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The Fading Art of Transhumance

Transhumance is the ancient process of seasonallt shepherding animals through large tracts of fresh pasture. Back before our animals were fed grain and kept inside warehouses or fenced in permanent dirt lots all day, shepherds would guide ruminant animals across public and private lands to consume forage at the optimal times of the year. In the summer the animals were brought to higher elevations as grasses and shrubs matured in the low country. Before humans came along animals would just do it themselves.

In Abruzzo we're staying at La Porta dei Parchi, which is owned and operated by Nunzio Marcelli and his team of farmers, shepherds and cheesemakers. We'll be participating in a couple days of transhumance starting tomorrow morning. We got a little practice yesterday morning with the goats and rams, check out the pictures below.

At La Porta dei Parchi transhumance also represents the “drying off” period for the sheep. “Drying off” is when the farmer stops taking milk from the lactating animal (an ewe in this case). The ewe is given time to recover and prepare for giving birth, after which time she will be milked again. So, we are basically taking about 200 ewes on a long walk through the Abruzzese mountains where there is ample, lush forage. On Sunday we will return home and the shepherds will remain with the sheep for a few months. At the end of the fall season the shepherds walk the ewes back for winter grazing in the valley and birthing in the late winter/early spring. 

There's still a few examples of transhumance in the states, primarily in the southwest and pacific northwest. A good example is James Ranch in Colorado. The James Ranch cowboys drive their cow herd through fresh mountain pastures on leased land. It used to be tradition to use public lands, but conservationists and other preservation efforts have severely limited that practice, which is ironic because the desert prairies cannot thrive without the disturbance of animal hooves. It turns out that animals were long a part of the ecosystem before humans started trying to preserve it... 

If you're interested, check out the movie "Sweetgrass", it's all about transhumance in Montana.

Here’s a few shots from our walk to pasture yesterday, followed by a video of last year's transhumance.

Herding the goats and rams up to the pastures

Sheep dogs taking a well deserved rest

A video from Maurizio Casalini on Vimeo Un giorno da Pastori .


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