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Saturday, November 12, 2022

Shepherd’s delight: the young Italian nomads high in the Dolomites – photo essay | Agriculture

Alice and Fabio have been nomadic shepherds for almost 10 years, taking their sheep every year from pastures high in the Dolomites to and from the Po valley, a large expanse of agricultural landscape in northern Italy.

Between June and September, they move around various pastures in the Dolomites, but when the weather starts to get cold, they take their flock of about 1,000 to the lowlands.

From the winter months until May they live in a caravan, travelling around the countryside in the provinces of Venezia, Padova and Treviso, looking for harvest leftovers in unused fields.

Fabio drives his flock of 1,000 sheep through the Fochet pastures above the village of Falcade in the Belluno Dolomites.

They rent land in the mountains to graze their flock in the summer but for the rest of the year they move every day in search of landowners who will let them graze their animals in post-harvest fields. Some oblige, but others refuse. Every day begins as an uncertain struggle to find land and food for their sheep. It is a lifestyle, with no holidays, that few Italians could imagine living today.

It is November, and Fabio leads his flock towards the plain, taking the Feltrina “regional road” which connects Feltre to Treviso in the Veneto region.
Martin is now one, has started to walk, and is already following the flock with his father.
Alice milks a she-goat for fresh milk for Martin, her baby.

A year ago, Alice and Fabio had a baby boy, Martin. They continue to follow the flock, alternating between changing nappies and negotiating the sale of sheep, singing lullabies and giving commands to the sheep and sheepdogs.

In the long term, Alice plans to rent an apartment in the mountains where the sheep graze in the summer and send Martin to a local school. Fabio will continue travelling with the sheep to find land and food.

Fabio leads the flock along a “regional road” near the village of San Martino di Lupari, in the province of Padua.

The couple’s sheep are reared for their meat, with the animals sold to an intermediary trader. This is their only source of income. The wool has little value and is sold to the trader for a small fee, while the milk is left entirely for the lambs.

Fabio and Alice have no plans to start selling their meat directly to consumers. It would be too complicated, they say. They prefer to live in the countryside and mountains, far from crowds, and are happy to have a trader take care of the marketing and sale of their sheep.

Alice, Fabio and Martin in the caravan where they live for most of the year.
Alice and Martin with their sheepdogs.
Alice plays with baby Martin outside the caravan.

  • Fabio and Alice have no plans to start selling their meat directly to consumers. It would be too complicated, they say. They prefer to live in the countryside and mountains, far from crowds

There are 60–70 nomadic shepherds like Alice and Fabio living in Veneto, a region in north-eastern Italian stretching from the Dolomites to the Adriatic. Each family has a flock of about 1,000 sheep, keeping a certain number of males and females each year to ensure they can replenish their flock without having to buy in new animals.

The wool from the sheep is put into sacks and sold to a trader for very little money.
A Senegalese shepherd who works with Alice and Fabio tries to get a sheep onto the truck of the trader who has come to buy the sheep.

The couple, like many nomadic shepherds, do not have access to the billions of euros of EU farm subsidies given to landowners. But they do hope one day to be able to obtain fields of their own for their sheep.

Fabio’s flock on the Col Becher mountain pasture in the Belluno Dolomites, where he spends most of the summer.

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