Transhumance in the Ariège Pyrenees

Cet article est également disponible en: French

Transhumance with cows

Transhumance with cows


There’s nothing quite like transhumance, following the animals as they leave the farm on their way to the mountain pastures for the summer. And for the farmers Philippe and Jason Lacube, their fellow workers and friends, it is an opportunity to explain farming and to enjoy themselves with the 140 visitors who have come to participate in this ancient tradition.

This year the transhumance was on 10 May starting, as usual, at the Ferme de Quié (Verdun, Ariège). The herd of 90 Gascon cows and calves is being driven up to the intermediate pastures at between 1100m and 1500m altitude. They will spend a month there before crossing over to their final destination on the Plateau de Beille at over 1600m. They will stay in this estive until the end of September and then come back in the other direction. When the first heavy snow falls, sometime between mid-November and the end of December, they will return to the farm. The system allows the pastures to grow so that there will be hay for the winter.

Half way up we stop.


Philippe Lacube explains cows

Philippe Lacube explains cows


“The bull will soon start to mount the cows,” says Philippe. It seems that the bull would like to give us a practical demonstration but the cow in question won’t cooperate. It is a lot of work for the bull, it appears:

“The bull gets tired. He has to be done by the end of August. By August he’s shagged out. Two years ago, we had a bull – it must have been 16 or 17 August – who said bye-bye mountain, bye-bye girls, I’m going back down. He came down from the mountains. Everyone just let him pass by and he arrived at the farm. White flag. He’d had enough. The transhumance is complicated.”

I speak to Lucien, the uncle who sold Philippe the farm. Lucien says that his nephew does listen to him but doesn’t always take his advice. He is saddened to see the self-seeded woods that are now growing where there used to be fields and pasture. When I ask him how old the trees are, he replies twenty years. But later Jason tells me that the trees started coming back much earlier. Nevertheless, in the last two years, he says, twenty young farmers have set up in the valley, so the sector is doing fine.


In the barn

In the barn


When we arrive at the intermediate pastures, Jason tells us what it means to him to have bears in the Pyrenees. It is a long story and not the subject of this article… Then, given the uncertain weather, we return to the farm to the spacious airy feeding shed no longer needed for the cows. There are long tables with straw bales for seats. It is a real feast, with the wine flowing liberally. Jason demonstrates the use of the porrón, a flask with a long spout from which you drink without it touching your lips. The trick is to say ‘Carcassonne’ while drinking, taking care not to spill a drop of wine. Few people manage the challenge, to general laughter. Even though some are pretty good, no tries to imitate P’tit Louis whom I saw demonstrating his technique at the Relais du Pays de Sault.


P'tit Louis

P’tit Louis


Later the cowhands get together to form an impromptu choir, singing a cappella the Pyrenean classics: ‘the Refuge’, ‘Se canta’, ‘l’Immontèla’ and more. Lucien leads the singing of ‘The transhumance’.

A few years ago, I also participated in bringing sheep back from the mountains. Those sheep were in a hurry to get back to the warmer lowlands. Sometimes I was running to catch up.


Transhumance on the Plateau de Beille

Transhumance on the Plateau de Beille


Transhumances in the Couserans, Ariège 2018

Note: given the late snow these programmes may be modified.

More info on the 2018 transhumance in Ariège

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