XXIII. LIVESTOCK FAIRS AND BUYING AND SELLING LIVESTOCK
In olden days, the important livestock fairs were usually held once or twice a year. However, there were other more frequent local ones as the markets were and are held more frequently, fortnightly, weekly and even several days a week depending on the importance of the town.
The markets, at least originally, were less important than the fairs. In some places there were held, and sometimes continue to be held, for the local residents of the town or the surrounding district. There are fairs specialising in cattle, sheep, horses, etc and people come from farther afield. Other fairs, above all today, have displays and exhibitions and competitions are usually held there.
Despite some places holding fairs more or less frequently, they put on some special ones. There are also places lying on the border where the local residents go to the fairs and markets of towns in the neighbouring territories (for example, the residents of Moreda go to Logroño…). Lastly, there are the fairs that are highlights on the local calendar, such as the Torrelavega, Miranda and Logroño fairs, which attract people from a very large area.
In the past, the district and local fairs played an important role when buying and selling cattle or sheep, along with other animals and products. The dealers acted as middlemen buying and selling livestock at the fairs and at individual farmsteads. The increased red-tape required by the authorities to move and sell livestock and fear of disease is leading to fewer fairs and is impacting livestock sales and has therefore resulted in significant changes in customs. A change is also being seen today with a transition in the sale of livestock as the owners sell them to the cooperatives to which they belong. A significant drop in livestock sales at local fairs has been noted.
In the Aralar in Gipuzkoa, there is an area called Perileku, fair ground, in the Igaratza meadow, next to the dolmens of the same name. The name Perileku comes from the fact that shepherds used to hold a social event like a fair there until the 1940s. The event was always on the same date, on 22 June, the day before St. Juan’s Eve. The shepherds would gather together for three reasons; to buy and sell ewes, to swap rams to improve and renew the flocks and to sell the last lambs to the butchers who would go up to buy them.
The people surveyed in some locations said that too much importance was given to the external appearance of the animal and its looks at many fairs and they often failed to take into account if the animal was right for the work to be carried out. Therefore, some livestock farmers would embellish their animals to take them to the fairs (Urkabustaiz-A). The custom of dressing up the cows and calves taken to the livestock fair was widespread. The farmers would put a cowbell collar on and brush them and shave their tails except for the tip (Urduliz-B).
In Urkabustaiz, the custom was reported that livestock farmers that had a single steer would go to the trade fairs, a practice that was also seen in other towns near there in Álava. When two fair-goers in that situation came across each other, they would draw lots for one of them to keep the two animals, after paying a set price. It was a system used to get couples.
Buying and selling using dealers and between livestock farmers
Apart from going to the fairs to sell and buy livestock directly, the livestock farmers often restored to the services of the people who did that as a profession and were known as dealers. The dealers were generally from the same or nearly towns who at their own initiative or when so requested by the livestock farmer, would visit the latter to negotiate the price of the livestock both when buying and selling. They also would sometimes act as middlemen at the fairs.
They usually wore a typical black blouse and carried a long stick (Ayala, Pipaón, Urkabustaiz-A). They often carried their wallet held together with rubber bands or also “a large purse to put the money in” (Ayala). In addition to the above garments, the gypsy traders would also wear a neckerchief and a hat on their head (Pipaón-A).
The purchase agreement
Inspecting the cattle
The livestock being sold at the fairs was first inspected by the buyer, sometimes with the help of third parties, before taking the decision to purchase it.
In Sangüesa (N), when draught animals or cows were being bought, mainly at the fairs, the teeth were the first thing to look at to see if the animal was young or old; it was taken into account whether they were fat or thin and the horses were made to run up to see if they were lame and they were even harnessed to a cart to see if they were used to pulling or carrying loads. “They knew how fit the animal was from its face and skin,” explained the people surveyed. If they starred at its eye and it did not close, it meant that the animal was blind in one eye. The custom of checking and inspecting the different parts of the animal such as teeth, horns, hooves, etc, was quite widespread and that was also reported in Aoiz and Ultzama (N).
Importance of livestock farming in the family economy
It was generally reported that the livestock was very important in the family economy in the past and even having more or fewer animals reflected the standing of the farmstead (Agurain-A). The larger livestock was used for farming and livestock work, in addition to breeding, obtaining meat and other products and was looked after by the men of the farmstead. The smaller livestock (pigs, hens, rabbits) was the remit of the wife. The usefulness and interest in the draught animals and beasts of burden decreased tremendously in they not so distant past as they were replaced by machinery.
The livestock had greater meaning and importance in the household economy in the upland villages than those on the plain, where arable farming was predominant and livestock farming a mere complement.
- The word for “rich” in Basque is aberatsa which literally means “owner of many heads of cattle” as the larger animals are expressed using the term abere, as is also the case in Latin with pecus, “livestock”, pecunia, “money” and peculium, “wherewithal”.