Monday, May 04, 2009

Transhumance

Transhumance must be one of my favourite words - it's long enough to savour - I love the way it rolls around the tongue. Far better than those staccato one syllable bits and bobs which are literally spat out. It's generous and descriptive - coming as so many of the good 'uns do from Latin roots. 'Trans' = across and 'humas' = ground, describing the movement of animals from their winter quarters in the valleys to their summer grazing in pastures higher up the slopes - nomadic pastoralism.

This won't be news to anyone familiar with that soppy tale of grumpy grandfathers, goat herds and sick children: Johanna Spyri's 'Heidi'. (I notice Amazon describe it as 'heart-warming tale'....which rings warning bells in my cynical ear.) Heidi's grandfather, Alm-Öhi, lives in seclusion on one such high pasture and her friend Peter brings his goats up the mountain for the summer. Heidi brings sweetness and light. Tra-la.

However, I digress. I was reminded of this yesterday when I watched Alan reinforcing the fence which runs alongside The New Hedge, putting on an extra strand of wire to keep straining, leaning necks out. We await the arrival of cattle in the fields around us, cattle which over winter in sheds down in the valley and come any day now to graze on the slopes of the Long Mountain. Now, there's nothing a cow likes more, even when there are rolling acres of fresh spring grass to forage on, than the fresh tips of a newly planted mixed species hedge. I call it pruning but Alan describes it as *expletive deleted* wrecking. Hence the fortifications.

I did a bit of transhumance of my own - albeit only a matter of a few metres. The hens have been moved to a clean bit of land slightly higher in the field and into a new spacious hut as well. I made a new pen, which like the old one is electrified to deter Brer Fox. I'd innocently assumed that getting hens from a to b would be a cinch - shake a bucket of corn and they would calmly walk behind me from one pen to another. Nope. I hadn't factored in the infinitesimally small size of a bird's brain. The resisted the open gate and refused to cross the strip of plastic which runs under the fencing to prevent the growing grass shorting the circuit. They looked at the shiny black threshold this way and that, clucking quizzically at this flat barrier and refused to budge. There was nothing for it but to wait for nightfall and move them from one house to the other when they were in a sleepy roosting state.

Which is what I did. They were all a bit grumpy about the disturbance, the hens clucked and complained a bit but the cockerels both made murderous ear-splitting shrieks. All mouth and trousers?

This morning they emerged from the new house into their clean grassy pen like holiday makers who've arrived at their destination under cover of darkness and are presented with a whole new world to explore. Except of course I don't expect words like 'Wow!' 'Must explore!' 'Great view' 'Fab accommodation, where's the beach?' crossed their beaks.

More like: 'Pellets', 'Grass', 'Eat' - and in the case of the randy cockerels -'Phoarrr - giv's a shag'.
......I really think I should get out more.

16 comments:

Diary Farmer said...

Animals are amazing critters. If you want them out a field or pen through a twelve foot gate they generally don't see it, but should you forget to close the same gate and is only open a couple of inches they are out in a flash. My late mother used to say that cattle go around the outside of a new field looking for a means of escape.

Mopsa said...

With views like that I'd stay put if I were you!

Fennie said...

I am not entirely sure that I understood transhumance, but it sounds infinitely more exciting than marching 10,000 beings up a hill and then, in autumn, presumably, marching them down again. I know it's a Welsh thing, having a hafod in the hills and a hendre - well, not in the hills, but transhumance? I'd say it was the state one got into when one had had had one too many glasses of white wine at lunchtime and not quite enough in the way of sandwiches.

Definitely a word to be used a cocktail parties.

"I'm worried about all this transhumance. It seems rife!"

"But not in the south, I think!"

Fennie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel said...

From the sublime to the rude - transhumance to shag....What would your old English teacher think!

Eliane said...

Completely empathize on the needing to get out more - I think I spent all weekend talking about chickens to my visiting friends who, it should be noted, live sophisticated lives in south-east London and were probably bored stupid and have gone home thinking I've gone truly mad.

Frances said...

I agree with Mopsa about the view. I would be quickly spellbound to see it in its full three dimensional beauty.

Thank you for the new word, and for letting me know a lot more about what it takes to move chickens.

I love reading your posts!

Wipso said...

Thanks for my first morning giggle. Love the blog...as ever. As Rachel said...from transhumance to shag....and both seem to have some sort of up down movement to satisfy a need eh?

LittleBrownDog said...

Transhumance - what a lovely word, and one I think I may have once known but since forgotten. I do remember Heidi, though, and you are right to be cynical. Love the descriptions of your dozy birds! I'm sure they'll get the hang of it in the end. Probably by about September.

Pipany said...

Yes, good word that Mountaineer. Sometimes I feel I should get out more too - feed ducks, feed hens, feed cats, feed kids, feed self....then begin again! x

Pondside said...

Yup - the joys of country living are legion. I hope your fence is sturdy enough to deter any bovine pruning.
Your little bit of transhumance seems to have worked out well - but I like the (imaginary) image of you scattering seed while the fluffy hens followed, pecking all the way. HA! Thanks for the smile!

elizabethm said...

You do a good blog, m. I smiled and nodded my way down, learnt a bit, chortled a bit, snorted a bit. Lovely. and I was never persuaded by Heidi either, nor by anything described as heart warming, grouchy old thing that I am.

snailbeachshepherdess said...

when I was shepherdessing in full mode last week or the week before i was happily sitting in the sun wondering what it would have been like to be a goat herd or biblical shepherd ..... off I go to find an evening class in yodelling.

Twiglet said...

Ooo! That brings back all my "O" level geography of Switzerland -all of 40 plus years ago!! What a blogging talent you have.

Exmoorjane said...

Giggling here at the hentalk.... Nah, stick with the life you've got - it's hugely entertaining just as it is. tra-la-la - lovely!

Preseli Mags said...

I remember a herd of cows in the garden in Worcestershire once during transhumance. The noise! The mess! Your randy cockerels are quite polite if they actually ask first!