Sheep herds in Beskidy Highlands

Tradition says that shepherds must leave the grazing lands in the high mountains before St. Michael’s Day. If they don’t, they may never return to the grazing. This custom is called “autumn transhumance” and means that at the end of the summer, the “baca,” or superior shepherd, leaves the mountains for the valleys and gives the sheep back to their owners.

In the Zywiec region it is called “lossod” and took place last Saturday in Hala Boracza, the newspaper Gzaeta Wyborcza reported. At an altitude of 850 meters, highlanders erected a field chapel where the local priest celebrated a special Mass, during which biblical parables about pastures were read. Sometimes a baca has about 200 sheep in his herd.

It wasn’t always so. Only a few years ago, sheep pasture wasn’t profitable, but that has changed and now the number of farmers who raise sheep is growing. Together with this trend, old traditions and customs are being revived. Transhumance is one of those traditions.

According to Wikipedia the term “transhumance” is used for seasonal livestock movement, typically to higher pastures in summer and to lower valleys in winter. Herders usually have a permanent home in the valleys. In summer bacas ascend with their herds to mountain pasture.

In winter they descend to relatively warm areas in the valleys, foothills, plains or desert fringes. Transhumance occurs not only in Poland but in other regions throughout the world, including Scandinavia, Caucasus, Morocco, France, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Turkey, India, Switzerland, Georgia and Lesotho. It is based on the difference in climate between mountains and lowlands. Bacas squared up with sheep owners last Saturday. The payment isn’t always money. It is often cheese, milk, butter and sometimes wool – the products of transhumance.

Finally, the shepherds closed the high pasture season by washing up all wooden bowls and putting out the fires in “bacowkas” (a chalet where the traditional highlander’s cheese is produced). Some tourists also attended the ceremony. They were able to enjoy regional food and music by a local highlander’s group.

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