MADRID (AP) – The bleats and bells of some 1,200 sheep and 200 goats took over central Madrid on Sunday morning as part of a festival recreating the pastoral practice of moving livestock to new pastures.
Shepherds herded the animals through the cobbled streets of the Spanish capital while reenacting what their ancestors did for centuries: move herds from cool highlands in summer to lowland winter pastures.
Madrid, the vibrant capital of Spain, has always been part of the 125,000 kilometer grid of agricultural trails that span the Iberian Peninsula.
As part of the Transhumance Festival, the organizers are making a token payment for the right to use the drover’s route that traverses the capital. The payment presented at Madrid’s City Hall in medieval Spanish currency consists of 50 maravedis, as stated in an agreement between the city and shepherds dating back to 1418.
The proximity of the animals delighted the city dwellers who gathered to witness the unknown ritual. Children tried to touch the soft merino wool of the locally raised sheep.
Madrid has hosted the festival since 1994, and cities and smaller towns in Italy, France and California hold similar events.
In Spain, modern farming practices have reduced the practice of transhumance – the seasonal movement of livestock – to a small group of farmers who keep the tradition alive through associations such as Concejo de la Mesta, which are responsible for the Transhumance festival in Madrid.
They promote transhumance for benefits such as sustainability, cultural value and environmental protection because sheep-walking areas are less prone to wildfires.
According to the Transhumance and Nature Association, 52 families carry out the practice in Spain.
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