Tour to Extremadura

by admin on 08/11/2015

I joined recently a tour to Extremadura with Klunderud Natur og Kultur together with 18 participants in all. Surviving in Extremadura is hard for both man and animals with temperatures in summer near 50°C. Since time immemorial, man and domestic animals have been moving to the highlands in summer and to the lowlands in winter in search of pastures. This movement is called transhumance, but nowadays it has mostly been replaced by trucks, which bring the animals as far north as Asturias

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The paths, on which transhumance was done, are called cañadas in Spanish and they are often placed between stone walls in places with a ready supply of stones. However, when we were driving on the steppe called La Serena, we passed a cañada across open land. According to the Extremadura Tourist Board, transhumance is still practised in La Serena. Shepherds, being aided by guarding dogs, roam with flocks of Merino sheep across the steppe year in year out.The milk of the sheep is used to produce a cheese called Torta de la Serena, a cheese, which has to mature for at least 60 days before it can get a seal of approval, and be sold on the open market. More information on Torta de la Serena can be found here.

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More than one third of Extremadura consists of a cultural landscape, which is called dehesa, which connotes meadows grazed by domestic animals and sparse oak trees, mainly holm oak and cork oak.

According to this article, dehesa is a multifunctional agro-sylvo-pastoral system  (a type of agroforestry) and cultural landscape of southern and central Spain and southern Portugal, where it is known as montado.

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Dehesa is also habitat for wildlife like deer, wild boar, rabbits, Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle. In addition, more than 100,000 cranes from Scandinavia are wintering in this area.

Besides, dehesa also refers to the type of rangeland management of estates for private agro-livestock exploitation in Mediterranean-type forests from which multiple resources are obtained simultaneously.

The oak trees on the dehesa are pruned every 5 to 10 years depending on type of species and if the dehesa is used for growing cereals or letting domestic animals graze. Trained craftsmen, called cortadores in Spanish, are hired by farm owners to do the pruning, which has to start when the trees are young such that they form 3 to 5 main branches 2-3 metres above the ground. The cortador removes dead wood, vertical shoots and any unwanted growth. This leads to that the crown canopy gets lower and wider and it has been shown that oak trees, which are pruned properly, produce up to 10 times more acorns than trees, which have been left untouched.

Pruning of the oak trees can only be done from December to February, which is the resting time of the trees and the time when the trees are least susceptible to infections from funghi.

By plowing the dehesa occasionally, the capillary tubes through which trees get water are broken, leading to that less water will evaporate before it reaches the surface. Besides, the wide crown canopies of the oak trees will shade the ground, such that water in the capillary tubes may reach closer to the ground.

The bark of cork oaks are harvested every 9 years on the average. The harvest is done in summer and all the bark from the ground up to a height of about 2 metres is removed. If the work is done correctly, all the bark should be in one piece after removal. Afterwards, the tree has a pretty reddish hue, which gradually turns black. The cork is brought to factories where it is used as corks in wine bottles, etc.

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We spent one morning at a farm called Finca Cortijeros where cattle and pigs are raised for meat. We were shown around by the leaseholder, Luis Gonzales Ramo, of the farm who first led us to an enclosures where a groups of sows were living, while one big boar was roaming freely outside. Then, we crossed over to the dehesa where majestic oak trees provided shade for the ground. In fact, it could easily be seen that the ground was green below the trees and brown in between. We also passed various ditches and a pond, all of which had been dug out for containing rain water. Our knowledgeable guide told us that while the oak trees provided homes to lots of insects, lots of amphibians were living in the ponds. Crossing a small part of the property, amounting to 7000 hectares, we crossed a gate behind which were living a group of black pigs, which are able to live in the fierce sun in summer.

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The pigs were black, Iberian pigs  and they had a large area for themselves where they could eat as many acorns as they wanted. They weigh about 90 kg when they start eating grass and acorns only and they are sent to the slaughterhouse after about 3 months and they weigh about 160-170 kg. They are outside all year and the sows bear piglets without assistance. The adult pigs had metal rings in their noses in order to prevent them from digging in the ground. Instead, they were using their legs to dig in the ground, an activity which seems irresistible for pigs. We also visited an enclosure where a group of piglets was living together with one big Duroc sow. The meat of the pigs is turned into Iberian ham and it can be bought almost anywhere in Spain.

We stayed in the village of Robledillo where we were shown allotments irrigated by elaborate canals first built by the Moors

Ascending above the village, I could see elaborately made terraces where olive trees were growing.

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We also visited the bodega of Rosario and Leon, an elderly couple who is also running the place where we stayed, Casa Rural Azabal. They served us home-made ham and cheese together with wine and during the dinner, they told us that before there were goats on the ground floor of almost all the houses in Robledillo, while now there is none. Then, they slaughtered their own animals and made cheese and various meat products from scratch, but now they buy meat and turn it into ham, sausages, etc. at home.

Several creeks pass through Robledillo and one of them is used to power a water wheel, which is used to power an olive oil mill. We went there for a visit and we were shown the mill, which would start turning olives into olive oil a few days after our visit. We also went to the shop with a large selection of local products, located next to the olive oil mill.

Above the village of Hornachos, we ascended a hill and walking along a road, there was a sign showing that a perennial spring called “Fuente de los moros” had been used as a source for a basin being used as a laundry, while excess water had been led to orchards for ages in this area. In fact, we passed an orchard with terraces where orange and olive trees were grown and certainly being irrigated by water from the spring. Our Spanish-speaking guide talked to the owner of the orchard, who told him that wild boar had been visiting the orchard at night.

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We also went to the village of Montánchez, which was famous for being the only village where carnivals were held during the Franco era, but now it’s known for its hams – jamón ibérico de bellota – from black pigs which are eating acorns the last months of their lives, as described above. The view from the castle at the top of the village, showed small properties, some with terraces, enclosed by stone walls inside of which mainly olive trees were growing.

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Descending slowly from the castle at the highest point towards “la Fontanita”, the teaching centre for ADENEX we passed small gardens enclosed by stone walls where orange trees were growing and further down, there were olive trees surrounded by stone walls.

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A representative of ADENEX showed us photos of the dehesa, while talking about its characteristics. According to ADENEX, the dehesas

The final part of our tour was spent in the town of Trujillo  in which a castle resided on the highest point of the town. From there, stone walls, pastures, abandoned buildings and small farms could be seen.

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Descending from the castle and walking on paths enclosed by stone walls, I passed small farms where various types of vegetables were grown. Instead, on the plain below the hill on which the town was placed, cows and sheep were grazing inside stone-walled enclosures. Unfortunately, the stone walls were falling down in several places, but the farmers just put some branches in the empty spaces in order to prevent their animals from leaving the enclosures. In addition, the paths were also partly obstructed by vegetation. Instead, their ancestors had worked for centuries in order to build the stone walls and they probably used the paths so much that no vegetation could grow there.

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In fact, the paths near Trujillo form a small part of drovers’ roads, called cañadas in Spanish, as described above.

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