IX. DRIVING THE FLOCKS UP TO MOUNTAIN PASTURES
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Driving the flocks up
The flocks of sheep have traditionally been taken up to the upland grazing in spring. The ascent date has varied for different reasons. The prevailing ones have been to do with the weather, which in turn affects grass growth, and also the condition of the ewes, in other words, their age and lactation period.
There was the belief that the sheep should be taken up to or brought down from the high pastures on certain days of the week, as it was thought that otherwise an accident could occur. Those days were usually Tuesdays and Fridays.
Daily cycle shepherding
In many locations, shepherds usually remained up the mountain and lived in a hut along with their ewes. Yet that did not occur in all the areas surveyed and the grazing land was sometimes close enough to where they lived to allow them to look after their livestock and return home each day.
Even though the livestock was visited daily in some locations, the shepherd would go up at dusk to milk the animals and then stay and sleep there to wait for the morning milking to take the milk back to the farmstead.
The shepherd’s time on the uplands alone or accompanied
In the majority of the communities surveyed where there was a type of shepherding where the shepherd would stay up on the mountain in a hut or at least had to sleep there alongside his sheep, he would stay alone or in the company of other shepherds, but never with his family. Every now and then, he would therefore go home to get supplies or a member of his family would bring them up to him. A few cases were given when the whole family went up with the shepherd and lived with him on the mountain; a rather more frequent custom was for some family members to help him to take the sheep up to the upland grazing and to sometimes help him to set up his temporary abode before returning back home.
Even though the shepherd was alone with his flock, he was not completely cut off as he would have to return home for supplies from time to time.
Animal retinue of the shepherd
The shepherd usually brought other animals with him to help him with the flock, such as sheepdogs to herd and control the sheep and horses or mules to transport the utensils and carry the cheeses and supplies. Pigs were fed the whey from the cheese-making processes using the milk and which would otherwise be thrown away. Other smaller animals such as hens were kept to supply eggs. Raising the hens on the uplands had the added advantage for the shepherd that there were hardly any costs involved, as they found most of their food as they ranged freely there.
The best pasture for the flock
Mountain or summer pastures
Grass is the main food source in the Atlantic zone and in the areas on the Mediterranean side near the top of the watershed. The livestock prefer the grass growing in the upland areas, particularly on the sunny slopes. The finer grass is considered to be the best.
In addition to the fine pastureland on the summits, the sheep will eat other plants when there is a lack of grass.
Valley or winter pastures
The upland pastureland could only be used during the period of the year when the weather was good. In the Atlantic area, the sheep grazed on the low pastureland in winter. The feed was supplemented with green fodder that was particularly grown for that purpose, with dry fodder harvested in summer and with cereals and feed. There would sometimes be a short transhumance or transterminance to coastal areas and therefore to a less extreme climate.
Mediterranean side of the watershed
There is a lack of fresh grassland for grazing on the Mediterranean side and the sheep therefore eat different herbaceous plants or shrubs. They also feed on fallow land and the unsown edges of fields, as well as on the stubble and ears of wheat that are left on the ground after the harvest.
Bringing the flock down
Both the shepherds working in pastoral areas where they used to remain on the mountain to look after the sheep during the summer and those who would visit them daily or more or less frequently began to bring their flocks down once the mountain grazing was exhausted or when the weather conditions were so harsh that the animals could not remain on the upland.