VII. BREEDING AND LOOKING AFTER THE ANIMALS
Great care has always been taken when selecting stud animals in order to improve the livestock characteristics. This concern was particularly seen as an attempt to increase production, but also, as will be seen later in the case of some Álava communities, when the livestock grazed on common land, the neighbourhood councils or associations were in charge of selecting the best stud animals and ensuring that the other animals were not used for breeding.
There was also an emphasis on “changing the bloodline”, in other words, to avoid the excessive inbreeding that could occur when the males are repeatedly bred with their own line. Studs were bought or swapped with other livestock farmers to solve this problem.
There were many traditional remedies to cure the diseases and injuries of domesticated animals. Furthermore, there would frequently be an expert on this matter, often a neighbour who had built up experience and knowledge and was considered to have certain gifts when it came to curing the animals. There were also healers and blacksmiths who were called upon to use their skills and knowledge to help the livestock. Charlatans were very important in the past and people resorted to them to cure rabies.
Procedures to calculate the age of the livestock
The most widespread procedure to calculate the age of a domesticated animal is to look at its teeth. Cows and ewes progressively lose their milk teeth before they get their adult teeth in such a way that allows their age to be calculated.
According to the people surveyed in Apodaca (A), one of the tests when hiring shepherds to look after the local livestock was that they had to know how to calculate the age of the animals. When the livestock farmers go to buy stock, they must know how to calculate the age of the mares, cows, donkeys, ewes and nanny goats. The first thing they do is to open the animal’s mouth and look at the colour and state of the teeth. Dealers were the most skilful in this regard. During the post-war era, there was the ploy, particularly by rouge dealers and gypsies, of cleaning horses’ teeth and coats to deceive the buyers, even though the honest dealers that worked in a specific area would never have done so. Cows’ ages would be calculated by their horns and the ages of ewes and nanny-goats by their hooves.
Handling the body of the animals
Traditionally, male animals were castrated for two main purposes which were sometimes complementary: on the one hand, in the case of animals bred for meat, so that they would fatten quickly and, in the case of some species, to avoid the unpleasant taste of the meat of intact animals; on the other hand, in the case of those used for agricultural tasks, to make them quieter and easier to handle. The specific case of sows was also mentioned and they were spayed for reasons considered further on.
There were people skilled in this task that would offer their services to their neighbours. Some people made a living from this and would travel from village to village and charge for performing this task. Veterinary surgeons would frequently be called in the case of operations where the life of the animal was in jeopardy. Nowadays, only vets are authorised to carry out this activity.
Shoeing consists of protecting the limbs of the animal by fitting and nailing shoes to the hard outer part of the hooves to prevent wear and malformation caused by friction against the ground.
Shoeing the working cattle and horses was a widespread practice.
In Agurain (A), the farrier’s trade lasted until 1970. The herradero, shoeing crush, was located outside the town walls, was owned by the farrier and run by the family. It was overseen by the local vet. There were also herraderos in Ezquerecocha, Guereñu, Heredia, Narvaja and Ozaeta, where the residents from the neighbouring villages would go with their livestock on the set days.
In Apodaca (A), the livestock was taken to be shod in Gopegui. The shoeing crush for the oxen was near to the smithy. It was a structure especially set up for that purpose and belonging to the local council. Years later, horses were taken to the farrier’s shop in Ondategi. The veterinary surgeon would be present when those animals were shod. In Araia (A), there was a farrier, who carried out any type of task related to his trade, in the village until the 1970s. The shoeing crush was located in Araia's oldest and most iconic district, Andra Mari. From that decade onwards, which is when farming machinery began to be introduced, animals were no longer shod.
In the Valle de Ayala (A), the livestock farmer who had the skills to shoe the animals did so himself, helped by other people. If he did not know how, he took the animals to a farrier or a travelling one would visit the villages.