POSTED: May 7th 2023
For thousands of years the transhumance culture has existed in Europe, dating back to ancient times when pastoral societies moved their herds of livestock seasonally to graze in different regions. This age-old tradition has been woven into the cultural fabric of the continent. Like a timeless dance, herds of sheep and other livestock migrate seasonally from lowland areas to highland pastures to escape the dry plains of Southern France end of springtime.
In the south-east of France a group of around 70 quality breeders and 100 shepherds continue that dance till this day. This group is called the "Circle de Qualitè" and is scattered across the highlands and plains of the region througout the year. The Circle consists out of a flock of 60.000 sheep that share a genetic footprint that is closely related to the Merino d’Arles breed that came into existence almost 250 year ago. It is a breed with a rich history that produces more for the region than the quality yarns for our upcoming products.
Etched in the cultural fabric
The significance of transhumance and pastoralism is etched in the cultural fabric of the Arles region, as is evident from the vibrant festivities and cultural events that celebrate the traditional migration of sheep from the Alps to the lowlands for the winter. Even the traditional stone buildings that dot the landscape, such as the bergères or stone sheepfolds, are a testament to the long history of transhumance in the region.
But cultural heritage is just one part of the story, equally important is the use of open pastures and sustainable grazing practices. This helps to preserve the natural environment and biodiversity of the region preventing soil erosion, reducing the risk of wildfires, and maintaining a healthy balance of flora and fauna ensuring that these magnificent landscapes will be around for generations to come.
Circle de Qualitè
One of the economic challenges that endangered this identity was the decline in wool prices due the emergence of synthetic fibres and the rise of China's textile industry. As a concequence the wool was no longer given the attention it deserved. The neglection of preparation, shearing and collection further deteriorated the wool quality and set in motion a viscous cycle that caused a further decrease in wool prices for the local breeders.
In order to break this negative cycle, a group of quality breeders was formed that still takes pride and has a vested interest in producing top-quality wool. Only sheep that have a close genetic match to the purebred Merino d´Arles are selected into the program. This group is known as the "Circle de Qualitè" and has established strict rules and standards regarding the animal welfare, clip preparation, shearing and packing processes.