Gerês National Park
2017-01-18

The Gerês Shepherd’s Lifestyle – A Traditional Harsh Way of Life

The wild animals are not alone amongst the mountains of Gerês. Here the shepherd is a man or woman who spends most of the time up in the mountains with the fellow domestic livestock species and the rustic, exclusive breed of shepherd dog, the Castro Laboreiro. Accept A2Z's invitation and discover more about this endangered profession and way of life.

Mainly an agricultural and shepherd society, this responsibility is passed on early during childhood, making the population living in this National Park old but strong. Their determination grants them the will to earn the mountain’s favor and allows them to harvest most of their commodities.

The shepherd ensures herds are kept safe and sound at all times, managing animals belonging to multiple owners from the region. A shepherd must also be very resourceful and tough as he has to subsist in difficult conditions during the uninterrupted months they travel with the animals through the mountains’ pastures.

During spring and summer shepherds roam the mountains all week, taking the long-horned cattle, goats and endemic sheep from place to place helping the mountain pastures to renew and sleeping in old shelters called ""Curral". These archaic buildings protect the shepherd and the animals from cold and attacks from predators such as wolves. The Castro Laboreiro dogs play a crucial role in the process. In Autumn and Winter the shepherds and the herds return to the lower lands and grazing in the surroundings during the day.

A seasonal movement of people and livestock between their wintertime homes located in the valleys – Inverneiras – and their summertime homes, located in settlements at higher altitudes – Brandas – has become part of the locals’ way of life.

Besides goats and sheep, the shepherds in Gerês are also accompanied by an local species of cow easily mistaken with bulls due to their long horns. It is the "Barrosã" breed and although they look fierce, they are actually quite friendly. The cattle breed Barrosã descends from Mauritian species from North of Africa and brought to Portugal even before the birth of the nation (1143). These bovines have become the second prevalent breed existing in the country.

Some villages have a deep background of communitarian and pastoral lifestyle. Century-old traditions are still visible and the community acts as one huge organism. Communal watermills, olive and wine presses are some examples but the clearest one is the animals’ herding. A2Z walking and biking tours in the Peneda-Gerês National Park will provide you an experience with an ancient flavor of the mountain. Scrumptious Barrosã beef is just a small piece of it.

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