Case Study

40 years of transhumance


40 years of transhumance


1. Introduction

Fabio Fornasa has been a shepherd for more than 40 years. He is one of the few transhumance practitioners who still use donkeys for transporting the newborn lambs. He gets help from Manuel, a young shepherd of 24 years. Fabio Fornasa currently lost access to two seasonal farms he rented in the past.

2. Basic information

Main promoter

Fabio Fornasa

Start of the practice



Between Dolomiti, Vicenza’s Prealps and Padova

Organisations involved
  • Farmer(s)/ Dairymaid(s)/ Herder(s)
Ownership of the land used for transhumance farming
  • Rented public land (used to be)
Basic produce

Meat is the main product. In addition, the transhumance practice provides wool and education and maintains landscape and biodiversity.

ITH20 (Trento), ITH32 (Vicenza), ITH36 (Padova)
  • Winter pastures


3. Situation before startup/ change/ continuation

Fabio Fornasa, and later Manuel with him, used to rent two seasonal farms (malghe) between Folgaria and Asiago with 200 ha of pastures. In winter, they used to move with their sheep in the provinces of Vicenza and Padua. In May they returned to the Dolomites and the Prealps, where they had rented the two seasonal farms. Now, they have lost their right to use the farms to people living in these mountains. Fabio Fornasa and Manuel must look for another place or be forced to also spend the summer on the plain.

Fabio Fornasa wasn’t born into a family of shepherds, but he met some transhumance practitioners as a teenager and learned the work from them.

4. Transhumance farming business description

Landscape type

The summer pastures are located in a mountain landscape with meadows. The land is common land, typical of the Asiago’s plateau.

The landscape in the plain is characterised by open and large fields with some vineyards. The area is called ‘agropolitan’, because of a strong interconnection between urbanised and rural areas.

Animal type/ breed

The sheep belong to two selected breeds traditional of Northern Italy, the Biellese and Bergamasca breeds.

Movement patterns

The type of transhumance is vertical, moving always by feet. Fabio Fornasa usually covers more than 1000 metres of altitude between the plains and the mountains.

Kind of cooperation

Fabio Fornasa cooperates with Manuel who is also a shepherd.

Markets addressed/ product selling

Fabio Fornasa sells some lambs, and those sheep who don’t produce milk anymore, lambs, or are too old to meat sellers. The meat sellers will then sell the meat to their.

Threats & challenges

Several threats and challenges occur, both in the mountains and plains. In the mountains, shepherds and farmers compete for gaining the right to use public seasonal farms. Because of losing access to the seasonal farms, the two shepherds risk being forced to stay in the plain even in summer. Moreover, the number of wolves has grown, increasing the risk of sheep being attacked. In the plains too much urbanization and extensive agriculture is going on, leaving little space for sheep grazing. The sheep have to graze in private fields, but sometimes the owners oppose it. Some municipalities have decided to forbid grazing in all their areas.

5. Decisions taken


Fabio Fornasa started transhumance farming because of a passion for this job and he continues because of the same reason. Transhumance has no particular economic advantages, compared to other jobs.

Decision for the kind of animal/ specific breed

The Biellese and Bergamasca breeds are the most common in the area and were initially selected because of their meat production.

Decision for the production system

The current production system is the same as traditional transhumance, with some innovations now standard to all transhumance practitioners. Fabio Fornasa persists in carrying newborn lambs inside bags hanging from donkeys’ backs for the first few days. This practice helps preserve the mother’s smell, allowing the mothers to recognise their lambs. In other transhumant flocks these lambs are carried by trucks.

Diversification of income

According to Fabio Fornasa, it isn’t easy to reach sufficient income only with the money earnt by transhumance. He and Manuel have to rely on contributes from the European Union for seasonal  (when they managed to rent them).

Multifunctional aspects

Fabio Fornasa does not seem to be aware of his and Manuel’s role in preserving the landscape’s biodiversity; at least, he doesn’t mention this as one reason that pushes him to continue transhumance.

6. Training/ skills to establish the business

For establishing a transhumance business, many practical skills and knowledge are required, usually taught orally by older practitioners to beginners. Fabio learned the job in this way by working as an assistant to a more senior shepherd.

7. Next steps to move on

Fabio Fornasa didn’t mention any plans to change his practice. As many other herders, he plans to try to survive in the following years in an environment that every year introduces new threats to his activity. His innovation is in preserving a very peculiar tradition, the use of donkeys for carrying newborn lambs. In the vast majority of the other herds, donkeys are kept only as a ‘folkloristic’ element. Fabio Fornasa mentioned that in the past he tried to get involved in an association of shepherds, but he got tired and left soon after.

8. Quote and recommendation of the promoter

According to Fabio, the biggest challenge is renting a seasonal farm in the mountains. Now, the right often is given to people who inhabit these mountains or are less than 40 years old, even if they lack experience or have less need.

The space for transhumance is constantly diminishing, but the number of practitioners is increasing.

The biggest revenue is to keep living by doing what both shepherds like the most, in a kind of job subjected to rhythms utterly different from modern life.

According to Manuel, Fabio Fornasa’s associate, a transhumance farmer who starts from scratch, needs, before anything else, passion: “You also earn some money, but for staying all the time outdoors, and living in this way, you need passion… Someone who has passion looks after the animal and learns how to handle it.”