Case Study

The long transhumance on foot to the Pyrenean Mountains


The long transhumance on foot to the Pyrenean Mountains


1. Introduction

Pierre Pujos has been a cereal farmer for more than twenty years in south-west France. In 2019, he diversified into a full-scale open-air livestock activity, while keeping his cereal production. His sheep herd grazes his fields or nearby before going up to the Pyrenees during the summer. The herd moves 160 km on foot during this long transhumance. It provides Pierre Pujos with many advantages.

2. Basic information

Main promoter

Pierre Pujos

Start of the practice



Saint-Puy, France

Organisations involved
  • Farmer(s)/ Dairymaid(s)/ Herder(s)
  • Public landowner(s)
  • Municipality(ies)
Total surface of land farmed in ha

300 hectares of mountain pastures for 10 transhumant breeders, i.e., about 30 hectares per herd

Ownership of the land used for transhumance farming
  • Rented public land
Basic produce
  • Lamb meat (direct sale to restaurants in the region of the farm, distribution channels for collective catering)
  • At the summer pastures, maintenance of open landscapes, especially around the high-altitude village of Ardengost
FRJ2 Midi-Pyrénées
  • Main farm


  • Summer pastures


3. Situation before startup/ change/ continuation

Pierre Pujos, 55 years old, was employed at the Ministry of Agriculture (in charge of missions on phytosanitary products), and then as a biology teacher at an agricultural high school. Since 1998, he has been working on a cereal farm in the village of Saint-Puy, in the department of Gers (south-western France). At the same time, he has been involved in the creation of two organic cooperatives in Auch. The 200-hectare farm he runs has been organic since its inception and produces different cereals (beans, small spelt, lentils, wheat, etc.). He last used fertilisers in 2004, since he believes that organic fertilisers are financially unaffordable. He has an employee who has been helping him on the farm since 2006. The cereals produced are sold to cooperatives or directly to bakers.

4. Transhumance farming business description

Landscape type

The winter farm is located in the cereal-growing plain of the Gers. The summer pastures are in the Pyrenees.

Animal type/ breed

The sheep are of the Tarasconnaise breed, renowned for their robustness.

Movement patterns

Pierre Pujos has a flock of 300 sheep (150 ewes and 150 sheep). He has been practising long transhumance with 180 animals every summer since 2019. The rest of the animals remains at the farm, under the supervision of his employee).

For the first two years, transhumance was done by truck. Since 2021, Pierre Pujos has been doing the 160 km of his vertical transhumance entirely on foot. From his farm on the great cereal plain of Gascony at an altitude of 160 m, he first moves to the Pyrenean village of Ardengost at an altitude of 1,000 m. He then moves to the high mountain pastures at an altitude of up to 1,700 m.

The day’s stages are on average 12 km. Pierre Pujos tries to alternate three days of walking for one day of rest. In total, the journey takes three weeks. The accompaniment of a car is essential to carry the tent, the watering trough, the animal pen and the transhumant breeder himself. In the afternoon, Pierre Pujos walks the route taken by the animals the previous day for verification. He, therefore, needs to be brought back to the starting point by one of the people accompanying him. The people are either volunteers or his employee. The latter comes from time to time to provide backup.

The smallest possible paths (about 50% dirt) or small tarmac paths are preferred on the route. The herd has to cross two major roads and a railway line. The course is therefore prepared in advance and declared to the prefectures of the two departments concerned. Certain precise times of passage must be mentioned. Two trainees assist Pierre Pujos. They check the route and inform the town halls by telephone. For 2023, an alternative route was selected to avoid a quagmire. The remaining part of the route is almost identical to that of the previous year.

On arrival in the mountains, the herd spends three weeks in the village (from mid-May to 10 June) where it grazes the open areas. Then, the livestock climbs to 1700 m. The pastures in the Ardengost commune is rented from the municipality. The location of the pastures are defined in advance: “Once you have a place, you don’t let it go because it is increasingly difficult to get land in the mountains,” Pierre Pujos says. The demand for grazing in the mountains is rising sharply on the high pastures.

From mid-May to mid-October, Pierre Pujos employs two people part-time (a shepherd and a shepherdess) to look after the flock because Pierre Pujos goes back to his farm. However, he comes to the mountain pastures from time to time during the summer. A pastoral group (an associative structure created by the 1972 pastoral law) pays the shepherd and the shepherdess and manages the activity in general.

The other herds of the Ardengost pastures (1100 ewes and 30 cows) come by truck or on foot over one or two days from the nearby valleys. However, some additional mountain farmers are starting to make the journey on foot.

Markets addressed/ product selling

Meat was already produced before practising transhumance. Transhumance brings new advantages to herd management during the summer months.

Threats & challenges

One of the main challenges is to start transhumance on foot. However, being in a complete open-air system makes it relatively easy to switch to long transhumance on foot.

5. Decisions taken


Transhumance began for economic and, to a lesser extent, ecological reasons, due to increasingly hot summers, synonymous with drought, in southwest France.

Decision for the kind of animal/ specific breed

The Tarasconnaise breed is very well adapted to transhumance.

Decision for the production system

The interest of transhumance is, first of all, conditioned by the situation on the farm. In this region of the Gers, the land is used primarily for arable farming, and the drought means that pastures are lacking early in the year.

Leaving three weeks before a truck journey allows Pierre Pujos to feed his herd on the road without using his or the summer pasture’s resources. The long transhumance makes it possible to follow the growth. There is about a three-week difference in plant growth between the farm and the mountain pastures. The herd stays in the best places during the journey and then at the summer pasture: “We followed the climate”, says Pierre Pujos. Moreover, ruminants prefer to avoid rapid transitions. As the animals rarely return to the same plot during the year, little parasitism management is needed.

Diversification of income

The advantage of transhumance is not directly financial, as a journey on foot or by lorry has an equivalent price (around 800 EUR). However, the financial interest is related to the health of the animals, which return in good condition, and the herd gets food during the three weeks of the transhumance.

Multifunctional aspects

For the farmer, transhumance is a break in his activity: roaming allows meetings, discussions, and changes in daily life.

6. Training/ skills to establish the business

Pierre Pujos did not follow any specific training to practice transhumance. He was able to follow occasional training courses organised by producer groups and chambers of agriculture (present in every department in France). He also formed partnerships with breeders. Above all, he learned on his own, because very few references concerning complete open-air farming and the practice of long transhumance exist.

7. Next steps to move on

This mixed livestock-cereal system corresponds well to the expectations of the farmer. Pierre Pujos does not regret at all his diversification and the choice to be in an integral free-range system. This means that his herd is always outside, in the plots of land of the property or within a maximum radius of 25 km around his farm in winter, and in the mountains in summer. The investment would have been around 400,000 EUR for a traditional farm (stalls, two sheds, one for hay, the other for equipment), compared to 15,000 EUR for the integral free-range. In addition, the purchase of the livestock has to be paid. Since 2022, after an investment over four years, the integral free-range activity has brought Pierre Pujos some gains, even if the aid for breeding greatly facilitated these. For the future, he needs human rather than material assistance.

8. Quote and recommendation of the promoter

One of the main challenges is to start transhumance on foot. In the first year, everything has to be done: the route, the authorisations… Therefore, a considerable amount of time is to be spend on preparation. But from the second year, the activity being set up, the preparation is much less time-consuming.

However, even if some farmers come to follow the transhumance on foot, not everyone can take three weeks: there is the haying season, and at least one employee is needed on the farm… Pierre Pujos believes that transhumance on foot is difficult, if not impossible, for a farmer in a traditional system.

However, being in a full open-air system makes it relatively easy to switch to long transhumance on foot.