Our sheep live in a privileged place, the Sierra de Grazalema Nature Park, a protected natural area like no other in the world. It's the place with the highest rainfall on the Iberian peninsula, which together with the mountains form a stunning natural landscape. The relief is very steep, with limestone mountains pierced by water that form spectacular canyons, chasms and caverns. The difficult access and climate conditions have led to an imposing Mediterranean forest landscape, formed by holm oaks, cork oaks and gall oaks. But the most prevalent tree is the Spanish fir, a Southern European species that is a relic from the last ice age that affected the peninsula.
The flock lives in an area known as Los Llanos del Republicano. This is a narrow depression between high mountains, approximately six kilometres long, with a centuries-old livestock tradition. There are several herds of sheep and goats there, all with a public licence for sheep farming, as the pastures are exceptional and the animals have a wide-open space to live among mountains, with plenty of grazing land and water. Apart from our farms and the houses in the tiny whitewashed villages of Villaluenga del Rosario, Benaocaz and Grazalema, there are no buildings in the area. Neither is there any farming, except for forest-based activities such as cork production and mushroom collection. And the sheepfolds in the area have no electricity. What's more, the herds help preserve the forests, as they remove the abundant undergrowth that occurs each year in the rainy season, thereby preventing fires and fostering the biodiversity of this protected area. In the summer when the pastures are bare, and when the sheep need an additional nutritional supplement, we give them organic feed.
This area is also home to the Sima del Republicano, a cavity more than 1,100 metres deep, which is part of an interwoven karst complex and a major attraction for lovers of caving. As a result of this unique landscape, our sheep have acquired special characteristics so that they can adapt to the environment, where winters are cold and springs are humid and rainy, and to a mountainous habitat with high and rocky peaks.
Our sheepfold has been run by livestock farmers in the area for more than two centuries. We don't have electricity there, so we work with head torches when it goes dark in the evening. The sheepfold is living proof of the passage of time and our ancestors' tradition. The sheep go there every time they're going to be milked, because the rest of the day they live in the open air.
My village, Villaluenga del Rosario, has a long tradition of cheesemaking. It straddles the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga, on the side of one of the many mountains in the area. Thanks to the valley that runs through our village, livestock activity has been traditional for centuries. Today, with just 190 inhabitants, there are six cheese factories that work with Merino sheep and Payoya goats. This activity continues to create wealth, so the young generations can stay in the village and earn a living. The local cheeses are internationally recognised, and we play host to the Andalusian Cheese Fair every year, which attracted more than thirty thousand visitors in its latest edition.
A traditional event in our village is the Romería (held on 15 June), a rural festival in honour of the Divine Shepherdess. As this is when the temperatures are at their highest, the sheep begin to reduce their amount of milk and we only milk them in the morning.
Working organically while living in a protected park is normal. Our sheep are bred in one of the most iconic natural areas of the Iberian peninsula. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and now us, have always worked in the same way. We were certified organic in 2006 and everything is done as it was in the past. The sheep graze on high mountain grass, while they drink water from natural springs found all over the plains. We don't overexploit the land cultivated for animal feed, as the amount we use is minimal and it's also produced organically. What's more, our animals are free of chemically synthesised drugs, as our mission is for them to live healthily in order to prevent diseases.
Sheep have given our family work for as long as I can remember. Today, my brother and I take care of managing everything related to their care and cheesemaking. However, working with CrowdFarming means that we can give stability to our business and improve profits. This also means that we can take on two new employees, one for farming and the other for cheesemaking. They'll help us when we're busier and will be given temporary contracts according to the collective agreement. This will be a huge step forward for us!