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All information gathered first-hand, since 1995

The Fête de la transhumance of Montauroux in the Var (83) is typical of the village transhumance festivals.

The festivities are located at a field near the town, rather that in the center - it would be rather messy and un-hygienic otherwise. The day begins with the sheep herded into the site by the shepherds and their sheep dogs, an event that the spectators can almost participate in. At the end of the day, the flock is herded through the town and off into the sunset.

Since the transumance festival celebrates the start of the annual trek to the high-mountain pastures, "into the sunset" is the start of that journey. The flock's summer transhumance could be a week or two, from a village in the Var (83) or the lower part of the Alpes-Maritimes or Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04) to the Alpine pastures. Some animals do get a faster journey these days, transported by road in the back of large trucks.

photo sheepdog closeup with sheep Highlights are the various demonstrations of sheep dogs working the flocks and demonstrations of sheep. In Montauroux (June 2005), the first sheep dog demonstration was of a single dog working a small flock, commanded only by the whistles of the shepherd. Watching the dog, a border collie, working the sheep is a fascinating demonstration of speed, style and intelligence. We have a few shots of the dog face-to-face with the sheep, and the sheep are watching the face of the dog intently, as if awaiting the dog's next command.

Sheep sheering was done with a pair of rather crude-looking sheers until recent years. We've seen these simple sheers in action, and even tried them ourselves on our own sheep (unsuccessfully) some years ago; in the hand of an expert, they work quite well. Today, in the name of efficiency, professional sheep shearers travel from flock to flock, using a trailer-mounted rig for supporting the sheerer and electric sheers.

The Montauroux 2005 transhumance demonstrated sheering using this rig, allowing the spectators to see exactly how the sheep were handled and how the sheering was done. At some of the transhumance festivals, sheep sheering is done as a contest between the shearers.

Trades related to transhumance are exhibited, such as wool spinning and horse shoeing. Rows of stands with colorful local Provencal products, the food stands with the smells of cooking wafting across the grounds, the music played on appropriate period-piece instruments, and the overall excitement of the spectators adds to the festive atmosphere.