Transhumance in Spain is a practice that is disappearing, although it has great social, environmental, cultural and economic advantages. However, inclement weather and low generational turnover are influencing the decisions of farmers who prefer to move their cattle by truck.

What is transhumance?

The transhumance on foot consists of moving the herds to look for better pastures for the animals to feed so that they are not affected by the weather conditions of each season. This practice is carried out by shepherds, who want to continue with the tradition that has been inherited from their ancestors and also save the costs of transportation by truck or train.

Recently, thanks to some studies, it is believed to have originated during the Visigoths, although its origin is unknown and it has been a key factor in Spain.

For long periods, it has been inherited from parents to children and has been an important cultural legacy. However, it has experienced a decline in recent years and it is very difficult to find shepherds who move their sheep, goats or cows on foot. At present, this transfer is carried out by truck.

One of the regions where transhumance is of great importance and forms part of its culture is La Rioja. Other parts where this practice continues to be carried out are Andalucía and Castilla y León.

What are cattle trails?

Shepherds used to transport their herds by cattle trails, but nowadays, the most common method of transporting them is by truck. The tradition has been lost over the centuries and, very few still perform this practice that has a great historical importance since it has been passed down by their ancestors.

According to the RAE, the meaning of “vía pecuaria” is a “public domain road, traditionally used for the circulation of livestock and that recently has other uses such as sports, recreational or environmental”.

These roads are used for other activities due to the implementation of the 1995 Law that transformed them into public property, although priority is given to livestock traffic. However, hunting has been banned on these roads as well as in the surrounding areas, and for this reason a large number of animals can be found.

The positive effect of transhumance

In Spain, Mediterranean transhumance, which consists of the migration of livestock to the mountains or highlands during the summer, takes place. During this season it is very common to have little rainfall and sweltering heat that endangers the lives of the animals due to the scarcity of pasture and drought.

This practice has a positive impact on certain environmental, economic and social aspects. Biodiversity is guaranteed and resources are used from a sustainable perspective, which leads to an improvement in the quality of life of the animals and the different products that come from them. sustainable perspective This leads to an improvement in the quality of life of the animals and the different products that come from them.

Transhumant livestock move and disperse both seeds and manure from the soil. Also, they leave the forest clean, which has an impact on its quality and prevents fires.

Problems of transhumance

Currently, those who practice transhumance encounter many problems, which influences the decline of this activity.

The lack of generational replacement is one of the most important problems to be faced. For this reason, the training of professional shepherds must be increased in order to guarantee the future of this activity.

Another problem would be the low economic profitability. With the rise in fuel and energy costs, the lack of animal feed and the low prices paid for raw material, transhumance is not profitable to carry out. Thanks to this, it affects small farmers, but favors macro farms that have lower quality standards, which sometimes causes controversy.

Also, it is important to incorporate women in the livestock and agriculture sector, especially in transhumance, and it has generally been considered a dangerous job for them thanks to being outdoors and traveling alone.

Activity of cultural interest

Transhumance has had a great cultural, social and economic impact and society is aware of this. In order to stop the decline of this practice, it is necessary to reclaim the role of livestock farming and for this reason, a festival of cultural interest is held.

The “transhumance festival” is celebrated in many parts of Spain to vindicate the role of the shepherd. Some examples of cities where this festival is celebrated in the autumn season are Madrid or Prioro in the city of Leon in June.