Shepherd’s delight: young Italian nomads raised in the Dolomites – photo report | Agriculture
Alice and Fabio have been nomadic herders for nearly 10 years, taking their sheep from the high Dolomites pastures to and from the Po Valley, a vast expanse of agricultural landscape in northern Italy each year.
Between June and September they roam various pastures in the Dolomites, but when the weather begins to cool they take their herd of around 1,000 to the lowlands.
From the winter months until May, they live in a caravan, roaming the countryside of the provinces of Venice, Padua and Treviso, looking for the remains of the harvest in the unused fields.
They rent land in the mountains to graze their herd in the summer, but the rest of the year they move around every day in search of landowners who will let them graze their animals in the post-harvest fields. Some oblige, but others refuse. Each day begins as an uncertain struggle to find land and food for their sheep. It’s a lifestyle, without holidays, that few Italians could imagine living today.
A year ago, Alice and Fabio had a baby boy, Martin. They continue to follow the flock, alternating between changing diapers and negotiating the sale of the sheep, singing lullabies and giving orders to the sheep and sheepdogs.
Eventually, Alice plans to rent an apartment in the mountains where the sheep graze in the summer and to send Martin to a local school. Fabio will continue to travel with the sheep to find soil and food.
The couple’s sheep are raised for their meat, with the animals being sold to an intermediary trader. It is their only source of income. The wool is of little value and is sold to the trader for a small sum, while the milk is left entirely to the lambs.
Fabio and Alice do not intend to start selling their meat directly to consumers. It would be too complicated, they say. They prefer to live in the countryside and in the mountains, away from the crowds, and are happy to have a trader to market and sell their sheep.
There are 60 to 70 nomadic shepherds like Alice and Fabio who live in Veneto, a region in northeastern Italy that stretches from the Dolomites to the Adriatic. Each family owns a flock of around 1,000 sheep, keeping a certain number of males and females each year to ensure they can replenish their flock without having to purchase new animals.
The couple, like many nomadic herders, do not have access to the billions of euros in European agricultural subsidies given to landowners. But they hope one day to be able to obtain fields of their own for their sheep.