Transhumance in Italy, the traditional farming practice of seasonal migration of livestock towards more favourable climate conditions, is underway.
Coldiretti, the farmers’ association, said nearly half a million sheep, cows and goats are to make their summer transhumance – literally, “crossing ground”. Herders, often on horseback and accompanied by dogs, drive their animals across Italy from lowland areas in search of mountain pastures. This is a centuries-old tradition which entered UNESCO’s list of immaterial cultural heritage in 2019.
The tradition isn’t unique to Italy, but the country remains one of the few in Europe to have preserved its ancient network of transhumance routes known as tratturi.
Transhumance in Italy
Transhumance is most closely associated with central and southern Italy. There are still four main routes running through Abruzzo, Lazio, Molise and Puglia.
Known as the Royal or King’s Pathways, rulers protected the routes in the late Middle Ages, though they date back far longer. The custom also exists to a lesser extent in Italy’s northern Alps, notably Lombardy and South Tyrol.
The main livestock breeds making the journey which can often be up to 100 km are the Podolica for cattle and the Gentile di Puglia for sheep. These animals have considerable endurance, Coldiretti said.
The recent Made in Italy decree establishes the National Observatory for the protection of transhumance and the promotion of extensive livestock farming. This measure, Coldiretti says, “reaffirms the social, economic, historical and environmental value of the sector at a time of great difficulty with the Italian farms having lost about a million sheep and lambs and 200,000 cows and buffalo in the last decade”.