas.

Location: Värmland, Dalarna, Gästrikland, Hälsingland, Härjedalen, Jämtland, Uppland , Medelpad, Ångermanland, Västerbotten and Norrbotten/Lappland with less presence in the last five regions.

Person på fyrhjuling med fäbod och fäbodlandskap i bakgrunden.

The fäbod phenomenon can be described as a form of farming in which the animals are taken for summer grazing to a summer farm on outlying areas of land. Fäbod summer farming already existed in some form during the early Middle Ages in Sweden, and there is written evidence of this dating from the 16th century. Each farm had its own form of fäbod activities based on its environmental and economic conditions. The daily work on the summer farm encompassed many tasks and was mainly performed by young women. The cultural heritage includes a very old form of working music with instruments such as horns and trumpets, and in which the vocal technique of kulning (herding calls and songs) was an important tool.

During the 19th century, a transition to crop rotation took place in agriculture, which entailed a reduction in the significance of fäbod farming. However, in recent years the interest in organic and locally produced food has led to an upturn. Today, several fäbods are operational in central and northern parts of Sweden and largely follow old traditions. Many serve as destinations for visitors and offer overnight accommodation and various products for sale. There are a number of organisations and associations that work to keep active summer farming alive; some state-level and local institutions are involved, and some documentation is ongoing.

Kvinna sitter bredvid stor gryta på farstutrappen till en fäbod.

Photo: William Eriksson (Isof, ULMA 34715).


The fäbod phenomenon can be described as a form of small-scale farming in which the animals are taken for summer grazing to a summer farm on outlying areas of land. These farms are only used during the summer period when there is plenty of grass and water. The fäbod culture of summer farming has developed from the natural conditions and the landscape. This includes knowledge of animals and nature, of forest grazing, buildings, food, stories, practices and customs, and of tools and music.

Each individual summer farm (several are often grouped in one location) consists of various small buildings that each have their own function. In addition to a farmhouse, there is also a barn for the animals, a building for dairy production, a building for storing milk, cheese and whey butter, a woodshed for firewood and in some places also stables, barns and raised log cabins for storage of animal feed and crops.

Various products are made at the summer farms (butter, cheese, whey cheese and whey butter). The whey is boiled over an open fire and turned into whey butter. After many hours of boiling, the lactose finally becomes saturated, which is slowly cooled down.

In recent years, interest in organic and locally produced food has increased, which has also led to an upturn for the fäbod culture of summer farming. In Jämtland County alone, 20–30 summer farms are run traditionally nowadays, in other words with free forest grazing, dairy livestock husbandry and the making of various dairy products. In addition there are a number of summer farms that are only used for grazing and haymaking. All in all, several “living fäbods” with animal husbandry are in operation in Sweden today. They have either free-range animals or animals in enclosures near to the summer farms. Many summer farms serve as destinations for visitors and offer overnight accommodation and locally made products for sale.

Foto: Kelvin Ekeland.

Photo: Kelvin Ekeland.


In Sweden, there is written evidence of summer farming dating from the 16th century. Archaeological investigations have been performed which show that summer farming or similar activities existed as long ago as in the early Middle Ages. During the 19th century, a transition to crop rotation in agriculture took place, which entailed a reduction in the previous major economic significance of summer farming.

Each village, each farm, designed its own forms of fäbod summer farming based on the existing environmental and economic conditions. The forest and outlying lands constituted a resource that had to be managed to produce a good and sustainable yield. The location for the summer farm was carefully chosen. Trees and bushes were cleared away and kept in check. This task was a recurring one and included both clearing and burning.

The daily work at the fäbod was mainly undertaken by women aged 15 to 25. The tasks consisted of tending to and guarding the animals, milking, making cheese, boiling whey butter and churning butter. The access to clean water was significant, as the making of various dairy products required meticulous hygiene. In addition to making dairy products and looking after the livestock, the women also made many different objects and gathered winter feed for storage. The milkmaid (fäbodjäntan) could start her day by sweeping and mucking out the barns. The animals were milked in the various barns, after which the cream was skimmed off the milk. The cream was churned to make butter, cheese was made and whey butter was boiled. The milkmaid was also expected to shear, card and spin wool; knit and sew to meet the farm’s needs; cut and de-bark slender twigs to make besoms, whisks and other tools; make horse tethers; gather birch-bark and use it to weave shoes; bind besom brooms; cut and strip leaves for animal feed; gather milk-producing cow feed; pick berries and catch fish.

Fäbodflyttning i Gagnef någon gång mellan 1890 och 1910. Foto: Nordiska museet.

The moving of a fäbod located in Gagnef sometime between 1890 and 1910. Photo: Nordiska museet.

The fäbod culture includes a very old form of working music that uses nature-based instruments such as horns and trumpets. The vocal fäbod music was also a key tool, and using special vocal techniques with a powerful sound, women who were alone at the summer farms could be heard over long distances. The vocal art of kulning was passed down from the elderly to the young through imitation. In the relationship between humans and animals, a system of signals was developed in the form of sounds to call the animals home, calls with an ordering, urging or prohibiting tone, but also soft, gentle sounds of affection and friendship. The system of signals was also effective between summer farms and communities.

Photo of a woman called Karin Sundell, blowing the horn at a fäbod in Hälsingland sometime in the 1930s.

Karin Sundell (born 1877) is blowing the horn at Klöfsvallen, Delsbo, Hälsingland, sometime in the 1930s.

Safeguarding and passing on knowledge

Today’s fäbod summer farming activities largely follow old traditions in which land and buildings are used in a way that they were originally intended for. At the few remaining summer farms where dairy operations still take place, knowledge of a food culture with historic and local roots is also preserved. Active summer farming helps to give abandoned fäbods a historical context, which can contribute to increased knowledge of the conditions for farming in forested and mountainous areas.

Förbundet Svensk Fäbodkultur och Utmarksbruk is an association for Swedish summer farming culture and the farming of outlying land. It is a non-political, non-profit interest organisation for Sweden’s approximately 200 remaining active summer farmers and everyone who is interested in and wants to support the activities and culture of the fäbod summer farms in Sweden. The association represents the nation’s fäbod movement as well as organising several local fäbod associations. The association endeavours to safeguard and pass on Swedish summer farming activities and culture. Important parts of this work consist of promoting built heritage, cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, as well as maintaining grazing rights as a resource for the future. The association also acts as a contact and consultation body for authorities and other parties.

In addition to the above-mentioned organisation, there are also regional associations in Jämtland, Dalarna, Gävleborg and Värmland that strive for development of the fäbod activities, for example by laying the foundation for sustainable and small-scale food production.

In recent years, EU funding has been allocated to projects that aim to disseminate and document fäbod culture. The project assistance has led to summer farming activities with forest grazing being resumed. The most threatened grazing ecosystems, forest pastures, have gradually started to regain their vitality. In the past decade, it has become more common to see cows, goats, sheep, horses and fäbod workers on and around the pastures on old outlying lands. There is increasing talk of shaping and securing landscapes with natural, cultural and recreational values. The fäbods stand out as a regional and distinctive element in Swedish agriculture. Several of the non-profit actors that operate in this field think that there is fundamental yet fragmented documentation that must be reviewed and complemented. Existing registers must also be entered into a coordinated database.

This primarily concerns the Swedish summer farming association Svensk Fäbodkultur, the regional and local organisations, and all summer farm workers and owners. In addition, the Swedish Biodiversity Centre (CBM) of Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), SLU’s Department of Urban and Rural Development, the Swedish National Heritage Board, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry, the Federation of Swedish Farmers, the Skogsägarna associations of forest owners, and others.


Ekeland, K (ed.) (2008): Landskapets utmarker – hur värdera och sköta? CBM:s skriftserie 22
(How should the landscape’s outlying lands be valued and looked after? CBM’s publication series 22).

Ekeland, K (2014): Mångfaldens utmark (Diversity’s outlying land). Stockholm: Carlsson.
Eriksson, C (2013): Fäboden som politiskt rum: att vara fäbodbrukare i den gemensamma jordbrukspolitiken (The summer farm as a political space: being a summer farmer in the common agricultural policy). Uppsala: The Department of Urban and Rural Development, SLU.

Hansen, K & Jansson, I (1980): Fäbodbruket – hotad näring: rapport om fäbodbruket i Sverige (Summer farming – a threatened industry: report on summer farming in Sweden). Östersund: Jämtland County Administrative Board.

Jacobsson, L, Olofsson C, Stenbäck Lönnquist, U & Welinder, S (2010): Fyra berättelser om arkeologins tysta människor på en fäbod (Four narratives about archaeology’s silent people on a summer farm). I: Rig. 2010:2, pp. [65]–82 : ill.

Karl-Tövåsens fäbod: en levande vall med anor (Karl-Tövåsen’s summer farm: a living pasture with history). (2010) Rättvik: Riesbeck reklam.

Larsson, J (2009): Fäbodväsendet 1550–1920: ett centralt element i Nordsveriges jordbrukssystem (The fäbod phenomenon 1550–1920: a central element in northern Sweden’s agricultural system). Uppsala: The Department of Economics, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Lidman, H (ed.) (1963): Fäbodar (Summer farms). Stockholm.

Ljung, T (2011): Fäbodskogen som biologiskt kulturarv: betade boreala skogars innehåll av historisk information och biologisk mångfald: en studie av fyra fäbodställen i Dalarna (The summer farm forest as biological cultural heritage: grazed boreal forests’ content of historical information and biodiversity: a study of four summer farms in Dalarna). The Swedish Biodiversity Centre.

Morén, A (2006): Solsbodarnas fäbod i Gagnefs kommun och församling: ett försök till historisk beskrivning: nedtecknat av Anders Morén vintern 2006 (Solsbodarna’s summer farm in Gagnef Municipality and Parish: an attempt at a historical description: written by Anders Morén, winter 2006). Borlänge.

Nilsson, G (2004): Hanhinvittikko fäbod: flora och vegetation i skuggan av tidigare markanvändning (Hanhinvittikko summer farm: flora and vegetation in the shadow of earlier land use). Report series, 0283-9636 ; 2000:2. Luleå: Norrbotten County Administrative Board.

Olsson, A (1997): Fäbodar i Sverige – underlag för bevarandeplan (Summer farms in Sweden – knowledge base for conservation plan). Jamtli – the regional museum of Jämtland and Härjedalen.

Snell-Lumio, C (1999): Hanhinvittikko: en fäbod i Tornedalen: en fäbods kultur- och miljöhistoria 1878–1965 (Hanhinvittikko: a summer farm in Tornedalen: the cultural and environmental history of a summer farm 1878–1965). Övertorneå naturskyddsförening (Övertorneå Society for Nature Conservation).

Ulfsdotter, J (2009): Fäbodliv i nytt ljus: om ansvarsfördelning och platstagande vid Medelpadska fäbodar vid 1800-talets slut (Summer farm life in a new light: about the distribution of responsibility and taking up space at summer farms in Medelpad at the end of the 19th century). I: Angerman 2009:1, pp. 7–9.

Törnqvist, V (2005): Livet runt en fäbod: Prästbodarna och några andra fäbodar från förr och i modern tid: en dokumentation/sammanställd och skriven av Victoria Törnqvist (Life around a summer farm: Prästbodarna and other summer farms from bygone and modern times: a documentation/compiled and written by Victoria Törnqvist). Rättviks hembygdsförening (Rättvik’s local heritage society).

Åhman, H (2007): Åsn – såmm i minns an: en berättelse från Åsens fäbod i Venjan (Åsen – as we remember it: a story from Åsen’s summer farm in Venjan). Mora.
Öna byalag (1993): Från by och fäbod (From village and summer farm). Mora: Öna byalag (Öna villagers’ association).

Förbundet Svensk Fäbodkultur och utmarksbruk External link. (Association for Swedish summer farming culture and the farming of outlying land– site in swedish).

Gävleborgs Fäbodförening External link. (Gävleborg’s summer farm association – site in swedish)

Gävleborgs Fäbodförening (Gävleborg’s summer farm association), 2010. Turister i fäbodvallen. Slutrapport External link. (Tourists at the summer farm. Final report. Via the digital publication platform Yumpu).

SLU: “Förstudie om centrum för utmarksbruk” External link. (Preliminary study about a centre for farming on outlying lands) in cooperation with Ljusdalsbygden’s museum, the Swedish Biodiversity Centre (CBM), Gävleborgs Fäbodförening (Gävleborg’s summer farm association) and the University of Gävle.

Ekeland, K 2006. Perspektiv på säterbruk och fritt skogsbete External link. (Perspectives on summer farming and free forest grazing).

Swedish Radio P1: Magnus Nilsson, chef, gave a monologue from Myhrbodarna in Jämtland External link. in the radio station P1’s summer monologue series, (10 August 2015).

The newspaper Östersundsposten: Fäbod för syns skull? External link. (Summer farm for show?) (31 August 2013).

The newspaper Östersundsposten: Få aktiva fäbodar finns kvar External link. (Few active summer farms remain) (2 August 2013).


Fäbodbruket en kulturell kvarleva – eller ett brukningssätt för framtiden? External link. (Summer farming, a cultural relic – or a farming method for the future?).

Skogsbete External link. Frida Turander (Forest grazing, a film by Frida Turander).

Tin Gumuns – Karl Tövåsens fäbod External link. (Tin Gumuns – Karl Tövåsen’s summer farm).