In Spain, a school to train the “shepherds of the 21st century”

Vanesa Castillo fastens 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 shepherd’s school in western Spain.

“You have to stretch the animal’s skin” and “mow it slowly so as not to cut it,” explains José Rivero, a professional shearer who works in the school.

Vanesa manages to remove some of the wool before José finishes the job and leaves 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, who is responsible for this training of the agricultural cooperative Cooprado.

The young man, black T-shirt, ponytail and thick beard, palpates the lymph nodes on the upper part of the udder of a black goat from Granada. If they’re healthy, “they must be like an almond,” explains his trainer.

Like Thibault and Vanesa, a dozen of them attend five months and 600 hours of training at this school in Casar de Cáceres, a village of 4,000 souls in the heart of Extremadura, a rural region where much of the raising of sheep and goats in Spain.

Goal: learn how to work with animals, respect their welfare 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” come together, 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“The bucolic vision of the shepherd in his field with his bag over his shoulder” is outdated, Jurgen Robledo, veterinarian and teacher in this school abounds: “today’s shepherd is a technological shepherd” who, for example, controls milk production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 there are very different profiles running through the school. Some already work in the sector and want to specialize, others want to change their lives.

Vanesa Castillo, 37, belongs to this second category: unemployed since the retirement home where she was employed two years ago closed, she is training with her daughter Arancha Morales, 17, with a view to climbing a family farm.

“We are looking for a way to take money home,” explains Arancha, whose father is unable to work after an industrial accident.

However, both are aware of the difficulty of finding affordable land for their herds, a widespread problem in Extremadura, according to school officials.

At 26, Thibault Gohier dreams of “an inn and a small farm next door”, with “about thirty animals”. However, this French animal lover, who should have followed the training in 2020 but had to postpone due to the Covid-19, does not rule out working on a farm in Spain.

While the students learn to mow, El Ouardani El Boutaybi feeds dozens of goats that jump and run in an enclosure. This former student, who completed the Casar de Cáceres school in 2020, joined the school team at the end of his education.

“I have a future in the countryside,” 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 minor migrants.

A path that embodies exactly what the school has been looking for since its creation in 2015: in the face of the “abandonment of the Spanish rural areas”, we want to “attract people to the countryside who want it”, get them for this ” all the necessary resources,” explains Quique Izquierdo.

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