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Beef, hay, and non-nomadic pastoralism

The AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc as a case study
Sabine Chabrat, Baritaux Virginie et Marie Houdart
Cet article est une traduction de :
De la viande, du foin et un pastoralisme sédentaire []


Pastoralism has outgrown the basic perception as simply a mode of livestock farming based on pasture grazing to now embody strong values rooted in community identity and community governance. These values have forged a new construct – pastorality, understood to mean the quality of and values tied to something pastoral. Local-territory-scale actors consider pastoralism and pastorality as a resource that they mobilize to build wider local-territory-scale resources – typically protected designation of origin indications (‘AOP’). As the bulk of the literature has looked at AOP cheeses, we elected to focus our analysis on beef, specifically AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc. This AOP offers a standout case – built on a territory typically more suited to grassland systems than pastoral farming, it is grounded in pastoral resources such upland pastures and remote marginal landscapes but also non-pastoral resources like hay. This paper shows how the local actors articulate pastoral and non-pastoral resources in tandem to build the wider territorial resource Fin Gras du Mézenc.

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Notes de la rédaction

Translation: ATT Traduction technique et scientifique

Texte intégral

1Pastoralism is definably a mode of livestock farming that revolves around using extensive grazing across vast expanses of natural-grassland feed resources to cover all or part of feed supply (Association française de pastoralisme, 2013). Pastoralism has seen deep change over the years, and with it changes in perceptions. Legeard (2008), cited in Brisebarre et al. 2009, collapses these shifts into a three-period division. After traditional origins and then through a period of adaptation to the changing modern world, pastoralism is currently going through a process of “innovation” grounded in the strong community identity and community governance values championed by pastoral farming (Bordessoule, 2006). Indeed, over and above its technical, economic and environmental dimensions, pastoralism is seen as the vector of a cultural and community-identity dimension championed and embodied by pastoralists (Eychenne, 2006; Legeard, 2008; Brisebarre et al., 2009). This socio-cultural dimension emerges in the construct of pastorality – of or related to qualities, whether real or imagined, attributed to pastoralism (Cournil, 2012; Turquin, 2012).

2Pastoral practices and pastorality-centred values are often mobilized to differentiate and value-add farmed produce, typically via official certification schemes such as protected designation of origin indications (“AOP”) (Bordessoule, 2006; Eychenne, 2011; Dobremez et al., 2010). Pastoralism and pastorality can thus be conceptualized as a set of “pastoral” resources – some tangible, such as fauna, flora, landscape, some intangible, such as know-how, values, heritage, and so on – that can be mobilized to build and structure territorial resources. Territorial resources, in turn, are defined as the consciously constructed “signature” characteristics of a specific territory that are forged through collective energy as part of a concerted effort to spur development (François et al., 2006). For a territorial resource to materialize, it must first go through a process of emergence that revolves around a group of agents-actors identifying, discovering and taking ownership of the resource (Colletis & Pecqueur, 2004; François et al., 2006; Gumuchian & Pecqueur, 2007). An AOP-labelled product thus qualifies as a territorial resource, as it results from a process of constructing a territory-specific typicity marked by signature cultural and symbolic values that tie the product to its territorial origins (Peyrache-Gadeau et al., 2008). However, the connection tying official quality-labelled products to pastoral resources is often hazy and largely implicit (Eychenne, 2011). In particular, there are many cases where pastoral resources are heavily mobilized – typically for product branding communication – but are not explicitly formulated in the product specifications. This observation prompts a rethink of the way pastoral resources are effectively mobilized in the real-world process of constructing territorial resources such as an AOP-labelled product.

3To date, the bulk of scholarship tackling this issue has focused on dairy farming, and primarily mountain-region AOC cheeses (Ricard, 1994 ; Coulon et al. 1997 ; Cesari, 2001 ; Delfosse, 2007 ; Angéniol & Balloy, 2012), with mountain-region beef cattle territories left practically ignored, despite the heavy deployment of beef farming in the 1980s-2000. As Eychenne (2011) explains, the mass influx of suckler beef cattle herds changed livestock farmer perceptions of pastoral resources. The actors at work in beef cattle territories today tend to downplay their use of pastoral practices yet freely mobilize certain pastoralism-centred values and images to value-add their products.

4The Massif du Mézenc offers an illustrative case in point, as transhumance – essentially sheep flocks from the Midi – survived from the 17th to 20th century before being outcompeted and ultimately replaced from the 1930s by settled cattle farming on the upland pastures (Bordessoule, 2001; Léogier & Mermet, 2008). This new tradition is at the root-source of the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc, a beef from animals fattened on grass then overwintered on hay. The foundational values behind this appellation are largely associated with a permanent habitat on the highland plateaux – a way of life that the actors involved often present as running counter to the ancient tradition of pastoralism. That said, the added value of the AOP essentially stems from the specific signature properties of the flora and fauna of this same habitat and the allied habitat-specific know-how (grassland resource management, drying and sorting the haylage). Furthermore, a number of the values and images tied to this farm production visibly share overlap with the values and images that can be tied to pastoralism practices. The aim of this research was to analyze the extent to which pastoral resources – whether connected to pastoralism or pastorality – shape the construction of this product under the AOP scheme that has proven a major tool for differentiating and value-adding local farm output and the local territory.

5Our analysis begins with a detailed look at the field of study and the approach adopted, before moving on to show what resources are mobilized for the process of building the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc brand. We then take a closer look at how local territorially-rooted actors conceptualize and position pastoral resources in the initiative to produce Fin Gras du Mézenc brand value, before rounding off with discussion on the role held by the pastoral resources mobilized and on the pastoralism-pastorality trade-off.

Methodology and case study

AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc

6The Mézenc is an upland segment of the eastern Massif Central (Map 1) that rises to a mean altitude of 1100 m amsl and presents a structurally specific agrarian system qualified as “grassland–pastoral” (Fel, 1962). Grassland–pastoral is characterized as a habitat that, although dispersed, remains permanent despite reaching high (up to 1550 m amsl) altitudes. The famers, like their cattle herds, stay in the area year-round. This local-specific agrarian structure is further marked by the presence of a particular pasture–grassland tandem, which is dictated by the harshness of the climate, particularly the winter snow-cover, that makes it necessary to adopt a grass resource management system able to provide the livestock with feed over the 6 to 7 months of winter. This constraint translates into efforts to find complementarities between the vast expanses of natural pasture, which are used in summer, and the semi-natural grasslands managed more intensively in order to secure the fodder harvest. Mediterranean climate influences and constant winds combined with the quality of the native grassland flora have enabled local farmers to crop top-notch hay on the upland heights. Farmers use this hay to feed the herd in winter and to fatten up selected animals ready to produce Fin Gras du Mézenc. It is on the basis of this traditional organization that the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc is premised.

7This appellation, obtained in 2006, is built on a long-standing tradition of fatty Easter beef (Rieutort, 2004) dubbed fin gras [similar to Kobe-style beef] in reference to its particular marbled pattern. Oxen that had become too old to work as harness animals were traditionally fattened up over winter with unlimited hay to be sold for slaughter at Easter. Fin gras is currently produced on 28 communes of the Mézenc, of which only 14 are only minor producers, either because they are situated at under 1100 m amsl or because they fall outside the defining basaltic lava bedrock of the Mézenc microregion (Map 1). The selected animals are turned out to summer pasture on natural rangeland and hayfield regrowth (from at least 21 June to 21 September) and then overwinter in stall barns where they are fed hay harvested from inside the production-zone boundaries (from at least 30 November to 30 March). Animals that have reached fattenable age have to be stalled by 1st November, as the fattening period counts at least 110 days (Association Fin Gras du Mézenc, 2007 ; Association Fin Gras du Mézenc, 2013a).

Map 1. Location of the Massif du Mézenc and the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc production zone

Map 1. Location of the Massif du Mézenc and the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc production zone

Source: IRSTEA – Sabine Chabrat – 2013

8The first coordinated discussions on the idea of a market niche for Fin Gras and seeking value-added through an AOC (then an AOP – the EU equivalent) date back to the 1990s. There then follow the creation of two not-for-profit organizations – the Mézenc councillors association in 1995 and the Fin Gras du Mézenc association in 1996 federating the local-territory cattle breeders. The initiative then secured scientific and technical backing from such heavyweights as the Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regional chambers of agriculture, the INRA [national institute for agronomics research] and the ADIV [national technical centre for the meat sector]. This AOP is thus the outcome of a collective drive federating actors who saw the initiative as a way to revitalize their territory in a region hit by a severe slowdown in the major driver of the local economy – agriculture. Fin Gras has since grown to become a flagship of the Mézenc territory and identity – and a fully-fledged territorial resource.

Material and methods

9In order to capture how local territorially-rooted actors conceptualize and position pastoral resources in the initiative to produce Fin Gras du Mézenc brand value, we based our research on two sources of information.

10We first mobilized several types of publications: institutional material-technical and regulatory standards defining the characteristics and conditions of the AOP product (including the product specifications); communicational material on the product and the territory (information packs, websites, etc.) published by organizations like the not-for-profit association “Les Amis du Mézenc”; scientific material, particularly papers on the research tied to AOC then AOP status, focusing on the flora unique to the Massif du Mézenc or on the quality of the hay or the beef end-product.

11In parallel, we ran a series of interviews with local territorially-rooted actors. In total, 21 semi-structured interviews were led. Most of the people interviewed are or were involved in creating and leading the Fin Gras du Mézenc initiative. These actor-agents came from different spheres – from both production side and retail side (farmers, butchers), from both administrative side and technical side (chamber of agriculture, DRAAF [regional directorate for food, farming and forestry], specialized researchers), and from both civil society side and local government side (Les Amis du Mézenc, councillors and local community authorities). Furthermore, in order to capture any within-territory tension, we also interviewed local actor–agents not engaged in the Fin Gras initiative, such as non-AOP producers. The narratives were recorded then transcribed and studied by comparative analysis to capture what components of AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc production hold meaning for the community in terms of identity, resources mobilized or promotion of the territory.

Resources mobilized for the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc

A grassland resource at the heart of the Fin Gras du Mézenc product differentiation and value-adding initiative

Floristic species richness and specific pasture and meadow resource management

12Research has highlighted two different plant communities co-habiting the Mézenc – one specific to the grassland and the other specific to the pastureland, but both shaped by how these spaces are managed (Sanial, 1995). According to this research, as the pastures tend to be on poor and predominantly acidic soil, they support a more limited number of inventoried species that are characterized by average-to-good forage value. In contrast, as the meadows get year-round maintenance by cutting and soil improvers, they generate a richer flora and thus excellent-quality forage. The research found species typical of mountain-range climates, the best-known being bearwort (also called baldmoney or mew). Although the cattle tend to refuse this plant while it grows green on-pasture, it gives the hay a signature aroma that lends it strong appetence. It also helps shape the typicity of the product by lending the marbled fat a signature taste (Berdague & Kondjoyan, 1997) that has prompted advocates of the AOP approach to rename it “meatgrass” (Association Fin Gras du Mézenc, 2013b).

13These qualitative differences between meadows and pastures articulate with different sets of specific management practices and strategies for each space. From the outset, plot distribution is based not just on technical factors like proximity and accessibility but also on soil quality and floristic diversity factors. Furthermore, as the hay gets harvested all in one sweep and is the only fodder used to fatten and finish selected animals, the farmers are particularly diligent on meadow maintenance. Meadow management is framed by the AOP product specifications. To maintain a rich and diverse floristic composition, farmers are required to amend their pastures and meadows with organic fertilizer at least once every three years, and to keep mineral nitrogen fertilizer inputs to no more than 30 units/ha/yr (Association Fin Gras du Mézenc, 2013a). The introduction of the AOP specifications forced the farmers to adopt grass crop-related practices and develop grass crop-related know-how. This grassland resource is a standout theme of the communication strand. Press releases, local council websites, and publicity citing the initiative all feature numerous photos depicting cattle grazing on and around Mont Mézenc (Conseil-Général-Haute-Loire, 2014 ; Teyssier, 2013).

Photo 1. Cattle grazing upland pastures of the Mézenc.

Photo 1. Cattle grazing upland pastures of the Mézenc.

Source: Sabine Chabrat – 2013

Making hay and the art of value-adding montane meadows

  • 1 This narrative clearly underlines the quality of the forage, which is extremely rich in terms of en (...)

14The Mézenc differentiates from the other Auvergne-region massifs as Mézenc hay is cut all in one single sweep and dried outdoors. The local climate’s Mediterranean influences translate into long and dry sunny spells in July that are conducive to mowing hay meadows and leaving fresh-cut hay to dry out on-meadow. Local farmers have learned to become sharply skilled in the highly specialized know-how needed to obtain the top-quality hay that they call “Mézenc gold”. This superior quality property is materialized and channelled through the narratives of the local actor–agents. An chamber of agriculture advisor explains how “back when we were producing 4 tonnes of dry matter per hectare, we looked like amateurs, but now we’re making hay at 0.8 forage value index units and it smells great”1. On top of the constituent floral complex, this property is the fruit of insider knowledge at each of the three phases in the triple haymaking process (Ribet et al., 1996). Phase one corresponds to mowing the meadows according to floristic maturity, which is estimated based on the degree of flowering of certain indicator plant species and the colour of the grass. This is a complex yet critical phase, as the farmer has to find the just the right balance to leave the meadow able to re-germinate naturally without losing too many seeds. Phase two corresponds to round-baling the hay, which both facilitates bale handling and promotes a better nutritive quality by keeping the hay-grass intact. Phase three corresponds to putting up the hay – a task that involves ordering the bales in the haymow according to their quality, determined by source and harvesting conditions.

15As the region continues to defend this mode of production and the allied practices, the hay remains an emblematic symbol of Fin Gras du Mézenc – there was even talk of filing for an AOC on the hay itself, but the idea was quickly cut short as at cross-purposes with the project since all the hay would have been bought up and shipped out, leaving none for farming on the Mézenc. Unable to quality-label their hay, the Mézenc farmers have appropriated the “natural” image it conveys. To get consumers to associate the special features of this resource to the beef end-product, many Mézenc farmers showcase samples of their hay at official shows, meets or events. In the words of the chairman of the Association Fin Gras: “i wanted people who eat Fin Gras to eat the Mézenc, the flowers, the hay – to taste and smell our hillsides. When you tell people that that’s what the animals are eating, it gets their mouth watering and they want to buy some”.

Winter fattening and the art of husbandry

  • 2 Terpenes are a very large class of natural organic compounds, most of which act as the main odour c (...)

16Like Mézenc haymaking, winter fattening on hay is an art found only in the Mézenc, as summer fattening on pasture is the norm elsewhere. This practice is rooted in an old tradition (Martin et al., 2000), that continues to hold currency in the narrative of the local actors who consider it the starting premise of their AOP, as explained by one of the two protagonists who instigated the initiative: “We realized, looking at the writings, that the Massif du Mézenc stood apart by a signature farming practice, i.e. winter-fattening the cattle”. Continuation in the past tradition, the animals selected to produce Fin Gras receive three or even four daily rations of hay and get given the cream of the hay crop, popularly dubbed “foin gras” [a wordplay on fat and hay]. There is a correlation between the terpene content profiles of bearwort and the local hay2 that subsequently translates into the animal fat (Berdague & Kondjoyan, 1997). The high terpene content of bearwort contributes to the aroma of the hay, and consequently to the taste of the beef. When Mézenc livestock farmers talk about “Fin Gras”, they are effectively referring to a deeply marbled and perfumed meat, crafted by slow and optimal fattening, led patiently over several months, on the Mézenc forage resource.

17Thus, by highlighting the value of the hay, it is the forage resource, i.e. the constituent mix of flora and the set of skilled know-how tied to forage resource control (soil improvement, etc.) and management (pasture or haymaking), that emerges as the focal centrepoint of the product differentiation and value-adding strategy. It is because they have ample-quality and ample-quantity forage resources close to their habitat that Mézenc livestock farmers do not need to move their herds in search of pasture elsewhere – neither by transhumance nor up to summer pasture. Furthermore, the ideal soil-climate conditions mean they can mobilize the forage resources either as pasture or as hay meadow. In practice, then, the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc is a form of non-nomadic pastoralism (Reijntjes et al., 1995), characterized by extensive pasture grazing, in and around the habitat, without moving the herd.

A collective identify built at the margin of pastoralism

18Despite evident pastoral practices, many local actors are of the consensus that the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc is not grounded in any kind of pastoral identity. One of the Fin Gras project protagonists claims that: “On the Mézenc, it is the grass resource itself that adds value—not the pastoralism side at all. We don’t even celebrate the pasture season”. A member of the not-for-profit Les Amis du Mézenc who bought into the Fin Gras project at the outset adds: “The Mézenc, as a region, I’d say has turned its back for good on the transhumance of sheep, and has never even known the transhumance of cattle […] there are no herder’s shelters and no local cheeses, not like in the Cantal”. To fill the void, the actors in the AOP project have championed their sense of belonging to the Mézenc highland plateaux and developed their own identity based essentially around the ruggedness of their territory and its people, or “the people of the heights”) to borrow an expression coined by local-born poet Jules Romains (Ribet et al., 1996). A Mézenc local expert and geomorphologist sums it up in these words: “It runs even deeper than transhumance and the burons [shepherd huts], as there is a permanent year-round habitat where you have to hold out 6 to 8 months in the harshest of conditions, so that’s an extremely strong vector of community”.

19The ruggedness of this regional community, translated though a complex of climate, altitude, geographic isolation, and the obduracy of the people, is a shared facet of community self-identity. “There is a culture of harshness – I am from a harsh place, and not just anyone can come here and live it”. This harshness can even emerge as a condition dictating inclusion or exclusion from the Mézenc community. It is by drawing on the vector of strong identity and shared culture that the Mézenc community has managed to collectively build the FIn Gras du Mézenc and gain it recognition via the AOP label. This identity is asserted at Fin Gras events and festivals where the breeders parade in the traditional costume composed of smock (or “blaude”), headscarf and hat.

20For the Mézenc-community actors, rejecting pastoralism in their narratives and values is a way of preserving their territory while fending off attempts from other livestock breeders to move in. As explained by a member of the not-for-profit Les Amis du Mézenc, what sets the Mézenc territory apart from the rest of the Massif Central highland plateaux is that it is inhabited all the way up to the heights and there is no room for other livestock breeders and their herds in peak season: “When people from Clermont-Ferrand and Lyon look at the history of pastoralism, they see a picture of people climbing their animals up in the mountains; they see this romantic image of custodians of the landscape... But here in the Mézenc, that’s just way off the mark – there’s people here everywhere, it’s no deserted landscape, there are homes all the way up to the peaks; that’s just what sets the Mézenc apart. No-one here wants to see people rolling in and turning their hand at pastoralism – and it’s really tricky to get that message across.” The undertone behind this narrative is that access to Mézenc land is something you earn and that it is only by living in the heights all year round that you can hope to farm it. The harshness, appropriated as the heart of the Mézenc identity, is materialized and vectored is such a way as to make it less attractive to outsiders. As an AOP project technician explains, local breeders are fighting to defend their own vision of freedom on the highland plateaux: “There is a wind of independence blowing on the Mézenc”.

21In parallel to a well-oiled narrative on the fact that the Mézenc and pastoralism are at cross-purposes, one of the actors interviewed recognized the pastoral component of the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc and, by extension, of its members via the pasturing practice, although at the same time citing livestock farmers permanently settled year-round and close to their herds as values that, in his eyes, are not values defendable as pastoralism: “The Mézenc is a feature case in pastoralism – they are pasturers, as they have pastureland, but at the same settled permanent residents. The hayfield is there, and then again the pastureland is there—the two, side-by-side”. This narrative shows that the images tied to pastoralism are nomadism and transhumance first and foremost, and that it remains a tricky exercise to claim a settled form of non-nomadic pastoralism.

Conclusion—Mismatch between pastoral resources claimed and pastoral resourced mobilized

22The analysis of this AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc project shows that the product built combines multiple resources – some pastoral, others not. The first pastoral resource identified integrates pastoralism as a farming system and corresponds to grazing the cattle on the highland pastures of the Mézenc. This is unequivocally a herd feeding practice that is based on a natural resource – the hay and flora of the pastures grazed. Over and above the fact that grazing the animals on upper pastures is an obligation written into the AOP specifications and that there is a proven causal link between pasture quality and beef quality (Berdague &Kondjoyan, 1997), pasture grazing is also used in the tools and material underpinning product communication and promotion, notably via photos of animals grazing on meadowland. As explained in Bordessoule (2006), this new vision of upland pastures conveys a positive image in terms of agriculture but equally in terms of heritage resources tied to this expansive natural landscape spaces. However, other non-pastoral resources, such as hay and the unique knowledge sets connected to in-stall winter fattening, are then made to articulate with pastoralism to ultimately shape and yield Fin Gras. This situation does not appear as a threat to pastoralism – and indeed in some way ensures that pastoralism is able to survive on the territory. The rationale is that the production of Fin Gras hinges on a complementarity between grass and hay that is balanced in such a way as to guarantee neither can squeeze out the other and neither can disappear, as long as the AOP remains alive in the territory. This balance concords with research led by Fel (1962) characterizing the Mézenc as an essentially “grassland–pastoral” agrarian system in which meadowland and pastureland are inextricably tied.

23The second resource pivotal to how the AOP Fin Gras is built corresponds to the identity vectored by the local actors. Their livelihood, stemming from a permanently-settled habitat facing tough weather conditions, has forged a character marked by ruggedness, a degree of obduracy, and a strong of sense of independence. These values would intuitively appear to run counter to the mental construct of pastoralism as characterized by transhumance and nomadism, but the concept of pastorality has evolved hand-in-hand with pastoral actors (Turquin, 2012) who are no longer technician grounded in livestock husbandry practices but have become advocates of pastoralism as a way of life, a mindset, and even a separate culture. This is not the case of the actors behind the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc whose narrative does not prone any pastoral identity. This ambiguous position may have stemmed from a now-obsolete idealization of the values attached to pastoralism (burons, transhumance, nomadism, etc.) by Mézenc community actors. This non-assertion of pastoralism may reflect their intent to extricate themselves from pastoralism, which they perceive as a threat to their permanent system.

24This threat stems from the fact that the Mézenc territory is recognized for the quality of its meadows, and given that the land was valued for transhumance in centuries gone by, the Fin Gras farmers doubtless fear the threat of other farmers crowding them out of their upland pastures in peak season. Furthermore, early adoption and deployment of suckler cattle farming policy has meant that the Massif Central has long been a focus of fierce competition to acquire the pastoral space (Eychenne, 2011 ; Bordessoule, 2003). As this pressure has not let up since, the Mézenc-community actors have visibly adopted a defence based on differentiating their farmland and farming activities by building Fin Gras as a territory-centric resource in an attempt to fend off a return to summer pasturing. Note that transhumant herds could bring several impacts by eroding the position of permanently-settled livelihoods, undermining collective way of life and the local farmers community and – ultimately – squeezing out the AOP Fin Gras and suckler cattle farming in general in the zone.

25Finally, the fact that the AOP actors have refused to assert any notion of pastorality is again almost certainly another reflection of their differentiation policy. By basing product communication on the hay produced inside the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc boundaries and on their permanent habitat, the farmers have elected to rely on resources that are specific, read in the sense given by (Colletis & Pecqueur, 2004), i.e. non-transferable. By further highlighting the feature characteristics of their territory, the local-community actors make their resource even more specific: “the more a territory is uniquely identifiable, the more it galvanizes the level of specification on local resources, which in turn ultimately helps emerge a territorial identity”, (Duquenne & Woillez, 2009). To build the Fin Gras du Mézenc into a territorial resource, the livestock farmers have followed all three phases of the resource specification process (Duquenne & Woillez, 2009), i.e. (i) an initial phase involving rediscovery of the traditional practices and know-how historically rooted in the territory, (ii) a second phase of differentiation by introducing the AOP, and (iii) a third and final specification phase in which they learn to controllably manage the product and build the territory’s identity. This has been achieved by opting to attach a set of different specific resources to the territory – both pastoral resources and non-pastoral–, i.e. the flora of the pasture, the hay cut, the permanent settled habitat, and obdurate ruggedness of the local community people.

26The Mézenc today has adopted a hybrid form of pastoralism, in that it articulates both pastoral and non-pastoral resources but without asserting them the same way. Despite extensive pasture-grazing on the highland plateaux, Mézenc livestock activity stands out as atypically non-nomadic, and so the local AOP actors do not see their territory as “pastoral”. However, when their product communication efforts revolve around pasturing and the allied isolation and harsh conditions that share overlap with transhumance, there is a legitimate argument for a new form of pastorality. The local actors are clearly appropriating and asserting a strong local identity rooted in pastoral values but without considering them as such. The Mézenc community actors appear to be pursuing a dual strategy: on one front, to mobilize the pastoral resource to generate a brand image that embodies quality and typicity; on the other front, to differentiate and stand out through their hay and a permanent settled habitat lifestyle that sends out the message “we live up there and we intend to stay” and “our product is a signature of this territory here and this territory only”. It thus emerges that the Mézenc community actors have managed to surface and self-appropriate territory-specific resources – some pastoral, other not – in order to construct the wider territorial resource AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc. In the bigger picture, they are helping to legitimize a non-nomadic form of pastoralism and to impel a shift in the values attached to this farming practice.

27Angéniol C., Balloy B., 2012.– Le pastoralisme. Des hommes au sevice des produits et des territoires.

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1 This narrative clearly underlines the quality of the forage, which is extremely rich in terms of energy content.

2 Terpenes are a very large class of natural organic compounds, most of which act as the main odour compound in plant scents.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1. Location of the Massif du Mézenc and the AOP Fin Gras du Mézenc production zone
Crédits Source: IRSTEA – Sabine Chabrat – 2013
Fichier image/jpeg, 516k
Titre Photo 1. Cattle grazing upland pastures of the Mézenc.
Crédits Source: Sabine Chabrat – 2013
Fichier image/jpeg, 602k
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Référence électronique

Sabine Chabrat, Baritaux Virginie et Marie Houdart, « Beef, hay, and non-nomadic pastoralism »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 102-2 | 2014, mis en ligne le 18 septembre 2014, consulté le 02 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Sabine Chabrat

Irstea, UMR Métafort,

Baritaux Virginie

VetAgro Sup, Campus agronomique de Clermont-Ferrand,

Marie Houdart

Irstea, UMR Métafort,

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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