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Not to be confused with Transhumanism.
This article is about seasonal movement of people and livestock with fixed summer and winter stations. For movement of people and livestock in an irregular pattern, see nomadic pastoralism.
A seter in Gudbrandsdal, Norway. It is above the tree line in the mountains and is used for summer pasture.

Transhumance is the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. In montane regions (vertical transhumance) it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Only the herds travel, with the people necessary to tend them. In contrast, horizontal transhumance is more susceptible to being disrupted by climatic, economic or political change.[1]

Traditional or fixed transhumance occurs or has occurred throughout the inhabited world, particularly Europe and Southwest Asia. It is often of high importance to pastoralist societies, the dairy products of transhumance flocks and herds (milk, butter, yogurt and cheese) often forming much of the diet of such populations. In many languages there are words for the higher summer pastures, and frequently these words are found as place names: e.g. Hafod in Wales.

The term "transhumance" is also occasionally used in correlation with nomadic pastoralism – migration of people and livestock over longer distances.


The term derives from the Latin trans 'across' and humus 'ground'.

Worldwide transhumance patterns[edit]

Moving sheep up along a road in the Massif Central, France

Transhumance developed on every inhabited continent. Although there are substantial cultural and technological variations, the underlying practices for taking advantage of remote seasonal pastures are similar.


The Balkans[edit]

In the Balkans, the Sarakatsani, Aromanians and Yörüks traditionally spent summer months in the mountains and returned to lower plains in the winter. Until the mid-20th century, borders between Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were relatively unobstructed. In summer, some groups went as far north as the Balkan Mountains while they would spend the winter on warmer plains in the vicinity of the Aegean Sea. The Morlachs were a population of Vlach shepherds who lived in the Dinaric Alps (western Balkans in modern use), constantly migrating in search of better pastures for their sheep flocks. But as national states appeared in a former domain of the Ottoman Empire, new state borders came to separate the summer and winter habitats of many of the pastoral groups.



In most parts of Wales, farm workers and sometimes the farmer would spend the summer months at a hillside summer house or hafod (pronounced [ˈhavɔd]) where the livestock would graze. Then during the late autumn they would return down to the valleys with the farm workers, staying at the main residence or hendref ([ˈhɛndrɛv]).[2]

This system of transhumance has not been practised for almost a century although it did continue in Snowdonia after it died out elsewhere in Wales, and remnants of the practice can still be found in rural farming communities in the region to this day.[3] Both "Hafod" and "Hendref" survive in Wales as place names and house names. Today, cattle and sheep on many hill farms are still often transported to lowland winter pastures, but now by truck.


In many hilly and mountainous areas of Scotland, agricultural workers spent summer months in bothies[4] or shielings (airigh in Scottish Gaelic). Major drovers' roads in the eastern part of Scotland include the Cairnamounth, Elsick Mounth and Causey Mounth. This practice has largely died out, but was practised within living memory in the Hebridean Islands and in the Scottish Highlands. Today much transhumance is carried out by truck, with upland flocks being sent under agistment to lower-lying pasture during winter.


In southern England, where the climate is mild and the hills low, transhumance historically took the opposite form to that in Switzerland. Cattle grazed on dry, sandy heath on the hills in winter and rich, low-lying flood-meadows in summer once flood-water receded[citation needed]. The Weald, as another example, was utilised for the grazing of pigs; this type was known as pannage. While this form of pastoralism sees little use today, it has left its mark on English toponymy, as attested by nearby paired place names such as Winterfold Heath and Somersbury Wood.[5]

Transhumance may also have been practised by the Picts.


In Ireland transhumance is known as booleying.[6] Transhumance pastures were known as Booley, Boley, Bouley, Buaile and Boola. These names survive in many place names such as Buaile h'Anraoi in Kilcommon parish, Erris, North Mayo, where the landscape still clearly shows the layout of the rundale system of agriculture. The livestock, usually cattle, was moved from a permanent lowland village to summer pastures in the mountains. This transfer alleviated pressure on the growing crops and provided fresh pasture for the livestock. Mentioned in the Brehon Laws, booleying would have dated back to the Early Medieval period or even earlier. The practice was widespread in the west of Ireland up until the time of the Second World War, when seasonal migration to Scotland and England superseded this ancient system together with more permanent emigration to the USA.

The Iberian peninsula[edit]

Transhumance Celebration in Madrid on 31 October 2010

There is an ancient tradition in the Iberian peninsula of raising livestock in open fields, as evidenced by classical Roman references and archaeological remains such as the Bulls of Guisando. (Free range horse and cattle herding would later be brought to the Americas and would diverge into the gaucho and cowboy practices, both with rich social cultures of their own, with stock breeding mainly for meat and leather rather than milk.)

The raising of large herds of pigs and sheep in transhumant style was established by the early Middle Ages, as evidenced by strict laws in documents of the Mesta. It may have an even longer history based in classical methods developed through an earlier politically and legally unified peninsula during the later Roman Empire: some Visigothic records indicate continuity. Drovers' roads continue to exist, including a well-known one through Madrid.[7] Some bee-keepers work in transhumant style in Spain.

In some high valleys of the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian Mountains, transhumant herding has been the main, or only, economic activity. Regulated passes and pasturage have been distributed among different valleys and communities according to the seasonal range of use and community jurisdiction. Unique social groups associated with the transhumant lifestyle are sometimes identified as a remnant of an older ethnic culture now surviving in isolated minorities such as the "Pasiegos" in Cantabria, "Agotes" in Navarre, and "Vaqueiros de alzada" in Asturias.

The Pyrenees[edit]

Herd of horses on summer mountain pasture in the Pyrenees

Transhumance in the Pyrenees involves relocation of livestock (cows, sheep, horses) to high mountains for summer months, because farms in the lowland are too small to support a larger herd all year round. The mountain period starts in late May or early June, and ends in early October. Until the 1970s transhumance concerned mainly dairy cows, and cheese-making was important activity. In some regions, nearly all members of a family decamped to higher mountains with their cows, living in rudimentary stone cabins. That system, which evolved during the Middle Ages, lasted into the 20th century but broke down under pressure from industrialization with a concomitant depopulation of the countryside.

The Mont Perdu region of the Pyrenees is a UNESCO World Heritage Site by virtue of its association with the transhumance system of agriculture.[8]


An old seter in Norway in wintertime

In Scandinavia, transhumance is still practised, although arrival of motorized vehicles has changed its character. The transhumance by Sami (reindeer) differs from the transhumance described here.

Common mountain or forest pasture used for transhumance in summer is called seter or bod / bua. The same term is used for a mountain cabin which was used as a summer residence. In summer (usually late June), livestock is moved to a mountain farm, often quite distant from a home farm, preserving meadows in valleys for use as hay. Livestock were typically tended for summer by girls and younger women, who milked and made cheese. Bulls usually remain at the home farm. As autumn approaches and grazing is in short supply, livestock are returned to a home farm.

In Sweden, this system was predominantly used in Värmland, Dalarna, Härjedalen, Jämtland, Hälsingland, Medelpad and Ångermanland.

It was common to most regions in Norway due to its highly mountainous nature. "The Gudbrandsdal area includes lateral valleys such as Gausdal, Heidal, Vinstradal, and Ottadal. That area comprises lowland parishes 200 m above sea-level and mountain parishes 800 m above sea-level, fertile soil in the main valley and barren summits in Rondane and Dovrefjell. Forests surround those farms, but higher up, woods give way to a treeless mountain plateau. This is the seterfjell, or summer farm region, once of vital importance both as summer pastureland and for haymaking."[9]

While previously many farms had their own seter, today it is more usual for several farmers to share a modernized common seter (fellesseter). Most of those old seters have been left to decay or are used as cabins.

The name for the common mountain pasture in most Scandinavian languages derives from the old Norse term setr. In (Norwegian) the term is sæter or seter, in (Swedish) säter. The place name appears in Sweden in several forms Säter and Sätra and as a suffix: -säter, -sätra, -sätt and -sättra. Those names appear extensively over Sweden with a centre in the Mälaren basin and in Östergötland. The surname "Satter" is derived from these words.

In the heartland of the Swedish transhumance region the most used term is bod or bua (the word still existing in English as booth), nowadays standarized to fäbod.

Caucasus and northern Anatolia[edit]

Summer village of Gorgoras, Çaykara district of Trabzon province, Turkey

In the heavily forested Caucasus and Pontic mountain ranges various peoples still practice transhumance in varying degrees. Wind from the Black Sea brings moist air up the steep valleys and creates fertile grasslands up to 2.5 kilometers and a rich tundra at heights of up to 3,5 kilometres during a relatively short summer. Villages are divided in two, three or even four distinct settlements (one for each season) at different heights of a mountain slope. Much of this rural life came to an end during the first half of the 20th century, as the Soviet and Kemalist governments tried to create a different society, based on (mostly urban) development, instead of maintaining traditions. Migration from the Pontic mountains to cities in Turkey and western Europe and from the northern Caucasus to Moscow in the second half of the 20th century decreased the number of people living in transhumance drastically. However, there are still at least tens of thousands of people living in this way, on the northern and southwestern slopes of the Caucasus, in the lesser Caucasus in Armenia, and in the Turkish Black Sea region.

The migrational pattern from the transhumance existence has also persisted within migrated communities, for example the Pontic Greeks visiting the area and the monastery Sumela, and Turks from Europe building a summer retreat on the yayla grazing land.


Transhumance practices are found in temperate areas, above ~1000 m in the HimalayaHindu Kush area (referred to below as Himalaya); and the cold semi-arid zone north of the Himalaya, through the Tibetan Plateau and northern China to the Eurasian Steppe.

Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan all have vestigial transhumance cultures. In Mongolia, transhumance is used to avoid livestock loses during harsh winters known as zuds. For regions of the Himalaya transhumance still provides mainstay for several near-subsistence economies – for example, that of Zanskar in northwest India, Van Gujjars in Western Himalayas, and Kham Magar in western Nepal, although in some cases distances may be great enough to qualify as nomadic pastoralism.

Another example of this way of life is the Bakhtiari tribe of Iran. All along the Zagros mountain range from Azerbaijan to the Arabian Sea, pastoral tribes move back and forth with their herds every year between their home in the valley and one in the foothills."[10]


In Kyrgyzstan, transhumance practices, which never died out during the Soviet period, have undergone a resurgence in the difficult economic times following independence in 1991. Transhumance is integral to Kyrgyz national culture. Felt tents used on these summer pastures (or jailoo) is known as the yurt and its main structural component is symbolised on their national flag. Those shepherds prize fermented mare's milk drink kumis; a tool used in its production lends its name to the country's capital city, Bishkek.


Examples of fixed transhumance are found in the North Governorate of Lebanon. Towns and villages located in the Qadisha valley are at an average altitude of 1,400 meters. Some settlements, like Ehden and Kfarsghab, are used during summer periods from beginning of June till mid-October. Inhabitants move in October to coastal towns situated at an average of 200 meters above sea level. The transhumance is motivated by agricultural activities (historically by the mulberry silkworm culture). The main crops in the coastal towns are olive, grape and citrus. For the mountain towns, the crops are summer fruits, mainly apples and pears. Other examples of transhumance exist in Lebanon.


The Qashqai – the story of a Turkic tribe of southern Iran[edit]

"To survive, nomads have always been obliged to fight. They lead a wandering life and do not accumulate documents and archives.

But in the evenings, around fires that are burning low, the elders will relate striking events, deeds of valour in which the tribes pride themselves. Thus the epic tale is told from father to son, down through the ages.

The tribes of Central Asia were forced by wars, strife, upheavals, to abandon their steppes and seek new pasture grounds. . . so the Huns, the Visigoths, and before them the Aryans, had invaded India, Iran, Europe. The Turks, forsaking the regions where they had dwelt for centuries, started moving down through the Turan and Caspian depressions, establishing themselves eventually on the frontiers of the Iranian Empire and in Asia Minor. We are of Turkish language and race; some say that we are descendants of the Turkish Ghuzz Tribe (Oğuz Turks), known for its cruelty and fierceness, and that our name is derived from the Turkish "Kashka" meaning "a horse with a white star on its forehead". Others think this name indicates that we came from Kashgar in the wake of Hulagu. Others still that it means "fugitive".

Though these versions differ, we believe that the arrival of our Tribes in Iran coincided with the conquests of Jengis Khan, in the thirteenth century. Soon after, our ancestors established themselves on the slopes of the Caucasus. We are descendants of the "Tribe of the Ak Koyunlu" the "Tribe of the White Sheep" famed for being the only tribe in history capable of inflicting a defeat on Tamerlane. For centuries we dwelt on the lands surrounding Ardebil, but, in the first half of the sixteenth century we settled in southern Persia, Shah Ismail having asked our warriors to defend this part of the country against the intrusions of the Portuguese. Thus, our Tribes came to the Province of Fars, near the Persian Gulf, and are still only separated from it by a ridge of mountains, the Makran.

The yearly migrations of the Kashkai, seeking fresh pastures, drive them from the south to the north, where they move to their summer quarters "Yeilak" in the high mountains; and from the north to the south, to their winter quarters, "Qishlaq". In summer, the Kashkai flocks graze on the slopes of the Kuh-è-Dinar; a group of mountains from 12,000 to 15,000 feet, that are part of the Zagros chain.

In autumn the Kashkai break camp, and by stages leave the highlands. They winter in the warmer regions near Firuzabad, Kazerun, Jerrè, Farashband, on the banks of the river Mound, till, in April, they start once more on their yearly trek. The migration is organised and controlled by the Kashkai Chief. The Tribes carefully avoid villages and towns such as Shiraz and Isfahan, lest their flocks, estimated at seven million head, might cause serious damage. The annual migration is the largest of any Persian tribe.

It is difficult to give exact statistics, but we believe that the Tribes now number 400,000 men, women and children."

— Told to Marie-Tèrése Ullens de Schooten by the 'Il Begh' Malek Mansur, brother of the 'Il Khan', Nasser Khan, chief of the Kashkai Tribes, in 1953.[11]



In Australia, which has a large station (i.e., ranch) culture, stockmen provide the labor to move the herds to seasonal pastures.

Transhumant grazing is an important aspect of the cultural heritage of the Australian Alps, an area of which has been included on the Australian National Heritage List. It started in this region in the 1830s when the alpine plains were used to graze stock during the summer months when pasture lower down was poor. The practice continued during the 19th and 20th centuries and made a considerable contribution to Australia's pastoral industry. Transhumant grazing created a distinctive way of life that is an important part of Australia's pioneering history and culture. There are features in the area that are reminders of transhumant grazing including abandoned stockman's huts, stock yards and stock routes.[12]


North and northeast Africa[edit]

The Berber people of North Africa were traditionally farmers, living in mountains relatively close to the Mediterranean coast, or oasis dwellers. However, the Tuareg and Zenaga of the southern Sahara practice nomadic transhumance, whereas some groups, such as the Chaouis, practiced fixed transhumance. The Somalis and the Afars of Northeast Africa likewise traditionally practice nomadic transhumance.

Sub-Saharan Africa[edit]

Maasai are semi-nomadic people located primarily in Kenya and northern Tanzania who have pastoral transhumance cultures that revolve around their cattle. That dependence was historically very strong, with even huts of the Maasai built from dried cattle dung. In Southern Angola, several peoples – chiefly the Ovambo and part of the Nyaneka-Khumbi – are entirely organized around the practice of transhumance.[13]


Traditional economy of the Basotho in Lesotho is based on rearing cattle. Seasonal migration between valley and high plateaus of the Maloti (basalt mountains of Lesotho) is critical in feeding an increased number of cattle and supporting a higher human population. Pressure on pasture land has increased due to construction of large storage dams in these mountains to provide water to South Africa's arid industrial heartland.

While tourism is starting to contribute to the economy of Lesotho, and more people are moving permanently into Highlands there, seasonal migration still augments this trend. Seasonal migration is part of the job of herdsmen who are employees of farmers who own herds in Lesotho. Growing pressure on pastures is contributing to degradation of sensitive grasslands and could contribute to sedimentation in man-made lakes.

South Africa[edit]
Haru Oms at Glybank near Kuboes in the Richtersveld

In South Africa the transhumance lifestyle of the Nama clan of the Khoikhoi continues in the Richtersveld, a montane-desert located close to the Atlantic coast in the north-western corner of the country. In this area people move seasonally (three or four times per annum) with their herds of sheep and goats. Transhumance is based on small family units which utilise the same camps each year. A portable, untentioned dome 'tent' called a 'Matjieshut' (Afrikaans for 'mat house') or '|Haru Oms' (meaning 'rush house' in Nama) is a feature of Khoikhoi culture and is characteristic of camps in the Richtersveld. It consists of a frame traditionally covered with rush mats, but nowadays a variety of materials are used. In recognition of its importance to global culture the Richtersveld has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[14]

The Americas[edit]

North America[edit]

Transhumance, in most cases relying on use of public land, continues to be an important ranching practice in the western United States.[15] The American tradition is based on moving herds to higher ground with the greening of highland pastures in spring and summer, and these uplands are often under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service. In the winter, herds use lowland steppe or desert, also often government land under the jurisdiction of the BLM. In California and Texas, a greater proportion of the range is private land. The general pattern is that in summer, ranch families, hired shepherds, or hired cowboys travel to the mountains and stay in a line camp during the summer, or visit the upland ranch regularly using trailers to transport horses to the high country.[15] Traditionally, in the American west shepherds spent most of the year with a herd, searching for the best forage in each season, an activity that peaked in the late nineteenth century. Today, cattle and sheep herds have at least a home base on private land, though this is often a small part of their range. There is a long tradition of Basque shepherds being imported into the U.S. to herd sheep on the public domain.[16] That role has now been supplanted by Peruvian, Chilean, and Mongolian workers. Shepherds take sheep herds into the mountains in the summer and out on the desert in the winter, at times using crop stubble and pasture on private land when it is available. The motion picture Brokeback Mountain portrays this lifestyle in the first act of the story, in which the shepherds take their sheep into BLM lands. There are a number of different forms of transhumance in the United States:

The Navajo people began practicing transhumance in the 1850s, as they were forced out of their traditional homeland in the San Juan River valley.[17]

In the southern Appalachians, livestock, especially sheep, were often pastured on grassy bald mountain tops where wild oats predominate. There is some speculation that these balds are remnants of ancient bison grazing lands (possibly maintained to some extent by early Amerindians). In the absence of transhumance, these balds have been receding in recent decades and may require some form of transhumance to conserve these unique ecosystems.[citation needed]

In California, the home ranch tends to have more private land, largely because of the legacy of the Spanish land grant system. For this reason extensive acreages of Mediterranean oak woodlands and grasslands are stewarded by ranches whose economy depends on summer range on government land under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service.[18]

South America[edit]

South American transhumance partially relies on "cowboy" counterparts, the gaucho of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and (with the spelling "gaúcho") southern Brazil, the llanero of Venezuela, the huaso of Chile.

Transhumance is currently practiced at least in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia,[19] as well as in the Brazilian Pantanal.[20] It mainly involves movement of cattle in the Pantanal and in parts of Argentina, while camelids are rather used at the Altiplano. Goats constitute a big chunk of the transhumance that takes place in North Neuquén and South Mendoza, while sheep are more used in the Patagonian plains. Criollos as well as indigenous people are involved in transhumant practices in South America.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blench, Roger (17 May 2001). 'You can't go home again' – Pastoralism in the new millennium. London: Overseas Development Institute. p. 12. 
  2. ^ Gwynn, Eirwen. "On the land – yesterday and today". Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "History of Hafod Elwy Hall". Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  4. ^ "T. Pennant Tour in Scotland 1769: "Bothay, a dairy-house, where Highland shepherds, or graziers, live during summer with their herds and flocks, and during that season make butter and cheese., Dictionary of the Scots Language, accessed 26 May 2007
  5. ^ Smith, Gavin (2005). Surrey Place-names. Heart of Albion Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN 1-872883-84-2. 
  6. ^ Sharkie, Brendan. "How the Irish invented Hallowe'en". Irish Culture and Customs (via Wayback Machine). Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Govan, Fiona (10 September 2007). "Herdsmen flock to Madrid sheep protest". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  8. ^ "Pyrénées - Mont Perdu". UNESCO World Heritage List. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  9. ^ Erling Welle-Strand, Adventure Roads in Norway, Nortrabooks, 1996. ISBN 82-90103-71-9
  10. ^ Ramazani, Rouhollah (1966). The Northern Tier: Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. D. Van Nostrand Company: New Jersey, p. 85
  11. ^ Ullens de Schooten, Marie-Tèrése. (1956). Lords of the Mountains: Southern Persia & the Kashkai Tribe. Chatto and Windus Ltd. Reprint: The Travel Book Club. London, pp. 53–54, 114–118.
  12. ^ "Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves, The Alpine Way, Thredbo Village, NSW, Australia (entry AHD105891)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  13. ^ Eduardo Cruz de Carvalho & Jorge Vieira da Silva, "The Cunene Region: Ecological analysis of an African agropastoralist system", in Franz-Wilhelm Heimer (ed.), Social Change in Angola (1973). München: Weltforum Verlag. pp. 145–191
  14. ^ "Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape". UNESCO. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  15. ^ a b Huntsinger, L., Forero, L. and Sulak A. (2010). "Transhumance and pastoralist resilience in the western United States". Pastoralism: Research, Policy, and Practice 1:10–37
  16. ^ Starrs, P. F. (1998). Let the Cowboy Ride. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  17. ^ "Erosion of Trust". American Scientist. doi:10.1511/2010.85.348. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  18. ^ Sulak, A. and Huntsinger, L. (2007). "Public lands grazing in California: untapped conservation potential for private lands?" Rangelands 23(3):9–13.
  19. ^ Andaluz Westreicher, Carlos; Mérega, Juan Luis; y Palmili, Gabriel (2007). "The Economics of Pastoralism: Study on Current Practices in South America". Nomadic Peoples 11 (2): 87. doi:10.3167/np.2007.110205. pp. 87–105. (Print), 1752–2366 (Online). 
  20. ^ de Abreu, Urbano Gomes Pinto; McManus, Concepta; y Santos, Sandra Aparecida (2010). "Cattle ranching, conservation and transhumance in the Brazilian Pantanal". Pastoralism 1 (1). doi:10.3362/2041-7136.2010.007. pp. 99–114. (print), 2041-7136 (online). 

External links[edit]