Mountain pasturing is rooted in very old traditions and based on making the most of the land and pastures by taking seasonal cycles and the constraints of climate into account. Despite the fact that this form of animal rearing requires both the livestock and the people looking after them to be highly mobile, it is actually closely related to specific geographical areas and generally tends to follow fixed or foreseeable routes.
It is an extensive form of farming and the herds pasture on vast expanses. As the seasons progress the herds are moved on to go and find fodder elsewhere and so as to give the vegetation time to grow back. It requires the herdsmen and their animals to fit in around sedentary mountain farmers who share their lands with them when they are not being cultivated.
In the mountains the shepherds manage the fodder resources by moving their livestock throughout the year.
From October to June the animals stay on the lowest pastures.
In the spring they are taken up to the lower mountain areas lying between 1000 and 1500 metres in altitude.
In the summer the animals are taken up to the summer pastures above 1500 metres in altitude before going back down to the lower mountain areas in autumn and then back to the farm for winter.
In the Pyrenees the animals are increasingly taken directly from the valley farm right up to the summer pastures.
The summer pasturage
In France this is the period when the animals graze on the pastures up in the mountains.
It is the time when the grass grows again in the high altitude meadows and when the animals are removed from the lower altitude fields so as to make room for other types of farming. The height of the summer pasturage is August, when the livestock are taken to the highest pastures, and the period ends once the mountain pastures have been used and the cold drives the animals back down into the valley and plain.
The upwards transhumance in which the livestock are taken up from the plain to the summer pastures (on the mountains where they are kept throughout summer pasturage) can either be by foot or else more commonly by cattle truck. The animals are taken back down the same way in the downwards transhumance when they return to the plain or low altitude meadows.
The summer grounds the shepherds use lie above the permanently lived-in areas. They are only used during the summer period when the climate is less harsh.
The Shepherds' Festival is a living expression of how people once lived, and a celebration of the way of life of the people who have formed the local landscape and of what used to be the main activity of the inhabitants here – transhumance.
For an entire weekend the festival and crafts of yesteryear take over the village. Livestock farmers, producers, shepherds, cowherds, and the oldest members of the local population are out in the village streets to enjoy this fine festival.
Herds of sheep are driven through the village streets and you can meet the cowherds, as well as enjoying the exhibition of agricultural equipment, animal-drawn vehicles, and a cheese competition.
The craft of yesteryear show how the people used to work the fields and there is a special producers’ and breeders’ market of cheeses and tools, as well as gardening stands.
The festivities are brought to a close by a “Firal” in which various breeds of sheep and cattle are displayed on the Champ du Clouzal. Throughout the day there are demonstrations of how sheep shearing used to be performed and of sheepdogs at work