It is the common word to all villages of the Park, to indicate the pasture activities that took place during the summer, at medium and high altitude pastures (1000 – 2000 meters). Every family had cattle, from one to a few dozen animals. The pasture activity has been practiced since ancient times in order to exploit the territory at its best: “in mont” meant to use of a part of the territory that would otherwise be unused, and at the same time allowed to provide fodder for the bad season.
Today there are very few still used pastures because after the war this activity has been slowly dying, due to the rapid and continuous process of industrialization that led to the abandonment of livestock farming.
The Park pays attention to the recovery of past activities and in particular to the pasture-related ones, source of income for the mountain people but also example of how man used to live in harmony with nature. The huts, renovated respecting the spontaneous architecture but with modern facilities, represent the hope that the ancient herdsman trade will not disappear from our valleys.
ALPINE HUTS- PASTURES SITUATION
First census organized by Ionizzo and Marchettano on behalf of the Agriculture Associate Chair of the Friulian Agrarian Association: 267 alpine huts registered of which 169 in Carnia, 45 in Canal del Ferro, 53 in the districts of Maniago and Spilimbergo.
After the First World War most of the 70 damaged or destroyed pastures is not restored.
The census by Gortani, on the depopulation of the Friuli mountains, indicates 261 alpine huts: 164 in Carnia, 44 in Canal del Ferro, 13 and 40 in Val Canale in the Carnic Alps. The proximity of the number to the situation at beginning of the century hides “a very serious crisis, which is affecting ominously the area’s economy.”
Only in western Friuli, on the eve of the Second World War, 131 huts are active, both municipal and private.
68 are the active pastures in Carnia, 17 in Canal del Ferro and 6 in the Val Canale. In western Friuli they are 28 pastures.
104 the pastures in the entire region.
The management of the pastures
From a legal-administrative standpoint the pastures of the Park are property of the municipality. The alpine hut is rented, through a tender procedure using the method of “the virgin candle”, to the highest bidder, usually for a period of nine years.
In the Fornese area this is managed by cooperative association of farmers.
The auction notice shows the alpine huts to be exploited for the pasture activity, the place, the date of the tender procedure and the basic price to offer.
The tender dossier regulates the relationship between the herdsman, the Municipality and the owner of the livestock, indicating the rights and obligations of the herdsman in accordance with applicable forestry regulations.
The tenant – the herdsman must operate for the maintenance of the pasture land through the weeds’ uprooting, the stones removal from the grassland and, at the end of the season, the manuring. He is also responsible for the maintenance of the building of the hut. Before the pasture activity starts he is concerned with the restoration of access paths, arranging the most inaccessible and dangerous areas.
The number of cattle varies according to the size of the pasture. Usually it goes from 30 to 50 animals. In addition to the dairy cattle there are the Sterpa, goats, sheep and pigs. The number was reached by calculating the value of the beasts: two heifers or four calves or ten goats were equivalent to a cow.
In the Fornese area was typical the sheep farming, the goat is found at the beginning of the twentieth century and then, perhaps even after the law that regulated the goat pasture, was reduced to few head of cattle . Through Giaf they reached Val Menon, Val de Brica and through Val di Sole they returned to their valley.
The dates for the weighing of the milk in the presence of the livestock owners are fixed in such a way as to determine the products distribution based on the amount of milk: the day of St Peter (June 29) and the 25th or 26th of July. These weightings allowed to make an average of the total production, one occurred when the cow had a big production of milk and the other when the milk was running out because the cows were matured for the autumn calving.
A quantity of products was for the priest and the vestry to be delivered within July 24, respecting each year the turn of the dairies.
The period of pastures was fixed according to an ancient custom: they went up “in mont” to the pastures on June 7 and went down on September 7.
While the return date was observed in every vilage, the departure was also linked to environmental conditions. In Cimolais, in the Feron area, people used to go up to the pastures on June 13, in the Fornese area on June 29, since the alpine huts were located at an altitude that varied between 1600 and 1700 meters and the custom was to move the cattle to stables that were located halfway between the village and the alpine hut.
The alpine huts worked in turns, one was lower and the other higher. In the first period was exploited the lower hut (1000 – 1400 – 1500 m), and then they moved even with the equipment to the highest hut (1700 – 1800 m) and then returned to the lower one in the last period. This made it possible to easily use a wider territory and above all to follow the maturation of the fodder.
TYPE AND TECHNICAL ASPECTS
The term “alpine hut” indicates a mountain pasture land exclusively used for summer grazing, which has its own buildings for the company activities.
Location and water supply
It was normally chosen the safest place, sunny and rich in grass, near water courses, of vital importance especially for the animals.
Through a system made of hollowed larch trunks water was brought in front of the hut and collected in a “laip” (hollowed trunk). There were also the blades, ie natural ground depressions (or man-made), beaten and waterproofed with clay for the rainwater supply.
In Borgà, alpine hut in Erto without water, using a sledge people used to transport the eternal snow from the ravines near the “Books of San Daniele” and, put it in tanks adjacent to the hut, waiting then for its melting.
The alpine hut was served by a network of trails that allowed its activities:
main paths, safe for animals, sometimes with protection walls (as in Col d’Aniei);
secondary paths, faster and steeper for the exclusive use of the shepherd;
connection paths between a pasture and the other and between zones of the same pasture area.
The walls were made of local stone, bound with lime produced in the kilns near the hut.
In Erto the huts were made of dry stone, with hand-hewn stone, while the shards were used as binder, filling the interstices.
Small openings formed the windows. The roof was made of shingles, in larch planks processed on the spot (most recently of sheet).
Only in Andreis, the roofing was different: they used the fescue, a plant of the grass family that grew wild on the pastures that appropriately beaten could guarantee a roof for a hundred years.
The first alpine huts were made up of several separate rooms: in one people lived and processed the milk (dairy) and the in the other they stored products (small dairy). In Cimolais there was a third small box where people centrifugate cream. These buildings were huge houses made of wood logs, stuck together with wooden nails. Nearby there was the canopy, shelter for dairy cattle, while the heifers were left free or locked in an enclosure. For the sheep was also used a mobile fence that was moved daily in order to rationally distribute the fertilizer.
The structures that we find today, date back to the twenties of the ‘900 and have the same characteristics. The alpine hut is composed of a single building, divided into several rooms.
In the most spacious room people lived, processed the milk, spent their free time, cooked the poor meal with the inevitable polenta. Two stone steps upper there was the casel, the freshest and well-ventilated place where the products were preserved, and there were also the working equipment.
A wooden staircase provides access to the upper floor, located above the casel. Four wooden planks made up the floor, while the bed was made with heather and dry leaves, placed over the branches of mountain pine.
In the Fornese area instead there were large stables that wind around a large square space.
The alpine hut indoors
The indoor part of the alpine hut was very simple. The floor was made up of the earth itself, not even leveled, except by man’s steps, full of whey and smoke. The simple furniture consisted of some wooden stools. In one corner predominated “mussa” (common term for anything that brings something). It is a swivel axis, where the large pot that was hung there could be taken off and put back on the fire, according to the need, during the working process of cheese and ricotta.
For the lighting was used a simple candle or an oil one and, going back in time, with the “alum”, that is to say a pine branch. Rarely artificial light was necessary because the fire warmed and lit up the place but mainly because the days were decided by sunlight. In the morning they got up at dawn and went to bed early, after a hard day’s work.
Those working in the alpine hut:
- The herdsman
He supervises the activity of the company, manages pastures and herds and hires staff. The departure day he left first, followed by the other owners, each with their own animals, or even those of a friend. Upon arrival he drew up the list, distinguishing cattle per family and checking the brand of each collar.
The day started up early with milking (long and arduous task). The work was facilitated by the animals tied up under the canopy. Sitting on a stool with one foot, suitable for finding the right balance on rough ground, the milker was holding the breasts in a fist, pincer or pinch way according to his habit, or depending on the size of the cow’s breasts. He was in charge of the processing of milk, to get cheese, ricotta and butter.
- The shepherd
Usually they were kids, quite willingly sent to the pastures from the family that in this way had one less mouth to feed in the three summer months. A pair of boots are witnesses of their pace in the pastures to guard the animals but also of their earnings: it was the compensation they received after three months of work.
They left in the morning, after helping the herdsman cleaning and massaging the breasts and, throughout the day, guarding the cattle in the pastures chosen day by day by the expert herdsman. This young shepherd erased loneliness carving wooden whistles and breaking the stones and then reassemble them: the “puzzle” of stones.
A particular shepherd was the “pluovit” (= community work) in Forni di Sopra. His task was the maintenance of pastures through the stones removal, cleaning the paths and pools of manure. Usually there were two people that did the work for four huts.
- The carrier
Once ready, the products had to be carried downstream. This task was entrusted to the bearers. Only women in the male world of the pasture, they were paid to transport the household goods and products from the village to the alpine hut and from hut to hut, working in turns. Uphill they could carry 40 kg and downhill even 50-60 Kg. In fact these women were paid according to the transported pounds. Sometimes they worked in exchange for milk or a mount of oxen. Their transportation mean was the basket. The butter was usually protected from the sun with the burdock in the Fornese area or with the mountain pine in Valcellina.
- The collar
Common element to all villages of the Park, before leaving, every owner of cattle hung it on the beast’s neck. Hanging on it the bell rang following the animal’s gait and made the village’s people come. In the pastures that sound was important because allowed the shepherd to look for the missing animals.
Cowbells were smaller and simpler, less loud.
Instead the travel bells were rather large, important and there can be also three on a one collar; they were hung on the cows when they went to the pastures and when they came back to the village.
Especially the return was considered a great event. The most beautiful cow had the honor of carrying the showy cowbell, her horns were adorned with flowers. The day of Our Lady, September the 8th was celebrated the shepherd’s feast: a Mass, a lunch and the due reward.
- Features and techniques
There were very simple collars, only interlocking, for goats. Others like those of Andreis decorated with carved floral or geometric patterns. The collars are the expression of human creativity of the past. There were skilled woodworkers who sold them but almost every herdsman knew how to carv them and he did this work during winter, at home, but also in the alpine hut, in his spare time.
You could use various types of wood (larch, beech, mountain pine) but the most suitable and traditionally used, was the laburnum, a soft and at the same time resistant wood.
The cut could be done in any season, provided with the waning moon, and selecting a part already naturally slightly curved, with 8-10 cm of diameter and height of 1.20 m. The most important thing then was to cut along the stem starting from the stump because the wood breaks more easily.
The wood then was squared up and roughly shaped using an ax , leaving the two ends and the thicker center. In one part was carved the tap and on the other a hole. To remove the interior wood was practiced a small hole. With an iron tool it was finished off by smoothing the rough parts.
To bend it was dipped in boiling whey, remained after the processing of milk and slowly bent, pressing it against the knee. With skill and imagination it was then decorated with floral or geometric patterns, engraving one’s initials with fire, as a sign of recognition. Finally were practiced the last hole to hang the bell and inserted the small key that ensured a perfect closure.