De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Feeding of the homestead's livestock

This chapter describes the feed given to the different domesticated livestock during the time they are indoors. This is in winter when the weather conditions prevent the grass from growing and in any event make it hard for the livestock to be out in the fields or on the upland pastureland. Some species have been permanently kept in regardless of the seasons. Other animals were kept continuously in the pen depending on their purpose.


There were certain specific features of the way that oxen were feed among the cattle. As they were used as draught animals on the farms, great care was taken with their feed so that they could withstand hard work and not get sick. Pairs of fine oxen were also a source of pride for their owners, meaning some of them, particularly if they were wealthy enough, overfed these animals to arouse the admiration and envy of their neighbours.

Horse herds

When it comes to feeding horses, it is rather similar to what has been described for cattle, with cereals and pulses having more importance on the Mediterranean side of the watershed and grass on the Atlantic side.

Ewes and nanny goats

In Carranza (B), the flocks currently graze in meadows at the bottom of the valley in winter. They are put in pens and folds at night, where they are given hay as extra feed. The lambed ewes are kept in the pen from November to May. From November to March, they are given two portions of feed, one in the morning after being milked and another in the afternoon before milking. In April, there have one portion in the afternoon before being milked.


Pigs have been fed in a similar way throughout the territory studied. The feed usually has contained diced turnip or beetroot, potatoes, along with a leafy vegetable mixed with cereal flour mixed in warm water. Those animals have also been released in the uplands, to eat oak and holm oak acorns and beech nuts and are even fed whey from the cheese in those areas where the shepherds make it in the huts.

Hens and other poultry

Hens have wandered outdoors to look for food in the majority of the locations. Whole grain cereals or flours and sometimes boiled potatoes has also been used to supplement their feed.


Rabbits have mainly fed off wild plants, including one that is repeatedly named, the field milk thistle or prickly sow-thistle. It is a species belonging to the Sonchus genus.

Feeding the young

All animals pass through a rearing stage, at the start of their life, when they receive special care. They are fed in a different way from birth until they are old enough to begin to eat like their parents. As most domesticated animals are mammals, they usual pass through a suckling period and as they grow, their food is gradually changed so they slowly adapt to their adult diet. They are also looked after in different ways in response to their vulnerability during this first stage of their life.


In Astigarraga (G), calves are fed on milk when they are small and then fattened on animal feed mixed with grass.


In Carranza (B), the milk period lasts roughly to June. However, the lambs only suckle from their mothers until early May, when they are weaned so that the milk can be used to make cheese.

Feeding the livestock out in the fields

Domesticated animals that spend the winter inside sheltered from the bad weather are usually turned out in early spring on the pastureland near to the farmstead or village. They are then taken up to the upland grazing at the end of spring or in early summer, when the weather improves and the grass begins to grow again. The opposite happens in autumn, when they return to the fields once down from the uplands as long as the weather allows.

Mediterranean side of the watershed

A clear difference can be seen between the Atlantic and Mediterranean sides of the watershed when it comes to looking after the livestock grazing nearer to the villages. On the Mediterranean side, a shepherd is usually contracted to look after the herd made up of the livestock of all the local residents.

Atlantic side of the watershed

On the Atlantic side in the past, children often looked after the livestock in the meadows near to the house, at a time when it was not usual to have fences marking out the land. Children usually had to leave school once they learnt to read to start working at that and other age-appropriate tasks.

Controlling the animals in the meadows

Animals needed to be watched to make sure they did not escape back when there were generally no fences marking out the fields and stopping the animals getting out.

When there was no-one to stay and watch the animals, they were tethered in the meadows so that they did not escape or a device was used to stop them wandering off and entered in the sowed land.