Transhumance is a term with two accepted usages:
* Older sources use "transhumance" for vertical seasonal livestock movement, typically to higher pastures in summer and to lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Only herds and a subset of people necessary to tend them travel. This is termed "fixed transhumance" below.
* Some recent studies consider nomadism a form of transhumance, in that livestock move to find available plants for grazing over considerable distances following set seasonal patterns trailed by a whole family of herders living in temporary or moveable shelters. This is termed "nomadic transhumance" below.

The term derives from the latin "trans" 'across' and "humus" 'ground'. []

Traditional or fixed transhumance occurs throughout the world, including Scandinavia, Caucasus, Morocco, France, Italy, Lebanon, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Turkey, the Republic of Macedonia, India, Switzerland, Georgia and Lesotho. It is also practised among more nomadic Sami people of Scandinavia. It is often of high importance to pastoralist societies, the dairy products of transhumance flocks and herds (milk, butter, yoghurt and cheese) often forming much of the diet of such populations.

A research field experiment by Dan Eisenberg tested a theory postulating "Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder" (ADHD) is beneficial to a nomadic existence. Following this logic, ADHD is a remnant gene (DRD4) from human prehistory that has yet to be eliminated through natural selection. ["The misfits", The Economist, volume 387 number 8585, June 14th - 20th 2008 pp98-100 ]

Fixed transhumance

In the past transhumance was widespread throughout Europe and in many other parts of the world.


On the Hebridean Islands and in the Highlands of Scotland, agricultural workers spent summer months in bothies [ [ "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] or shielings. This has largely died out, but was practised within living memory. Today much transhumance is carried out by truck.


In most parts of Wales, farm workers and sometimes the farmer would spend the summer months at a hillside summer house or "hafod" ( IPA|/ˈhævɔd/) 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 "hendre" (IPA|/ˈheːndrɛ/). [] 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. [ [ history of hafod elwy hall ] ] Both Hafod and Hendre survive as frequent place and house names in Wales. Today, cattle and sheep on many hill farms are still often transported to lowland winter pastures, but now by truck.

The Balkans

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 winter they would spend in warmer plains in 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 for 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 summer and winter habitats of many of the pastoral groups.


In Scandinavia, transhumance is still practised, although arrival of motorized vehicles has changed its character. 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, once 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” (Reference: Welle-Strand).

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.

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

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. Their mountain period starts in late May and early June, and ends in early October. Until the 1970s transhumance concerned mainly dairy cows, and cheesemaking was important activity. In some regions up until this century, 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 concomitant depopulation of countryside.

The Alps

The traditional economy of the Alps was based on rearing cattle. Seasonal migration between valley and high pastures was critical in feeding an increased number of cattle and supporting a higher human population. That practice has shaped a lot of landscape in the Alps, as without it, most areas below 2000 m would be forests.

While tourism and industry contribute today much to Alpine economy, seasonal migration to high pastures is still practised in Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland, except in their most frequented tourist centers. In some places, cattle are taken care of by local farmer families who move to higher places. In others, this job is for herdsmen employed by the cooperative owning the pastures.

Austria has over 12 000 sites where 70 000 farmers take care of about 500 000 cattle. Alpine pastures amount to a quarter of the farmland.

Bavaria has about 1400 sites hosting 50 000 cattle, about half of them in Upper Bavaria and the other half in the Allgäu.

In Switzerland, about 380 000 cattle including 130 000 cows as well as 200 000 sheep are in summer on high pastures. Milk from cows here is usually made into local cheese specialities, handmade using traditional methods and tools. Alpine pastures amount to 35% of Swiss farmland. Transhumance contributes much to traditional Swiss culture, for example yodeling, alphorn and Schwingen (wrestling) are closely connected to Alpine pastures.


In southern England – where climate is mild and 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 recededFact|date=November 2007 . 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 placenames such as "Winterfold Heath" and "Somersbury Wood". [cite book
last =Smith
first =Gavin
title =Surrey Place-names
publisher =Heart of Albion Press
year =2005
pages =28-29
id = ISBN 1-872883-84-2

United States

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.


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.


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.

Nomadic transhumance

Often traditional nomadic groups settle into a regular seasonal pattern, which has been described by some anthropologists as a form of transhumance. An example of a normal transhumance cycle in the northern hemisphere is:
* Spring (early April to the end of June) — transition
* Summer (end of June to late September) — a higher plateau
* Autumn (mid-September to end of November) — transition
* Winter (from December to the end of March) — desert plains

The movements in this example are about 180 to 200 km. Camps are established in the same place each year; often semi-permanent shelters are built in at least one place on this migration route.

By contrast, pastoral nomads follow a seasonal migratory pattern which varies from year to year depending on grazing needs. Such nomadic societies create no permanent settlements, but live in tents or other movable dwellings the year round. Pastoralist nomads are often self-sufficient, producing their own food, shelter and other needs.

Nomadic transhumance was historically widespread throughout less fertile regions of Earth. It is found in areas of low rainfall such as the Middle Eastern Bedouins and the African Somali people or in areas of harsh climate, such as the Arctic Sami people, Nenets people and Chukchis.

There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. [ [ NOMADS - The FACTS] ] Seminomadic pastoralists and pastoral nomads form a significant but declining minority in such countries as Saudi Arabia (probably less than 3%), Iran (4%), and Afghanistan (at most 10%). They comprise less than 2% of the population in the countries of North Africa except Libya and Mauritania. [Dale Eickelman, The Middle East and Central Asia. An Anthropological Approach. Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall, 2002, p. 11]

The Mongols in what is now Mongolia, Russia and China, and the Tatars or Turkic people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia were nomadic peoples who practised nomadic transhumance on harsh Asian steppes. Some remnants of these populations are nomadic to this day. In Mongolia, about 40% of the population continues to live traditional nomadic lifestyle. [ [ Mongolia Today - online magazine] ]

The nomadic Sami people, an indigenous people of northern Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, practise a form of nomadic transhumance based on reindeer. In the 14th and 15th century, when reindeer population was sufficiently reduced that Sami could not subsist on hunting alone, some Sami, organized along family lines, became reindeer herders. Each family has traditional territories on which they herd, arriving at roughly the same time each season. Only a small fraction of Sami have subsisted on reindeer herding over the past century; as the most colorful part of the population, they are well known. But as elsewhere in Europe, transhumance is dying out.

The Mesta was an association of sheep owners (Spanish nobility and religious orders) that had an important economical and political role in Medieval Castile. To preserve the rights of way of its transhumant herds through "cañadas", the Mesta acted against small peasants.

Worldwide transhumance patterns

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


The Berber people of northern Africa were traditional farmers, living in mountains relatively close to the Mediterranean coast, or oasis dwellers; however, the Tuareg and Zenaga of the southern Sahara practise nomadic transhumance. Some groups, such as the Chaouis, practised fixed transhumance.

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. They are related to the Zulu, a people who live mainly in South Africa who were also formerly semi-nomadic.

North America

Transhumance, relying on use of public land, continues to be an important source of livestock feed in the western United States. The American tradition was based around moving herds to higher ground with the improvement in highland pastures in spring and summer. It was based on a semi-nomadic cowboy or the nomadic shepherd who often traveled with a herd. The Mexican "charro", is a continuation of this tradition to the south.

outh America

South American transhumance 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 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, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan all have vestigial transhumance cultures. For regions of the Himalaya transhumance still provides mainstay for several near-subsistence economies — for example, that of Zanskar in northwest India and Van Gujjars in Western Himalayas.

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." [Rouhollah Ramazani, The Northern Tie. Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. D. Van Nostrand Company: New Jersey, 1966, p. 85]

The Qashqai - the story of a Turkish tribe of southern Iran

:"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, 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. [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. See also pp. 114-118.]


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.


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


*"Adventure Roads in Norway" by Erling Welle-Strand, Nortrabooks, 1996. ISBN 82-90103-71-9

ee also

*Seasonal human migration

External links

* [ U.S. Department of Agriculture Discussion on Asia]
* [ U.S. Department of Agriculture Discussion on Africa]
* [ Transhumance and 'The Waiting Zone' in North Africa]
* [ limited traditional transhumance in Australia]
* [ Pastoralism]
* [ short mention of transhumance in North America]
* [ Swiss land registry of alpine pastures (German)]
* [ La transhumancia in Madrid Spain]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • TRANSHUMANCE — Les mouvements pastoraux en montagne ont pour but de profiter au mieux de l’étagement des pâturages en altitude. L’estivage, ou inalpage, des montagnes d’Europe est un déplacement intramontagnard entre des étables d’hiver situées dans les vallées …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • transhumance — [trans hyo͞o′məns, tranzhyo͞o′məns] n. [Fr < transhumer, to practice transhumance < Sp trashumar < tras , trans (< L, TRANS ) + L humus, earth: see HUMUS2] seasonal and alternating movement of livestock, together with the persons who… …   English World dictionary

  • Transhumance — La transhumance, du latin trans (de l autre côté) et humus (la terre, le pays), est la migration périodique d une part du bétail (bovidés, cervidés, équidés et ovins) de la plaine vers la montagne ou de la montagne vers la plaine, d autre part… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • transhumance — transhumant, adj. /trans hyooh meuhns/ or, often, /yooh , tranz /, n. the seasonal migration of livestock, and the people who tend them, between lowlands and adjacent mountains. [1900 05; < F, equiv. to transhum(er) to shift ground (modeled on Sp …   Universalium

  • transhumance — noun Etymology: French, from transhumer to practice transhumance, from Spanish trashumar, from tras trans (from Latin trans ) + Latin humus earth more at humble Date: circa 1901 seasonal movement of livestock (as sheep) between mountain and… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • transhumance — (tran zu man s ) s. f. Émigration périodique des troupeaux de moutons des pays de plaine, qui vont, sous la conduite des bergers, passer les mois les plus chauds de l année dans les pâturages des montagnes. •   Quant aux bestiaux, leur entrée et… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • TRANSHUMANCE — n. f. T. didactique Action de transhumer …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 8eme edition (1935)

  • transhumance — noun /trænzˈhjuːməns/ the moving of cattle or other grazing animals to new pastures, often quite distant, according to the change in season …   Wiktionary

  • transhumance — The seasonal movement of herd animals, together with the herding population, between regions, as pasture becomes available (often between highlands and lowlands). Transhumant populations, such as the Saami of arctic Scandinavia and the Nuer of… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • transhumance — [tranz hju:məns, trα:nz , ns ] noun the action or practice of moving livestock seasonally from one grazing ground to another, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer. Derivatives transhumant adjective Origin early 20th cent.: from …   English new terms dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”