Sheep in Spain

Shepherd uses wild boar to control his sheep

September 15th, 2008

Appros of nothing in particular, a story here from the Olive Press about a shepherd in Granada who uses a wild boar to control his sheep. Read

Conservation work camp in the Picos de Europa

May 13th, 2008

The Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos is organising a work camp in July with volunteers in the village of Bejes, Cantabria. The camp is centred on helping the maintenance of traditional livestock farming in the Picos de Europa as an essential element in the conservation of the biodiversity and the recovery of the lammergeyer in the Cantabrian Mountains. Volunteers will help in sheering the sheep which are taken up to the high pastures in the summer. The camp involves three days working with the shepherds, two days learning about the fauna and flora of the Picos and one day’s rest. Knowledge of some Spanish is highly recommendable. More information from FCQ.

Be a shepherd for a day

May 6th, 2008

It is increasingly difficult for shepherds to make a living these days, and without them the landscape and biodiversity they help to produce would be seriously affected. Ways must be found to increase the earnings of shepherds and to compensate them for the work they do. In Catalonia for instance there is a pilot scheme which pays shepherds to graze forests thus cutting down the undergrowth and reducing the risk of fire. They are also employed to detect and warn about fires.

Another way forward is the great initiative by a group of Aragonese shepherds in the Medinaceli and Calatayud area. Ser Pastor por un Día, offers you the chance to go out for a morning or afternoon with a shepherd and a biologist and learn about the different skills involved in shepherding, mastiff dogs, local sheep breeds, shearing, lambing and the landscape they help to create. Knowledge of some Spanish is probably a must. Tel: 659 834 121 or visit Ser Pastor por un Día. I intend to sign up one of these days.

Update: The Guardian newspaper has since picked up on this story:

Stressed out city folk have found a new way to unwind – becoming a shepherd for the day and tending flocks of sheep. Caring for lambs at a remote hillside farm has become popular for urban Spaniards who want to rediscover nature.

Jesús Valtueña, a 44-year-old vet and sheep farmer, charges urban visitors €10 (£8) a person a day to tend a flock of 1,200 Aragonese sheep at his farm in Monreal de Ariza, in north-eastern Zaragoza province.

“The point is for people whose families may have had some connection with the countryside in the past but who now live in cities to come and re-establish that connection, perhaps showing their children sheep,” says Valtueña.

“Most of the people who come here live in the big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona and are stressed out.”

City dwellers and their children flock to the farm in January, May and September, the lambing season. When they arrive at the Pastores por un dia (Shepherds for a Day) venture they meet Valtueña’s eccentric partner, Miguel Garcia, a 20-year-old goat de-horner, or descuernacabras – the man who by tradition clips and trims the horns to stop goats wounding each other in fights. Garcia believes he can tell the sound and timbre of the bells on each and every sheep in the flock.

Half the lure of the farm (pastoresx1dia.com) is that Valtueña and Garcia let the flock roam and graze over various fallow fields and pastures, a traditional method of shepherding typical to the area for hundreds of years. It is not so typical now, however. Valtueña is the last shepherd in the area, his neighbours having turned to easier-to-manage cereal crops.

Electric fences against wolf attacks

February 29th, 2008

Electric fences stop 97% of attacks by wolves on livestock according to this article from EFE. In an experiment in 30 sheep farms in Spain, only three attacks occurred with the death of just one sheep during a year. Mastiffs are effective, though less so, with a 69% reduction in livestock injuries and deaths. The results were presented at the meeting Conviviendo con el lobo: Prevención de daños en Europa Meridional held in Segovia this February.

Sheep and goats in the Picos de Europa

November 25th, 2007

Lisa has some great photos over at the forum of a sheep and goat show in Potes, Picos de Europa, organised by Fundation for the Conservation of the Lammergeyer. She notes “The FCQ hopes to re-introduce three Lammergeyer into the Picos next spring. SEO Asturias have their misgivings over the release, however, due to the still prevalent practice of poisoned bait being put down for other species. The more interaction and dialogue between everyone the better I think, if this practice is to be stamped out.” Below Picos goat breed. Read and see photos on the forum

Shepherds protest in Madrid

September 10th, 2007

The annual protest calling for the protection of the Cañadas Reales, the traditional grazing routes, brought 1,000 sheep to the Spanish capital on Sunday. Some of Madrid’s streets are still part of the cañada system, including La Castellana, and these sheep drives across the modern city is a reminder of the old practice. The cañadas are, in theory at least, legally protected from occupation and barring, but many of these routes have been devoured by property speculation.
This year, alongside farmers from across Spain shepherds from 40 countries took part, including Mongolia, India, Kenya and Mali. They have come to Spain to take part in the The World Gathering of Nomads and Transhumant Herders, which is meeting in Segovia this September, 8th – 16th

madrid sheep

The Guardian noted “The environment ministry has warned that one-third of Spain risks being turned into desert because of over-grazing, modern farming techniques and property development….They came with a universal message – that their land and livelihoods are in the hands of governments and developers intent on modernisation at any cost. The farmers argue that as populations become more sedentary and pastoral farming dies out, so does the land, causing desertification and dwindling food supplies”.

Basque shepherds claim Idiazabal cheese under threat from wolves

August 30th, 2007

Shepherds in Alava, in the Basque Country have with remarkable hyperbole claimed that Idiazabal cheese, will disappear if a check is not put on wolves. Idiazabal is made with the Basque breed of latxa (lacha) sheep. Shepherds claim that the recent expansion of wolves in Alava is threatening their survival. (El Correo Digital)

lacha sheep A lacha sheep

Smoked with oak and beach, Idiazabal is one of my favourite Spanish cheeses, though I have many favourite Spanish cheeses. Read the rest of this entry

Transhumance in Spain

July 23rd, 2007

I’ve put together these two articles on transhumance in Spain:

  • Las Cañadas Reales (The network of drovers’ roads covering 125,000 km)
  • La Mesta (The medieval association of sheep holders which helped form the network of paths)
  • La Venta del Lobo. Impossibly bleak and ruined resthouse along the Cañada Real through the Sierra de la Culebra. A cherry tree is often the sign of old human habitation.