Turn shepherd for a day with Pastores por un Día

Turn shepherd for a day with Pastores por un Día

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The unusual tourist attraction which begins in Soria allows city dwellers to get connected with the countryside for a small fee.

MADRID - Using a well-known anecdote, when somebody invited the French poet and painter Max Jacob to spend the weekend in the countryside, the early 20th-century artist exclaimed in horror: "The countryside? You mean that place where chickens walk around raw?"

A century later, environmental awareness has all but done away with such manifestations of "rural phobia" from our cities. Even so, it is still the case that many city dwellers who enjoy the occasional field day have, in fact, never seen a lamb up close except for on their plates. And rams, which are rarely eaten these days, are an even less familiar sight to the average city slicker.

With this in mind, and with the overall aim of getting more out of a sheep farm that barely brings in enough income from the sale from meat to cover costs, the veterinarian and sheep farmer Jesús Valtueña has developed an unusual tourist attraction whose name says it all: Pastores por un Día (Shepherds for a Day).

For a modest EUR 10, visitors to this dude ranch of sorts live out the life of a shepherd, following a herd of 1,200 indigenous Aragonese sheep, as it moves over the pastures of Upper Jalón, located on the border between Soria and Zaragoza provinces.

Valtueña, a 44-year-old native of Soria, is not alone in this business venture, although he is the intellectual and financial mentor.

Miguel García, 20, is a person who actually spends each day out in the fields with the herd, from 10 in the morning to 10 at night, wearing nothing else but a sweatshirt to guard against the freezing wind that is known around these parts as the descuernacabras (the goat dehorner). García, it is important to point out, is slightly nuts.

Although the farm headquarters are in Monreal de Ariza, located in Zaragoza province, the Shepherds for a Day programme begins in the nearby village of Utrilla in Soria, where the herd seeks out suitable pastures.

The backdrop of Utrilla's farm and landscape is made up of stone and adobe houses where, back in the old days, villagers raised between 100 and 200 sheep each. But the few residents who remain here have switched over to growing cereals, which is easier than sheep farming.

An advantage is that residents charge outsiders very little to use pastures. This enables Jesús and Miguel to carry out a type of livestock farming that has been traditional here since the days of the Celtiberians, and which makes the most of existing resources without overexploitation.

The sheep eat grass in the spring, stubble in the summer, and acorns in the fall and winter. This ritual takes place year after year, repeating a natural cycle that is healthy for everyone and sustainable.

As Jesús explains, the sheep fertilize the earth with their droppings and reduce the effects of forest fires by eliminating weeds that grow around the thickets of kermes oaks.

Miguel and the sheep spend the night inside a corral, in the freezing night air, which he claims is good for the both of them: "This way they don't get mucus like those who sleep under cover," he explains.

Miguel has a set of theories that may not be very scientific, but they work just fine for him. For example, a sheep should not be told that it has a name or else it will die. He can also recognise the tone and timbre of 40 different sheep bells, saying that this is all the music he needs. He does not, therefore, own a radio.

Everything is organised so that there are three lambings a year: in January, May and September, with around 400 births each time, yielding as many as 500 lambs.

This, of course, is the favourite time of the year for children visiting the farm.

text by El Pais / Andres Campos / Expatica
photos by www.pastoresx1dia.com

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