VIII. UPLAND LIVESTOCK
Traditionally, animals, mainly the dairy and working cattle, were raised that spent their lives in barns or which were also let out to graze nearly the stabling. Other types of livestock were taken up to the pastureland halfway up the mountain sides, where many communities had built structures sometimes called mountain huts that provided shelter when the weather was bad.
This halfway grazing land was mainly used during the spring, as the grass in the upland grazing would still not have grown due to the weather and, at the end of autumn, as the upland grass would have been exhausted. When the conditions were suitable, the livestock would be taken up the mountains. This grazing system is not found throughout the territory studied as it varies according to the height of the mountains and upland, of the side on which the land is located, of the ownership system of the land and local costumes, which has led to a certain variety of models.
Many of the people surveyed resorted to the saints’ calendar to note the dates for taking the livestock up to and bring them down from the upland grazing and it is the way to communicate without having to specify a day and month. It is quite a widespread costume.
In Bizkaia, the livestock farmers mainly used the upland grazing for sheep, but cattle and horses were also of considerable importance and goats to a lesser extent. In some communities, pigs were released onto the mountain slopes during the autumn to feed on the acorns from the oaks and holm oaks and nuts from the chestnut and beech trees. When the shepherds remained next to their flocks and herd and made cheese in the upland huts, they fed the whey to the pigs.
Some communities of Bizkaia were not near to the high upland and the animals were turned out on the nearby commons and brought home every day.
Sheep were also the main livestock in Gipuzkoa. The shepherding way of life of remaining with their animals on the mountains was followed in the Aralar and Aizkorri grazing land.
In Hondarribia, ewes, horses, cows and large numbers of Betizu cattle, over two hundred steer, are raised on the Jaizkibel slopes. Many farmsteads, where they have dry cows or heifers, o turn them out on the upland instead of raising them at home in order to save on food, work and the space they occupy in the barn. They remain year round in Jaizkibel except in the case of a really hard winter.
Northern Basque Country
Ewes, Pottok horses and betizu cattle were raised in Lapurdi. Pigs were let loose in the forest to forge on acorns. There were also nanny-goats which were raised only for meat and not for milk, but they were seen negatively for the destruction they caused.
In Zuberoa, the shepherds took the ewes up the mountain, along with the pigs that were fattened on the whey. They would take no more than two or three goats up with them in the olha. Some shepherds took calves up, but later, after 15 June and even 1 July, depending on the weather conditions. Horses were let loose between June and September as those animals devoured the grass and left nothing for the sheep. The Zuberoa association made sure they were not taken up to the upland grazing outside those periods as the grass had to recover.
In Tierra de Ayala, the main type of livestock that is currently taken up to Sierra Salvada, the common grazing land of all the villages that make up the Tierra de Ayala, is the sheep, with over 6,000 head in flocks of up to 400 latxa ewes. The grazing land used to be, and still is, used until the first snow arrived. However, they used to wait until the snow melted before returning to the upland, but today once they have come down, they do not go back up until the following season. In recent years, over a thousand head of cattle have also grazed on Salvada. The most common breed is the one that has been traditionally raised in this region, the terreña. The other cows are not usually pure breds, but rather crosses between Brown Swiss, Charolais and Pyrenean cattle. Cows can be seen on the uplands by March and April. In the past, each farmstead would take the few head of cattle that it raised to the upland and there would never be more than 100 or 150 in total. Around 300 mares are also released in the mountains. Given their strength, these are the animals that are first taken up and there have been years when they have stayed there all winter. There is frequently a stallion in each large herd of mares. Furthermore, 100 or 150 head of goats are also taken up. Those animals are thought to be non-hardy and are therefore not taken up until the end of May and early June. They are brought down to the valley in December.
In Urkabustaiz, the terreña and betizu mountain cows are usually let loose in the mountains. They remain there from spring until St. Michael’s Day (29 September) and even longer if the weather is good. They are then brought in to sleep in barns, but return to the mountains every day. The owner does not have to herd them to top, but just takes them a little way and they find their own way up. The same happens when it is time to come down. However, the farmer has to often leave the calves in the barn to guarantee the mothers return. The process is similar with the mares, even though they are much more hardy and only come down when it is snowing or they are about to foal. They are taken to graze on a bank or ditch of the village for eight or fifteen days after foaling.
Ewes, nanny-goats and white pigs are also taken up.