RURAL LIFE IN SPAIN

Meet Spain’s unlikely 21st-century shepherds

A new program is teaching young people how to breed and care for sheep

Miriam Talavera with Enrique Izquierdo, the coordinator of the School of 21st Century Shepherds.
Miriam Talavera with Enrique Izquierdo, the coordinator of the School of 21st Century Shepherds.Lino Escurís

Miriam Talavera went to beauty school. So she's understandably surprised to find herself working under the sun, surrounded by blue turkeys, black sheep and white cows in the middle of a farm. “I would have never imagined” that I’d end up working in the countryside, she says.

This is a profession you can make a living from Enrique Izquierdo

The 32-year-old, born near the Western border of Spain in Casar de Cáceres in Extremadura, has volunteered to be one of 11 students at the School of 21st Century Shepherds. The project, based in her town, was launched in 2016 to address the lack of generational initiative in rural professions and revitalize farming knowledge with technological advancements in the field. Other autonomous regions have also joined the movement.

This morning, Talavera has joined eight men and two women – almost making up every young person in the area – to visit a farm in the grasslands of Extramadura region where they learn about indigenous sheep breeds. Other days, they work on developmental aspects of farming or studying pesticides, or learn about sheep breeding, diet and physique. “The old model of the shepherd who spends their mornings with their crook and bag, watching their herd graze in the pasture is outdated and must be reinvented,” says Enrique Izquierdo, the school’s coordinator. “The latest thing we've been working on is using satellite images to locate optimal grazing land”.

Miriam Talavera’s plans include farming sheep and perhaps in the near future, creating a dairy farm. “This is a profession you can make a living from,” says Izquierdo. Another way is through “star products” such as the famous Casar cheese which is made from sheep’s milk from the region. As Izquierdo points out this renowned cheese depends upon “the farmers that produce the milk."

English version by Laura Rodriguez.