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Traditional animal husbandry and contemporary changes

Breeding or exploiting the different livestock species or at least a significant amount of them could be seen in the majority of population centres surveyed. Local diversity is therefore not so much about whether one type of livestock is raised in some areas and different animals in others, but rather the relative importance of the species in the livestock overall of each location. What is assessed is breed differentiation.

During the last century, an important transformation in the keeping of domesticated animals was also noted. In the past, when self-sufficiency was the norm, each household tried to keep every different type of livestock in order to cover the food needs of its members.

There was a marked progressive specialisation after joining the European Community in the 1980s. This specialisation has not only affected the breed composition of the livestock population, with the incorporation of highly productive breeds, but also, in an attempt to cut production costs as required by the market, livestock farmers were forced to focus on raising a single type of livestock while increasing the number of heads of animals to offset the progressive downturn in the profit margin.

Atlantic side of the watershed

On this side of the watershed, cows and ewes were the most important milk producers, with cow's milk being mainly used at home. Oxen were the main draught animals. The type of scattered population centre meant that the livestock was kept in the stabling of the farmsteads that was part of the house. The differences in climate and vegetation have conditioned the shepherding and livestock activities meaning that the animals here graze on the uplands and also in the many meadows that cover the slopes and the bottoms of the valleys. Livestock farming has evolved towards milk production, mainly from cows, while sheep are also important and their milk is used to make cheese.


In Fruiz, cows, including steers and heifers, pigs, rabbits and hens, along with dogs and cats, were breed and used on the farmstead. Some animals, such as oxen and asses, were used but not bred as they were normally bought as adults. The people surveyed have never kept bee hives, although they knew of neighbours who had done so. Goats and sheep were not important and the only flocks of ewes that were seen usually came from Gipuzkoa and were brought to Fruiz to graze on the local pasturelands in winter.


In the Bajo Deba supramunicipal district, Brown Swiss cows were raised in Elgoibar and they produced milk for the household's consumption and to sell. They were also used to plough the land. At that time, each farmstead had four or six of those animals, a pair of oxen, some calves, a donkey and mule. There were farmsteads with oxen that were used to plough the land. They were also used to pull wagons loaded with ore at a factory that has since disappeared. The situation has not changed significantly and even though many farmsteads still have a few cows, which are raised for both milk and meat, the number of animals has increased considerably.

Northern Basque Country (lying within France)

In, Sara (L), all or some of the following species were raised and used on the farms: behiak eta idiak, cows and oxen; zerriak, pigs; ardiak, ewes; zaldiak eta behorrak, horses and mares; astoak, asses; ahuntzak, nanny goats; lapinak, rabbits; oiloak, hens; ahateak, ducks and antzarrak, geese.

Mediterranean side of the watershed

On the Mediterranean side of the watershed, particularly in the southernmost part, nanny goats have traditionally been the animal that provided milk for the household as sheep were bred for meat, as was the case of cattle, which were scarce in number in many population centres. Horses were the most important draught animals. As the type of population centre has been more concentrated, the livestock have usually lived in buildings on the outskirts of the village. The animals have mainly grazed on the uplands as the lower land has been used for growing cereal, even though the stubble and fallows have also used there.


In Urkabustaiz, the older people explained that there normally "would be a little of everything". Thus, ewes, nanny goats, mares, cows, hens, bees, donkeys, mules and pigs were among the animals raised. There has usually been a dog to protect the house and cats to keep the mice down.

Beef cows spend a good part of the year in the uplands. They are turned out in April and remain outside until the first snows. The most common breed is the Terreña, a native breed of mountain cattle, which is also used as draught animals. This type of cattle adapts well to upland life and comes down without needing a cattleman when the animals realise the bad weather has arrived.


In Montaña Navarra, in Larraun, there was usually a nanny goat, ahuntza, in each homestead to provide milk. It was usually tethered with a long rope in a meadow. Nowadays, each family has one or two pigs for the household's needs. Each farmstead also has 18 hens, usually in cages, to supply eggs. They are feed on corn and even produce from the vegetable garden. If they are free range, a cabbage is hung on a wire in the pen or on the fence for them to pick at. Cow are currently raised to produce milk and to breed calves which are sold once fattened. There are also many ewes as keeping them is now profitable thanks to the subsidies from the European Community.