Thursday, October 7, 2010

Galician Sheep (Ovella Galega)

Isn´t he handsome?

Galician Sheep are a typical multi-purpose heritage breed. First, they produce excellent meat. Second, they have quite high quality wool. Third, they do this from locally available rough forage, in relatively inaccessible areas, and are highly prolific and disease resistant. They also produce quite a lot of milk, but given the frequency of multiple births, the supply generally goes to raising lambs.

From what I read - every village household had a few sheep. They were taken to pasture in one communal flock, with the role of shepherd passing serially from one family to the next each day. One of the sheepdogs would stop by the correct house every morning.

As the wool industry declined from artificial fibers and competition from Australia/NewZealand and China, the native sheep also lost out to breeds more adapted to the production of meat.

By the 1990´s the population of purebred Galician sheep was under 500 total.

To my eye they are ¨unimproved¨ rustic sheep in the celtic model, much like the shetland, icelandic, ouessant, and xalda (Asturias).

Physical characteristics, from Serga

Live weight adult males (average in kilos): mountain 35, coastal 55
Live weight adult females (average in kilos): mountain 27, coastal 42
Height at the withers adult male (average in centimeters): mountain 60, coastal 73
Height at the withers adult female (average in cms): mountain 51, coastal 64
Color: White, black color is rare
Visible Characteristics: small frame, straight nose profile or concave, forehead wool, fine boned extremities and long tail.

For scale:

It also looks to me like there are various types of fleece occurring, much like the Shetlands: double coated, kindly (shorter crimped), and long and wavey. And I´m glad to say there appear to be more colored sheep than this description would indicate. I love black sheep.

And spotted lambs

I follow a lot of blogs of people who have small ¨Spinners¨ flocks or ¨Fibre¨ farms (Spered Breizh Ouessants, Boulderneigh, Devon Fine Fibres, and Juniper Moon Farm, just to start) and I have to say I´m very intrigued. From what I read on Ravelry and Etsy, the knitting/spinning population in Spain is very limited and virtually everyone purchases fibres brought in from abroad. Wool is a nuisance expense at the moment, it costs more to shear than the farmer gets for the wool, so the focus is entirely on meat or milk production. There are no custom wool mills/processing that I can find, although there is one place in Navarra that has wool insulation. I believe that the UK´s domestic wool production is struggling too - but the recent Savile Row wool event looks promising. And they strike me has having much more of an ongoing fibre handcraft tradition and more infrastructure. I think the Spanish rejected handmade garments during the 70s as proof of poverty.

The economics of a micro-fibre farm will need much more investigation - but it´s fun to think about. What´s the minimum number of animals to make it viable, how much pasture do they require, how much could you get for the fleece, local agricultural regulations, etc. I´d also need to figure out a way to learn about fleeces and the basics of breeding. But I wonder if there isn´t a market for 100% Galician wool from happy ovellas galegas. . .

From La Region

The following are 2 translations from articles found online:

From the Instituto do Campo

From Autóctonas Galegas Magazine

Additional Sources:

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful sheep! I will be traveling in Galicia for the first half of March 2014 and want to photograph as many Spanish/Galician breeds as possible. I make a collection of porcelain woolly sheep called Colin's Creatures