The Transformation of Agriculture

Transylvania's economy was based on agriculture and stock-breeding. The countryside was dominated by forests and grassy hillsides, but in the period under review, plant cultivation in the terraced river valleys played a key role in economic development.

The abolition of villeinage in 1848 ushered in a long, transitional period in which farming was marked by social change as well as by enduring elements of a traditional way of life. The unreliability of early statistical data, notably the 1851 survey, makes the transformation of agriculture difficult to assess. Statistical services subsequently improved, but they were swept away by the political storms that accompanied the end of the Bach administration. The post-Compromise Hungarian state took years to build up a modern statistical service. Until the end of the century, only tendencies can be ascertained; the later period, thanks to a broader data base, lends itself to more differentiated appraisal.

In the first three decades of the period, the feudal links between the farming activities of peasants and landowners disappeared or underwent transformation. Initially, far from resolving old economic problems, the change only added to them. 'Nowadays, a society that is exclusively agrarian stands on one leg. Our agriculture is ill, so that leg too is crippled,' wrote a liberal politician in 1865.[9]9. [D. Teleki], Siebenbürgen und die österreichische Regierung in den letzten vier Jahren 1860-1864 (Leipzig, 1865), p. 141. Former landowners had few tools for cultivation, {3-487.} and they often had trouble finding day-labourers; trained agronomists were scarce, and until 1872 there was no mortgage bank in Transylvania. For many years, the modern tax system, introduced in 1850, was more a cause of impoverishment than an spur to productivity, since on a per capita basis Transylvania paid more tax than the more developed Transdanubia. It was estimated that in the early 1860s, the 'landed class' paid 12 million forints in direct and indirect taxes on an agricultural income of 13–15 million forints. Apparently, cattle and sheep brought the most profit for both peasants and landowners. The latter claimed that they survived (and dabbled in politics) on the compensation paid to them pursuant to the abolition of villeinage — one can assume, with growing dissatisfaction. In these circumstances, asked a Kolozsvár newspaper in 1856, 'how can we make a contribution for common purposes, a necessity if we are to secure a better future?' Six years later, the complaint had not changed: 'What do our people gain from a Hungarian velvet coat, if it is paid out of our property, and not out of the property's income?'[10]10. 'A földbirtok becse,' Kolozsvári Közlöny, 17 May 1862. People at the time claimed that even a thrifty citizen could not afford to pay his taxes, and they wondered how long it would take before the country's taxpayers would collectively go bankrupt. The shortage of money made it difficult to sell off bits of landed property; credit was scarce, and carried interest of 10 percent or even higher. Although the price of a hold, or cadastral acre (0.57 hectares) was no more than 30–40 forints, hardly anyone could afford to buy land. In the autumn of 1856, an estate in Bánffyhunyad was sold for half of its estimated value. Judging from contemporary advertisements, even large estates went begging for tenants.

A sense of looming crisis had arisen in the 1850s, and the problems of agriculture became even more severe in the following decade. Apart from a two-year spurt in demand — 'the golden rain' — caused by the Crimean War, the period until 1867 was marked by economic recession and several poor harvests. It was a {3-488.} peculiar feature of the transitional period that grain cultivation on the former landlords' estates seldom proved economical, for (by contemporary accounts) production costs had quadrupled since 1848. At the same time, prices were driven down by grain from Romania, where, until 1864, villeins provided a cheap source of labour. In the case of corn, by the end of the 1850s Transylvanian landowners had to spend so much on draught work, hoeing, harvesting, and cartage to market that they were operating at a loss. To be sure, peasant production required little cash outlay, and productivity depended on the family's energies, inclination, and needs, as well as on tradition — factors that do not fit into a modern measure of efficiency. In areas where a market for agricultural products already existed, peasant farms had an advantage over large estates precisely because of their tools, animals, and sources of human energy.

Deprived of their traditional workforce, and short of credit, landowners had little choice but to trade the use of fields, pastures, and woodlands for the peasants' labour; this device, along with share-cropping, lasted well beyond the turn of the century, when modern wage labour had become more common. In the early 1870s, a sudden rise in prices and cheaper credit allowed the progressive mechanization of large grain-growing estates. With a few stops and starts, the process continued to the end of the period, and it compensated for the fact that peasant farmers held most of the animal stock. A joint-stock company was formed for the marketing of agricultural machinery as early as 1856. Reaping machines first appeared in 1863; nine years later, there were only twelve in operation, but by 1895 their number had swollen to 509. By then, agricultural machinery made in England and the United States had joined Hungarian and Austrian models on the Transylvanian market. Steam-engines became available in the 1870s. Meanwhile, the price of land had increased; In 1883, credit banks estimated the market value of a cadastral acre of average arable land at 65–70 {3-489.} forints. As a result, by the turn of the century, large estates (beginning with those in the neighbouring counties of Arad, Bihar, and Szatmár) could impose tougher terms on labour, or reduce sharecropping, and these were measures that accelerated the stratification of the peasantry. Despite the growing investment in machinery, land remained the principal asset of the large estates. Mechanization was a significant factor, but it was only a complement to manpower and manual implements. Even in the years of booming grain prices, external markets had a limited impact on Transylvania; medium-sized estates could not exploit the opportunities, and many of them were hard put to raise their productivity above that of ordinary peasant farms.

On peasant farms, which comprised at least two thirds of all arable land, the principal crops were wheat and corn, cultivated in an updated type of triple rotation, except in hilly regions, where two-course rotation remained the norm. Since the beginning of the Reform Era, this traditional pattern of cultivation had come under pressure from population growth, new industrial crops, and mounting tax burdens. Some of the fallow land, which formerly constituted half of the arable land, began to be cultivated; but this change was slowed by the prevalence of extensive stock-breeding, which required the preservation of fallow land as pasture.

New tools came into use on peasant farms in the 1860s. Where plots were consolidated, iron ploughs appeared almost immediately. Still scarce in 1872, they were ubiquitous by end of the century. Known variously as the 'Vidats,' or as the ploughs 'from Resica,' 'from Nagyszeben,' or 'from Kolozsvár,' the new implements facilitated more efficient ploughing, with fewer draught-animals. The old wooden ploughs nevertheless survived, and not only as evidence of backwardness, for they were better suited to the soil of some hilly regions. By 1895, iron-toothed harrows had replaced the old 'thorn-harrow' and, in the Saxon region, the spread of row crops was accompanied by the introduction of sowing machines. {3-490.} Threshing was done by teams of labourers, who used flails or animals. Although by 1880 there were 119 steam-powered, and 1,224 other types of threshing-machines in operation, the older methods did not die out. The absence of a significant export market was one of the reasons why, for a long time, the sickle was preferred to the scythe; although productivity could be doubled with the latter, the slower reaping with the sickle produced better results. As recent research reveals, wholesale change came only with the generalized use of threshing machines at the end of the century, at which time harvesting, once an onerous job reserved for women, became a specialized task performed by men. One of the anomalies in the slow modernization of agriculture was that the scythe came into wider use ten years after the appearance of harvesting machines.

Thus, by the turn of the century, new implements had largely displaced ancient agricultural practices, though older tools were still in use. Along with these technical improvements, market pressures and the introduction of western breeds of cattle brought the practice of fallowing to an end. By the 1880s, fallow land in the Szászföld was systematically used to grow fodder, and this led to a further consolidation of holdings. The emerging system of full crop rotation brought with it the continuous cultivation of every plot, orderly animal husbandry in stables, and new methods of fertilization (which, after 1900, included some use of chemical fertilizers in the southern regions). Even after the consolidation of holdings, in 1908 three-course rotation remained the practice in one out of three villages of middle and northern Transylvania; in Csík, which had a harder climate and lower density of population, even the small stock of animals could not be fed adequately on the meagre pastures, and thus two-course rotation remained common practice beyond the turn of the century.

The end of crop rotation in the more developed regions represented a historic step ahead for agriculture, as did partial consolidation of holdings and the introduction of more efficient, three-crop {3-491.} rotation in the less developed areas. Whereas, in the 1850s, some 40 percent of arable land was left fallow, in by the late 1880s the proportion had fallen to 30 percent, and by 1910 to 20 percent; the main exceptions were Nagyszeben and Brassó, where the proportion of fallow land fell below 10 percent and 5 percent respectively. The enlargement of land under cultivation and the ploughing under of pastures (particularly in Udvarhely and Háromszék) brought a commensurate increase in output. The area of arable land increased from 1,232,948 hectares (2,163,067 cadastral acres) in 1857 to 1,562,736 hectares (2,741,642 cadastral acres) in 1910, and the proportional increase was greater than those numbers indicate, because Transylvania's territory in the later period was smaller than it had been in the absolutist period. The expansion of the area dedicated to grain crops, particularly wheat, was a response to market demand; it signalled that peasants were changing their way of life and adopting a more market-oriented outlook.

The principal crops were corn and wheat. At the time villeinage was abolished, twice as much land was allocated to corn as to wheat, and the yield was higher than in Hungary (excluding the Banat). Oat, rye, and barley followed in order of importance. High-yield corn — as well as legumes, for which there was a growing demand — was grown mainly by Romanian peasants; rye, with its relatively high nutritional value, was produced mainly by Saxons in the Brassó area; and oat, best favoured by Transylvania's climate, was grown almost everywhere. By the turn of the century, the areas devoted to wheat and corn were roughly equal (see table 14).


Table 14: Distribution of different branches of cultivation according to agricultural types in 1895

Size of estates in cadastral acres Number of estates Ploughland Garden Field Vineyard Pasture Forest Reeds Unpro-ductive area Total area
cultivated fallow
cadastral acres
577041 266121 164805 1499615 39244 4860 1386499 3812816 6090 330793 9910843
Distribution of land according to the size of estates (%)
0-1 14.21 0.52 5.09 0.27 3.66 3.25 0.06 0.02 0.21 0.89 0.33
1-5 23.51 8.30 15.01 5.87 15.62 14.85 1.25 0.29 2.35 2.81 3.82
0-5 together 37.72 8.82 20.10 6.14 19.28 18.10 1.31 0.31 2.56 3.70 4.15
5-10 17.56 15.68 17.50 13.26 19.31 16.32 3.02 0.68 3.94 3.68 7.41
10-20 15.52 25.20 21.98 25.39 22.03 19.90 6.13 1.57 7.50 4.88 12.71
20-50 8.08 24.43 19.51 28.45 17.21 16.17 8.17 2.63 8.10 5.00 13.61
50-100 1.10 6.64 5.43 7.78 5.32 7.74 3.13 1.67 6.59 1.93 4.23
50-100 together 42.26 71.95 62.42 74.88 63.87 60.13 20.45 6.55 26.13 15.49 37.96
100-200 0.29 3.42 2.77 3.17 2.82 4.34 1.90 1.45 4.66 1.09 2.32
200-500 0.18 4.46 3.29 3.19 4.36 10.00 3.41 2.74 11.12 1.57 3.35
500-1000 0.07 3.45 2.25 2.44 3.98 4.36 3.48 2.65 14.43 1.66 2.92
100-1000 together 0.54 11.33 8.31 8.80 11.16 18.70 8.79 6.84 30.21 4.32 8.59
above 1000 0.07 6.23 4.65 5.40 5.69 3.07 12.25 17.39 41.10 9.92 11.35
No mentioned in statistics on estates 19.41 1.67 2.52 4.78 - - 57.20 68.91 - 66.57 37.95
Total 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00

Twice as much corn was grown in Romanian districts as in Hungarian ones; it became a staple part of the diet throughout Transylvania, and served also for fodder and the distillation of alcohol. In the grain-producing counties of the Mezőség, in central Transylvania, as well as in the Háromszék, the area allocated to wheat production matched the average for Hungary, although the {3-493.} share of spring wheat, which was inferior in yield and quality, was considerably higher. At the turn of the century, six Transylvanian counties accounted for half of the total area in Hungary devoted to spring wheat. From the 1880s onwards, falling prices often left wheat producers with the slimmest of profits; a higher yield would have helped, but, at the time, producers were not able to raise yields over the average of one metric ton per cadastral acre. In good years, Transylvania's grain harvest sufficed for local needs. When the crop was smaller, the shortfall was met by imports from Romania and the Great Plain, or, in the second half of the period, exclusively from the latter region. From time to time, corn had to be imported as well.

Although potatoes had been produced mostly in Upper Hungary, by the 1850s they were cultivated in Transylvania in equal measure to rye, and they were even exported to Wallachia, where potatoes were considered a luxury. The cultivation of the tubers spread despite the incidence of potato blight, particularly in Csík, where it became an established crop that accounted for a significant part of Hungary's total production. In the 1880s, the growing of clover for fodder spread in the Székelyföld, and the merchants of Háromszék sold its seed on more distant markets. Around 1900, Romanian smallholders in southern Transylvania would plant clover in the cornfields in June to obtain extra fodder.

Among industrial plants, hemp and flax had been traditionally grown by peasants for weaving into cloth. The production of hemp was ten times greater than that of flax, and, despite some fluctuations, the proportion remained relatively constant for fifty years; it was probably the spread of manufactured textiles that kept down production of the otherwise superior flax. Although, in 1851, Transylvania was the third largest producer of tobacco in the empire, its climate, along with tough competition, prevented major expansion in this line. The two Transylvanian tobacco factories imported foreign supplies to supplement the high-quality tobacco {3-494.} produced locally. Hops had been grown in Transylvania for a long time. Breweries in Pest persisted in ignoring this source, and in the 1880s Transylvanian hops were exported to Germany, in part for re-export back to Hungary. Of the few hundred hectares devoted to hops in 1900, two thirds were in Saxon hands. Sugar beet production was spurred in the 1890s by the establishment of refineries in Botfalu and Marosvásárhely. At the turn of the century, sugar beet took up only 0.42 percent of Transylvania's sown area; the yield was exceptionally high in the neighbourhood of the refineries, and especially in Brassó County. This valuable plant made a signal contribution to the modernization of agriculture, for it was suitable for planting on fallow land, and it provided fodder as well.

Market gardening emerged early to serve the demand for vegetables of larger towns, notably in the Kolozsvár suburb of Hóstát, and in Aranyosszék villages that supplied Torda and the Mócföld. The 'wild carrot country' near Marosvásárhely produced carrots, parsley, onions, and melons on the Nyárád's alluvial soil. This densely populated area, poor in pastures and arable land, had been driven long ago to specialize in the labour-intensive farming of vegetables; its products were brought by farmers and market-women to the far reaches of Transylvania. The cultivation of vegetables was spread by migrating market gardeners. Thanks to the early development of expertise in this sector, the yield in certain products, notably potatoes and cabbage, was for a long time higher in Transylvania than in Hungary.

By the time of the Hungarian revolution, about 0.5 percent of productive land was given over to viticulture, including the old wine districts on the banks of the Küküllő rivers and around Gyulafehérvár and Nagyenyed. Although yields surpassed the Hungarian average at that time, by the end of the Bach period the quantity of wine produced had fallen to a quarter of the 1851 level;only later was the trend reversed. From the 1860s onwards, the vineyards of the neighbouring Szilágyság and Arad-Hegyalja {3-495.} found a receptive market and became famous for their red wines. New varieties of red wine, along with French and German varieties of riesling, came to be produced on large and medium estates. The traditions of viticulture were revived, notably by the skilled workers of the Szilágyság, and continued to be nurtured at the vinedresser school founded at Nagyenyed in 1881. The viticulturists of the most famous wine district, the banks of Küküllő, tended to stay with the old Transylvanian varieties. Saxons were among the first large-scale producers and wine merchants. A 'cellar association' was formed at Kolozsvár in 1865, and it later opened warehouses in Pest, Várad, and Brassó; although the large quantities of wine produced by the firm were presumably of even quality, local consumers mockingly claimed that it was doctored. Wine exports to Poland came to an end before the Compromise, and although a few carloads continued to be sent abroad, almost all of Transylvania's little-known wines had to be marketed within Hungary during the prosperous 1870s.

In Transylvania, as elsewhere, vineyards began to shrink in the 1880s as a consequence of phylloxera. The vine-killing insect appeared first in the Medgyes district, where the majority of the population earned its living from viticulture. Phylloxera, along with peronospora, devastated the Szilágyság in 1895, then spread more slowly in the central regions; of the 22,000 hectares that remained, it destroyed another 5,700 in 1889, and over the next few years many smaller, local vineyards fell victim. To assist the recovery, the state provided vine-shoots of hardier varieties at low cost, distributed copper sulphate, and offered tax concessions. Rising wine prices also served as an incentive, and within ten years viticulture had revived. In vineyards that benefited from expert replanting, the yield increased to 25–30 hectolitres per cadastral acre, which was twice as high as the best yield that could be expected a few decades earlier; a sustained yield at this level would guarantee the vineyard's profitability. The imperative of replanting allowed for the introduction {3-496.} of more resistant varieties, and the flavour of certain hallowed wines, such as the Bakator, Járdován, or Rózsamáli, became a memory.

Fruit production varied by region, though plums grew everywhere and accounted for two-thirds of all fruits produced at the turn of the century. Fruit was shipped mostly from southwest Transylvania and the banks of the Szamos River; the best melons were grown near Marosvásárhely. At the time of the Compromise, farmers from certain villages of the Marosszék and Szebenszék carted apples and pears as well as cherries to market; the wider distribution of fruits began in the 1870s. Statistical reports show 11 million fruit trees at the end of the century. By that time, efforts at fruit improvement were showing results, as did municipal tree nurseries, where even children learned new methods of cutting, grafting, and feeding seedlings. Seedlings from tree nurseries were planted in the peasants' gardens. New breeds appeared, while the better ones from the old breeds spread widely, sour cherry and apricot became more popular, and fruit trees were planted along roads as well. Marketing opportunities expanded with the appearance of cooperatives at the turn of the century. In 1900, Hungarian landowners established, together with Saxon and Romanian bankers, a canning plant for fruit at Déva. Ten years later, Romanians founded at Marosillye a fruit trading and distilling enterprise that earned a good reputation. Another example: In 1903, distributors shipped 300 carloads of apples from northern Transylvania to the cider-apple market at Stuttgart, where Hungarian fruit accounted for 30 percent of the sales.

Transylvania's natural endowment favoured silviculture. Forests covered close to two million hectares, half of all productive land; in 1849, this amounted to almost three hectares per head of population, whereas in Hungary proper the per capita area of woodlands was half a hectare, and in Moravia, a quarter hectare. Before the railways came, only woodlands close to the Maros and other rivers were profitable, for wood in large quantities had to be shipped by water transport.

{3-497.} The exploitation of forests underwent a historical change. For centuries, peasants had been encouraged to cut trees and clear woodlands; now their onetime source of livelihood was reserved for commercial exploitation and reforestation. The former landed gentry promptly sought compensation, first for the damage caused to woodlands by the revolution and the war of independence, and then for the losses caused by the countless peasants who made free with the lumber for the purpose of reconstruction; in the event, their claims brought meagre results. Generally speaking, the institution of private property was made secure in this period, but with respect to woodlands, the peasants' view of their rights did not undergo fundamental change; evidence for this can be found even in the grassroots movements of autumn 1918. Forests were regarded as an ancient common property that could be exploited — if only to a lesser degree — even by the poorest of the poor. Although, after the abolition of villeinage, the former landed gentry received a greater share of woodlands than of arable land, half of the forests were retained by the villages, as either municipal or collective property; for the peasant communities, the sale of lumber and grazing fees remained an important source of income. The free use of forests had an income-supplementing and stabilizing function even for farmers who tilled the land.

On state-owned woodlands, an early start was made at replacing the cut-and-clear method by more rational exploitation. A modern system of forest management came into force in the 1850s. The government's inclination to forestall the fragmentation of forest properties was revealed in an imperial law, enacted in 1858, which prescribed the reforestation of logged land. Forest laws in 1879 and 1898 confirmed the state's intention to supervise or take into its own hand the management of forests, which demanded much skill, patience, and monitoring. After 1900, woodlands held by municipalities and villages were taken over by the state.

Available data gives only a rough idea of the part played in the peasant economy by the nearly 700,000 hectares of forests belonging {3-498.} to municipalities and other jointly-owned woodlands. One indication of their importance is that at the turn of the century, 210,000 cattle and 300,000 sheep grazed in woodlands that were held in common. At that time, the thirteen municipalities of the Barcaság owned woodlands valued at 5 million crowns, and they earned 174,000 crowns just from the sale of wood.

In the border regions formerly designated as military districts, the extensive woodlands that had been part of the feudal system remained in common ownership: for example, the seventy Romanian villages around Karánsebes owned 22,000 hectares, and the former Székely frontier guards at Csík, 35,000 hectares. The forty-four village communities that were home to Naszód's Romanian regiment engaged in thirty-year long litigation with the treasury, local landowners, and neighbouring Saxon municipalities before finally winning title to 156,000 hectares of forests and 48,000 hectares of mountain pastures. In the meantime, the villagers could not prevent timber merchants from exploiting huge swathes of the forest. As noted, in the 1890s, the state placed woodlands under the supervision of the forest administration at Beszterce; 34,000 hectares were allocated to the peasants for wood and grazing, and the remainder was put in order; roads, railways, and sawmills were built, cutting was rationalized, and by the end of the period some 23,000 hectares of cleared land had been reforested. The municipalities received a share (in 1907, 271,000 crowns) of the rising revenues, and they allocated most of it to Romanian cultural projects. While this was going on, in other places, many landowning aristocrats were hampered in their efforts at rational forest management by peasants who were short of pastures and grazed their animals on recently replanted woodlands.

At the turn of the century, a major forest industry began to take shape through the activities of well-financed firms. Lumber became a big business, and even major landowners suffered from the competition of the huge new enterprises. To be sure, sometimes it was {3-499.} the landowners who drove small producers to the brink of bankruptcy and, by acquiring the latter's plant, formed large lumber companies. These new enterprises could have a great impact on the peasantry in regions such as the Székelyföld, where half the population depended on forests for its livelihood. When a sizeable swath of forest was marked for cutting, hundreds of woodcutters and carters came from the neighbouring villages, to fell trees, and to cart logs to the sawmills, then planks to the railway station.

The peasants' collective ownership of forests began to erode at the end of the century. Lumber merchants, especially in the Székelyföld, would buy up smaller holdings of woodlands, and as soon as they had assembled 'forest rights' in excess of 57 hectares (100 cadastral acres), they could request the liquidation of the collective property and set about the business of felling trees. Thus, for example, merchants acquired 5,000 hectares of woodlands out of the 7,500 held by a village in Csík. In the four Székely counties, a full third of collective property had changed hands in this fashion by 1907. The enclosure of forests largely excluded the landless from woodlands, thus reducing their ability to raise animals, and their difficulties were only partially compensated by the new employment opportunities. Still, collective forest properties did not all disappear, and small, peasant-operated sawmills continued to operate until the end of the period; they supplied raw material for a handicraft industry that produced a great variety of goods, from spoons and shingles to casks and beams, and for which Transylvania was renowned throughout the monarchy.

Transylvania's natural endowment also favoured stock breeding. Contemporaries hoped that topographic similarities and the large existing animal stock might lead to the creation of an 'eastern Switzerland.' In 1900, municipal and other collectively-held pastures covered nearly 450,000 hectares, or half of Transylvania's grazing land. However, progress in this sector was determined not by wishful thinking but by the producers' priorities, market {3-500.} demand, and the fate of grazing lands. A long and difficult process of blending traditional and modern approaches led to the radical transformation of stock-breeding in Transylvania by 1914.

Shepherding had long played a major role in Transylvania's economy. In the division of labour within the Habsburg monarchy, the task of stock-breeding was largely assumed by this province, and in particular by the Romanians in the southern region. The traditional Romanian practice of shepherding led eventually to the creation of village communities, such as Resinár and Szelistye in the Nagyszeben district; and these peasant communities had a broader impact, for they gave birth to generations of Romanian intellectuals. In 1848–49, free range grazing was still the prevailing practice. In the summer, most animals were grazed on distant pastures; only draught animals were kept near the villages. For want of better fodder, straw and glume was fed to the animals in winter, and spring found them in a weakened condition. Free-range grazing promoted uncontrolled breeding, and although the large stock was depleted during the revolutionary wars, and then by the eastern cattle-plague, the losses were largely made up by 1857 (see tables 15 and 16). When market demand exceeded Transylvania's supply of cattle, and huge herds from the Romanian principalities were driven across the province towards Pest and Vienna, some of the animals were sold on the spot.

Table 15: Livestock of Transylvania, 1850–1911

* With the Partium.
150 692
181 422
188 264
172 012
190 675
185 891
813 431
951 793
927 371
1 003 289
1 043 584
1 164 476
1 178 170
58 310
76 610
98 041
104 364
120 599
2 250 000
1 897 171
1 840 961
1 282 812
1 606097
1 650 622
2 104 431
146 271
191 415
117 031
127 219
117 637
124 799
650 000
499 948
501 751
591 672
771 001
601 876

{3-501.} Table 16: Distribution of the land of Transylvania according to branches of cultivation, 1851–1895

Total unproductive

Source: Gy. BENDA, "Statisztikai adatok a magyar mezőgazdaság történetéhez 1767-1867" (Budapest, 1973) In: M. Stat. Közlemények. Új folyam, Vol. 15.

Transhumance — the seasonal migration of sheep to grazing grounds — was a tradition peculiar to Transylvania. In 1848, transhumance was of itself an important branch of the economy, and it was regarded as a distinct commercial activity, although its scale is unknown. Like all staples, transhumance declined in significance as the economy developed and became diversified, although it received new impetus after the abolition of villeinage, when a shortage of grazing land made distant pastures attractive again. In the mountainous regions of southern Transylvania, especially around Nagyszeben and Brassó, shepherds — known as the 'plucky fellows' — took the rough-coated sheep of wealthy farmers and ordinary peasants to pastures, in summer on the high plateaus of the Carpathians, and in winter, on the lower reaches of the Danube, in Turkish-ruled Dobrudja and southern Bessarabia, or on the marshlands of the Banat. In the period before 1848, a million sheep and smaller numbers of cattle and horses were driven along rough paths {3-502.} over the Carpathian mountains. This practice was economical, for shepherds had to pay only a small fee for virtually unrestricted grazing. Although the absolutistic administration required passports even for domestic travel, procedures at the border were relaxed for the shepherds engaged in transhumance, so that, in the early 1860s, it was easier for a shepherd than, say, for Transylvania's Catholic bishop to obtain an exit permit. After the Compromise, the government maintained the compulsory passport system — mainly for the revenue it generated, one forint per passport issued — and shepherds were not exempted from the rule. In practice, neither Hungary nor Romania tried to interfere in minor trafficking by shepherds; the latter, who made four or five journeys a year, were not charged duty on newborn animals and the dairy products that they brought back. The Austro–Hungarian–Romanian customs and trade agreement concluded in 1875 was marked by a similarly tolerant spirit. Ten years later, the tariff war with Romania gave rise temporarily to more restrictive practices.

The intensification of farming, the shrinkage of winter pastures due to population pressures, and a steady fall in wool prices all conspired against the practice of transhumance. The shepherds were first squeezed out from Bulgarian territories; then, in Wallachia, the expansion of grain production forced them to pay rent for the remaining pastures. Horse- and cattle-grazing swoon dwindled. In earlier times, a flock of 600 sheep would be divided into three only at the wintering quarters on the Lower Danube; now, the separation into smaller herds took place soon after departure, in the foothills of the Carpathians, to facilitate transit through the increasingly cultivated Wallachian lands. Shepherds in search of pastures journeyed as far as the Crimea; within Transylvania, at the turn of the century they were still seeking out grazing land in the central regions, reducing the range of transhumance to no more than 100–200 kilometres. The number of sheep taken to distant pastures fell to under half a million at the end of the 1850s, while the {3-503.} number of shepherds engaged in transhumance, once around 20,000–25,000, fell to 10,000 by 1879, and many Romanian shepherds settled down in the Dobrudja. Nevertheless, the traditional peasant demand for wool, meat, and dairy products allowed this archaic form of stock-breeding to survive at the margin of the market economy. There is no reliable data on the scale of transhumance in later years, but the statistical office in Bucharest regarded it as a significant economic factor as late as 1900, and, in 1909, Romania felt bound to impose restrictions on the practice.

Although, on a national scale, the number of sheep began to decline in the 1860s, Transylvania presented a different pattern. There, after an initial fall, the number rose steeply after the turn of the century; between 1895 and 1911, the stock of sheep rose from 1.6 million to 2.1 million (and nearly doubled in Hunyad County). The growth reflected the role played by sheep in the stabilization of peasant farming, for more than 90 percent of the stock was raised on small and dwarf farms. More sheep were raised for their meat than before, and the cigája breed, with a finer wool, began to spread, although flocks of brown racka remained the most common sight on hillsides.

The decline of extensive cattle-breeding accompanied the disintegration of traditional farming, the parcelling up of common pastures, and the shrinkage of fallow land. These changes came more slowly in Transylvania than in central and western Hungary. Cattle prices rose, so that in the mid-1850s a good ox was worth 150 forints, and a cow, 100 forints, and the upward trend continued, apart from a brief reversal in the 1880s. Transylvania became the country's main provider of draught-oxen; it was profitable to ship these white-and-grey cattle to Hungary proper, where landowning gentry were reequipping their estates. The first Transylvanian railways carried many cattle and swine to Pest, although by 1868 this traffic was affected by the decline in animal stock. In the 1850s–1870s, quarantines and border controls mitigated the effects {3-504.} of the eastern cattle plague, but they could not keep it out. Putting pastures under cultivation reduced the scope for breeding animals in the traditional manner, and the forest law of 1879 aimed to exclude animals from woods and clearings, although even at the turn of the century some 20 percent of cattle, sheep, and horses grazed in public woodlands. In some places, a conservative attachment to three-course rotation delayed more intensive stock-breeding in stables; in other places, even traditional stock-breeding was jeopardized when the village leased fallow land to sheep breeders from other districts. Further difficulty was caused by the emergence of a nationwide market, which evened out prices and did not allow for the higher cost of breeding incurred in the harsher winter conditions of much of Transylvania.

Progress lay in the introduction of new breeds, a measure that enjoyed state support and was adopted by the Saxon agricultural association in the 1870s. In 1884, there were 47,000 head of cattle from foreign breeds in Transylvania; by 1895 the number had doubled. The breeds imported from Austria and Switzerland had a faster growth rate, gained greater weight, and often produced 1,000 litres more of milk than native breeds; thus they were better suited to the new market, which put a premium on 'triple utilization' (for milk, meat, and draught). Accordingly, the cost of the foreign breeds was on average 50 percent higher than that of the native white-grey breed. Most agricultural experts expected optimistically that this innovation would bring about a revival of Transylvanian stock-breeding. However, the decline in the aggregate animal stock was only reversed in the early years of the 20th century. Between the two general animal censuses, in 1895 and 1911, the stock grew by a mere 1.2 percent (and actually shrank in Brassó, Háromszék and Udvarhely counties). However, within that period, from 1904 to 1911, the cattle stock increased 7.4 percent, or 81,000 head, and the proportion of western breeds rose to 40 percent, while that of Transylvanian breeds fell by a third. Transylvania lagged far behind the rest of the country in introducing new breeds, a fact due not {3-505.} only to its comparative backwardness but also to its particular pattern of economic development. If cattle-breeding can be regarded as 'agriculture's heavy industry,' then cattle-breeding in Transylvania was the 'locomotive factory' of Hungarian agriculture, for, as noted, the province specialized in the production of draught-oxen for the national market. The rapid growth in Hungarian cattle exports after the turn of the century was no doubt partly responsible for the comparatively low level of stock; conversely, that low level made for comparatively fewer shipments from Transylvania to Austria and Switzerland, and for difficulties in supplying 'quality beef' to even less demanding butchers in Pest. An attempt in the 1870s to establish a big local meat processing plant met with failure. The testing of breeds conducted at the turn of the century revealed that the traditional Transylvanian cattle were not only much better draught animals, but also — particularly in the case of the hardy mountain breed — required less care and were ten times more resistant to disease than western breeds. Thus the maintenance and improvement of this native breed had nationwide utility and was essential for the peasantry in some regions of Transylvania. The agriculture ministry earmarked the Székelyföld and the counties of Nagy- and Kis-Küküllő and Alsó-Fehér for the preservation of this breed, and measures were taken for its improvement (see table 17).

Table 17: The cattle population according to composition of species, 1870–1911

Year Hungarian Foreign Indian buffalo Total
1870 85.0 8.7 6.3 100.0
1880 88.1 3.1 7.6 100.0** 1.2% beef cattle (no type specified)
1884 86.0 4.6 9.4 100.0
1895 73.0 18.0 9.0 100.0
1911 48.1 41.7 10.2 100.0

{3-506.} Thus, beginning in the late 1880s, cattle-breeding in Transylvania underwent a fundamental change. The cattle plague was brought under control thanks to strict veterinary measures; when there was an outbreak, the villages at risk were immediately quarantined, the animals were put down, and the owners received compensation. The creation of animal registration zones constrained illegal shipping, although, occasionally, clever smugglers doctored cattle licences to suit the species, colour, and age of animals. This was one of the reasons why, in some frontier districts, the authorities insisted that only easily distinguishable, red-spotted cattle be bred. After 1900, the state began to provide more aid in the form of loans, breed stock, and subsidies for the improvement of pastures.

Traditions, market forces, and government intervention all had an impact on the evolution of cattle breeding in Transylvania; its development allowed for a diversity that accorded with local needs. Although in a national context the region continued to be distinguished by a low density of livestock, the cattle stock raised on peasant farms was higher than the national average; for example, in Fogaras County, there were 678.2 head of cattle per 1000 inhabitants, one of the highest ratios in Europe.

Buffalo, a Transylvanian speciality, was traditionally favoured on manorial estates because of its exceptionally nutritious milk. Farmers in southern Transylvania continued to breed buffalo throughout this period. In 1870, of the total stock of 50,000 head, two thirds were found in the area south of the Nagy-Küküllő River, and half were owned by Saxons. The state farm at Sárkány began to breed buffalo in 1879, and helped to popularize the species. Of greater importance was the utility of buffalo to the lowest socio-economic strata, for it was the cheapest draught animal. In the last third of the century, a pair of young buffalo could be bought for the price of a fattened pig; the former survived on straw and dry corn-stalk, could be put to the yoke earlier, and had the strength to break up virgin land. Buffalo became the peasants' all-purpose draught {3-507.} animal. They were used for ploughing and, in keeping with the slow rhythm of life at the time, for pulling carts; originating in warmer latitudes, buffalos were susceptible to cold, and they were therefore covered in winter with a 'coat.' Romanian peasants were instrumental in spreading the use of buffalo to northern and western Transylvania; in the counties of Kolozs and Szolnok-Doboka, their number rose from 14,000 head in 1904 to 36,000 in 1908. Around Kalotaszeg, the breeding of buffalo began towards the end of the century, and this species, together with the red-spotted cattle, gradually replaced the traditional white cattle in the period leading up to the end of the world war. Ethnographic studies reveal that more affluent farmers at first disdained the buffalo, then, after 1900, began surreptitiously to adopt it. For a long time, Hungarian farmers in the prosperous Halmágy district did not yoke buffalo for fear of incurring ridicule. Nevertheless, even Hungarian farmers had come to acknowledge the value of buffalo milk, which earlier had been reserved for small children and cats; demand for this milk in Kolozsvár prompted the breeding of buffalo in the city's hinterland and brought a new source of income to several villages.

Buffalo served a historical function in this period, for they enabled dwarf farmers, who could not afford the traditional and more demanding draught animals, to become independent of ox-owning farmers. They could obtain a modest but fairly reliable income from buffalo milk, earn money from carting, and thus survive even on a small parcel of land. As a result, the popularity of buffalo spread; between 1895 and 1911, their number increased by 20 percent, to over 120,000 head.

The breeding of horses was stimulated by various factors, not all of a purely economic nature. Horses were used for cartage and pulling ploughs, but, on large and medium estates, they were also a symbol of social status. The running of a horse at the Kolozsvár racetrack brought social recognition, even if for decades the top prizes were regularly won by horses bred outside Transylvania. {3-508.} Whatever the state of the economy, the army continued to purchase horses. With the arrival of railways, long distance carting declined, but the growth of freight and passenger traffic increased the need for local, horse-drawn transport. The demand remained for carting between factories, wood-mills, railway stations, and villages that were not on a railway line; and visitors to remote spas normally had to take a long ride by horse-drawn carriage on the last leg of their journey. Many Székelys earned a living by carting wood and acidulous water. The southeastern counties of Nagyküküllő, Udvarhely, Brassó, Háromszék and Csík had more horses than the national average, because of tradition, and because conditions favoured the cultivation of oats. Overall, the stock of horses ceased to grow around 1900, and in Transylvania the numbers registered a slight decline between 1895 and 1911. The composition of the horse-stock changed as well. Increasingly, lighter, mountain horses were found mainly in alpine villages, while bigger, cold-blooded draught-horses became more common in the Saxon villages. Stock improvement was served by two stud farms established after the Compromise; the one at Fogaras specialized in Lippizaner horses, while the other, at Kolozstorda, was responsible for the Transylvanian breeds; the stud farms at Dés, Homoród, and Sepsiszentgyörgy served the needs of the army.

With regard to pig-breeding, the old ways of raising swine in the open faded away, and new breeds were introduced at the end of the century. The stock of swine, some 500,000 in the 1850s-1870s, had doubled by 1895, although it was subsequently decimated by swine-fever. The 22 percent decrease suggested by the 1911 survey may be exaggerated, but the herds in villages did get smaller, and the stocks recovered to their former level only on the eve of World War I. In replenishing the stocks. the favoured breeds were the curly-bristled mangalica and those from Bazna, which gave good-quality meat. The growing demand for fresh pork came mainly from cities; in this period, swine were bred in villages not for fresh {3-509.} meat but for smoked products, bacon, and lard. Custom and level of development determined the regional popularity of pigs. The stocks were smallest in the counties of Beszterce, Hunyad, Maros-Torda, and the highest in Kis-Küküllő, Nagy-Küküllő, Szeben, and Fogaras.

Poultry was the meat most readily available to the poorer peasants. As more pastures were placed under cultivation, geese flocks decreased in number, and the quantitative predominance of chicken was reinforced. The first survey, in 1884, indicated that Transylvania's poultry stock was comparatively small — 62.2 per square kilometre, half the ratio in Transdanubia; the highest density, 144.8 per square kilometre, was in Kis-Küküllő County. The growing demand for eggs after 1900 stimulated the spread of new breeds of poultry (see table 18).

Table 18: Distribution of livestock among the agricultural types, 1884–1911

Animal 1884 1895 1911
peasant medium and big under 100 cadaster acres above 100 cadaster acres under 100 cadaster acres above 100 cadaster acres
Horse 78.5 21.5 90.8 9.2 92.0 8.0
Cattle 81.3 18.7 89.6 10.4 92.2 7.8
Sheep 84.5 15.5 91.9 8.9 90.6 9.4
Goat 91.7 8.3 98.2 1.2 98.3 1.7
Pig 74.3 25.7 89.3 10.7 89.5 10.5
Animals measured by a unit of live weight of 500 kg 80.7 19.3 - - - -

The regional distribution of livestock is an aggregation of the patterns for individual species. The Saxons held the largest stock of cattle, horse, and pigs; sheep-breeding was a virtual monopoly of {3-510.} the Romanians. More livestock was bred in Romanian than in Hungarian districts, and the cattle gave more milk, although the average weight of cattle was greater in Hungary. At the turn of the century, the stock of the main breeds stood at slightly over 1.5 million; the highest concentration of livestock was found in the counties of Fogaras, Szeben, and Brassó, while comparatively few animals were bred in northern Transylvania and the northern part of the Székelyföld. Peasants held over 80 percent of the animal stock in 1895, a proportion that remained constant until the end of the period. The number of cattle on large estates amounted to a third, and on medium-sized estates, to a half of that commonly found on estates of similar size in Transdanubia; on the other hand, on farms of 3–12 hectares (5–20 cadastral acres), the average was higher than in Transdanubia. Large estates enjoyed an advantage in product quality and marketing, and their output commanded on average a premium of 30 percent over the prices of smaller producers. The principal merit of the large estates lay in their improvement of the breeds. Meanwhile, the peasantry bred and nurtured on their shrinking pastures the bulk of Transylvania's livestock.

Increasingly, the agricultural sector produced goods for the national and foreign markets. The output of large estates was distributed by wholesalers, but market towns, large and small, retained their economic significance and remained a venue for the festive rituals of peasant life. Grain was sold at almost every such market; the most renowned grain market at this time, in Marosludas, presented the products of the Mezőség. There were regional livestock markets at Bánffyhunyad, Naszód, Székelykeresztúr, and Hátszeg. The most famous one was held at Medgyes, on the occasion of the annual feast of St. Margaret; sheep were sold on the first two days, cattle on the third and fourth, while horses and buffalo changed hands on the last two days of the fair.