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Casar de Cáceres (Spain) (AFP) – Vanesa Castillo immobilizes a sheep between her legs and approaches the clippers of her thick wool, holding her head with her other hand. “I’m scared!” Says the 30-year-old, a student at a school for shepherds in western Spain.
“You have to stretch the animal’s skin” and mow “slowly so as not to cut it”, explains José Rivero, professional shearer working in the school. Vanesa manages to remove some of the wool before José finishes the job, leaving the merino sheep bare, to the applause of the other students.
A few meters away, Thibault Gohier learns to milk goats and recognize if they have a disease that could affect the quality of the milk. “Your fingertips should become your eyes”, advises Felipe Escobero, responsible for this training run by the agricultural cooperative Cooprado.
The young man, black T-shirt, ponytail and thick beard, palpates the lymph nodes located on the upper part of the udder of a black goat from Granada. If they are healthy, “they must be like an almond”, explains his trainer.
Like Thibault and Vanesa, about ten of them follow a five-month and 600-hour training course in this school in Casar de Cáceres, a village of 4,000 souls in the heart of Extremadura, a rural region concentrating a large part of the breeding of sheep and goats in Spain.
Objective: learn to work with animals, respect their well-being but also become familiar with financial management and obtain the certificates that breeders need to practice.
The idea is to train “the shepherds of the 21st century” in a sector where “tradition and the latest innovations” converge, explains Enrique “Quique” Izquierdo, head of the school, to AFP.
“The bucolic vision of the shepherd in his field with his bag over his shoulder” is outdated, abounds Jurgen Robledo, veterinarian and teacher in this school: “the shepherd of today is a technological shepherd” who controls, for example, milk production thanks to tablets and “big data”.
“A future in the countryside”
Sitting behind the desks in the classroom, the students are all ears. Jurgen encourages them to ask questions, knowing that very different profiles pass through the school. Some already work in the sector and want to specialize, others are looking to change their lives.
At 37, Vanesa Castillo is part of this second category: unemployed since the closure two years ago of the retirement home which employed her, she is following training with her daughter Arancha Morales, 17, with a view to climbing a family farm.
“We are looking for a way to bring money home,” explains Arancha, whose father is unable to work following an accident at work.
Both, however, are aware of the difficulty of finding affordable land for their herd, a widespread problem in Extremadura, according to school officials.
Aged 26, Thibault Gohier dreams of “an inn and a small farm next door”, with “about thirty animals”. This French animal lover, who should have taken the training in 2020 but had to delay it because of the Covid-19, does not however exclude working on a farm in Spain.
While the students learn to mow, El Ouardani El Boutaybi feeds dozens of goats jumping and running inside an enclosure. This former student, who passed through the Casar de Cáceres school in 2020, ended up joining the school team at the end of his training.
“I have a future in the countryside,” proudly says the 20-year-old from the Moroccan city of Nador, who arrived in Spain in 2017 via the Spanish enclave of Melilla, where he spent time in a center for underage migrants.
A path that embodies precisely what the school has been looking for since its creation in 2015: in the face of the “abandonment of Spanish rural areas”, we want to “attract people to the countryside who want it”, bringing them for this ” all the necessary resources”, explains Quique Izquierdo.
© 2022 AFP