Visiting a sheepfold in the Tarcău mountains, part II

by admin on 29/09/2019

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Map reference

My guide and I went back to the sheepfold in the Tarcău mountains, doing our last trip in reverse. Passing the Gyimes valley, turning left a a crossroads, we passed lots of houses whose properties extended up to a deep river valley. Turning left again, we drove along a creek and we passed several bodies of water together with more creeks. Arriving at the place we were last time, which my guide knew we had to pass, we could see one shepherd guarding a flock of sheep. Going further, we passed more creeks and former river beds, which showed that lots of water had been flowing there. At least, there should be enough water in this place.

Since there was no mobile phone coverage, my guide stopped the car after some time, then we started walking towards a hut with a big flock of sheep nearby.

Approaching the flock of sheep, we were met by several guarding dogs, which obviously didn’t like our presence. Anyway, their job is to protect the sheep against anyone who wants to hurt them, meaning that they were just doing what they were supposed to. All of the shepherds we met last time seemed to have been replaced by new ones.

Fortunately, my guide spoke with the shepherds and told them about why we were there, that is revisiting the sheepfold and talk to the couple who were managing it, the shepherds quietened down the guarding dogs.

Sheep are grazing while my guide is talking to the shepherds

The shepherds told my guide that the Borosan couple, who were managing the sheepfold, would be returning in about an hour. After about 4 hours, a horse and cart with a driver and one man walking were approaching the sheepfold. It was Gabor Borosan and his son, both of whom would help with bringing the animals to the lowlands the next day. They would start in the morning and arrive in the evening. The son of Mr Borosan told my guide that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to run the sheepfold and his father said that he had two more years before he could be a pensioner. In the meantime, he had to have something to do, but he was unsure if he would want to return to the sheepfold. Earlier, he had been enthusiastic about going to the sheepfold in spring, but tired in autumn. It seemed like he had to wait till next year before he would decide what to do.

The shepherds had moved house some hundred metres and they had even set up a new one. The old house was inhabited by some other shepherds, who would also bring back their animals the day after. Another reason for bringing back the sheep, in particular, was that they were fond of mushrooms and they could strike out on their own into the forest, searching for mushrooms.

Next, sitting on a hill above the sheep, the dogs let us in peace. Actually, this area consists of wide and rolling hills, which are covered by grass where ruminants like cows, sheep and goats keep them open, while spruce trees are growing more or less everywhere else. Being next to the sheep, it was possible to hear them cutting the grass with their teeth, moving continuously because the remaining green grass was very short. In addition, the bells of the sheep made a soothing sound, which made it a very peaceful, pleasant and harmonic experience. Some ravens were flying over us, making their characteristic sounds. In such pretty and quiet surroundings, it was easy to forget about the rest of the world.

The sheep are spread out over a large meadow

When the sheep were grazing down in the valley, some of them were moving at walking pace, while others hardly moved or were lying on the ground, supposedly ruminating. This led to that the sheep and a few goats spread out over a large area, say 300 m times 100 m. The shepherds had to ensure that the sheep kept together, which mostly seemed to go smoothly, but sometimes they whistled and even shouted to make all sheep stay with the fold.

Home-made ricotta cheese

At around 1 p.m. all of us went for lunch, presumably not necessary to guard the sheep all of the time. We were given delicious home-made ricotta by the shepherds and we had enough to to eat. Actually, it was too much and I gave some of it to one of the guarding dogs, which ate it in one go. Thereafter, it seemed like both the shepherds and the dogs were resting, the shepherds inside their hut and the dogs spread like white dots on the meadows. Finally, one of the shepherds, maybe the second-in-command, ordered a shepherd to tend to the flock.

A dog lay down on the ground and a shepherd stroked its chest with his foot and I suppose this is the most caress the dogs can get. They are guarding dogs and live a very hard life.

The shepherds hadn’t noticed any bears, but wolves had been close and one sheep had been taken by them. In addition, two of the shepherds had been attacked by bears and one of them had survived because he had 10 guarding dogs and his brother to chase away the bear.

We didn’t see any cows this time, but last time they were roaming freely, only coming home to be milked in the evening.
Just before we should go, Mr Borosan offered me to stay another night at the sheepfold. Not having brought warm clothes nor a torch or a sleeping bag, being surrounded by hostile dogs and being the only person who couldn’t speak neither Romanian nor Hungarian, made it an unpalatable choice.

Besides, milking of the animals had already stopped, making it less desirable to stay another night. Next day, the shepherds would bring back all their animals, about 500 sheep and 70 cows. Apart from any animal which was limping, all the other ones would be walking for about 10 hours to get home. After having come down to the lowlands, they would walk along country roads back home. Next, the day after, the owners of the animals would reclaim them as we saw on our way back from the sheepfold when we passed two groups, each with two sheep, which they were bringing home. The shepherds told my guide that it was common to let the animals stay outside on fields in the lowlands for about a month, next they would be brought inside barns.

On the way back, the flock of sheep we passed in the morning and the shepherd were still where the Borosan sheepfold was located two years ago, else there were several meadows, but no grazing animals apart from a horse. Several wooden buildings were in various states of decay.

Just like last time, young people don’t want to be shepherds and it’s easy to imagine that all the meadows will turn into forests in the foreseeable future.

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