The Spanish school turns out to be the shepherds of the 21st century

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Casar de Caceres (Spain) (AFP) – Vanesa Castillo is holding a sheep tightly between her legs and holding her head with one hand while trying to shear off the thick fur with an electric clipper.

“Its scary!” said Castillo, 37, slightly unnerved by her first attempt at shearing sheep at a shepherd’s school in western Spain.

“You have to pull the animal’s skin taut, very slowly, so you don’t cut it,” explained Jose Rivero, the professional shearer who ran the course.

Sheep shearing is just one of the courses offered at the school in Casar de Cáceres, in rural Extremadura, to counteract the rural exodus that has sparsely populated much of inland Spain.

Founded in 2015, the school had the idea of ​​”recruiting people who love the countryside,” said Enrique “Quique” Izquierdo, who runs the school.

It aims to provide all the training and resources needed to “create a Shepherd for the 21st Century… using the most modern methods in a sector where tradition and modernity blend”.

Extremadura, where the school is based, is home to much of Spanish sheep and goat farming JORGE GUERRERO AFP

Much of Spain’s sheep and goat farming is concentrated in harsh Extremadura. The school in Casar de Caceres is one of several across the country, the first to be established in the northern Basque Country in 1997.

technology and tradition

“The traditional image of a shepherd wandering through the fields all day” no longer exists, said Jurgen Robledo, a veterinarian who said students are taught how to use many high-tech tools, including milk control programs.

This year, 10 students are completing the five-month course, which also includes hands-on experience working with animals.

Students learn how to milk sheep and goats using high-tech tools to maximize production
Students learn how to milk sheep and goats using high-tech tools to maximize production JORGE GUERRERO AFP

Thibault Gohier, 26, is learning how to milk goats and recognize if any of them are sick, which could affect the quality of their milk.

“You have to use your fingertips as if they were your eyes,” said Felipe Escobero, who runs the farm where the school is located, as they feel a black goat’s milk lymph nodes at the top of its udder.

If they’re healthy, “they should feel like an almond,” Escobero added.

The course also covers financial matters and filling out certificates for animal welfare or the use of crop protection products.

It’s totally free and funded by the Cooprado Livestock Farmers’ Cooperative.

Veterinarian Robledo said that thanks to modern hi-tech tools, herders can now “measure each animal’s individual (milk) production.

“Such data can show a farmer if production has decreased due to subclinical mastitis infection by noting a decrease in production in a given number of animals.”

Unlike normal mastitis, such infections do not cause visible changes in milk or udder appearance, making them difficult to detect, although they affect the farmer’s bottom line by reducing milk production and quality.

The Shepherd School in Casar de Cáceres is one of several such places across Spain
The Shepherd School in Casar de Cáceres is one of several such places across Spain JORGE GUERRERO AFP

Various backgrounds

Some students are already working in agriculture and want to specialize, while others are brand new to the field, like Vanesa Castillo, who is taking the course with her 17-year-old daughter, Arancha Morales.

Originally employed in a retirement home until it closed two years ago and she was struggling to find work, her dream now is to have a sheep farm.

“We’re looking for a way to bring some money home,” says her daughter, whose father was unable to work after an accident.

Both women know they face an uphill battle, especially to find an affordable piece of land for their herd, a common problem in Extremadura.

Thibault Gohier has a very different background.

A young Frenchman who loves animals and the countryside, his dream is to have “a bed and breakfast with a small attached farm with about 30 animals” in a mountainous area of ​​France.

The students come from a wide variety of areas: Some are already working in agriculture, others are brand new
The students come from a wide variety of areas: Some are already working in agriculture, others are brand new JORGE GUERRERO AFP

While the other students learn to shear, El Ouardani El Boutaybi feeds dozens of restless goats scurrying around a pen.

“I did the pastoral school and all the internships in June 2020… and then they took me on,” says the 20-year-old, who hails from the coastal town of Nador in northeastern Morocco.

He arrived in Spain in 2017 after crossing the fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in North Africa, where he spent time at a center for unaccompanied minors before being transferred to the peninsula.

The aim is to encourage people to work in agriculture to counteract the rampant depopulation of rural areas in Spain
The aim is to encourage people to work in agriculture to counteract the rampant depopulation of rural areas in Spain JORGE GUERRERO AFP

“I have a future working in the countryside,” he says proudly.

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