Friday, May 14, 2010
Ramat means livestock, and although Catalunya has dairy and beef industries, they are located in the north (Girona), and west (Lleida). Here, in the more arid south, you find pigs, goats, and sheep. In Catalunya (and maybe all of Spain) most of the livestock industry is relatively small scale and family run. I recently read in Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human that Europe does much better in providing decent living and slaughter conditions for its commercial animals (with the exception of chickens) than the U.S. does. And in fact, that fits with my own general impression. Although they may exist, in all the nine years that I’ve lived here I have never seen huge stockyards here like the ones in Coalinga in central California, and when there is a news story having to do with livestock, you always see a relatively small, family-run business.
Herding goats or sheep is not a big money-maker and even though there are many people who are not driven to get rich, as time goes by, fewer people are doing it, especially fewer young people. To give the vocation a boost, the Generalitat has recently instituted programs to train young people so that those herders who do not have children to take over, might find a stranger to do it when the time comes and thus the landscape will remain dotted with sheep and goats and the food supply will continue to be locally produced.
The oldest signs of human life at Rasquera are the 6,500 – 10,000-year-old cave paintings. It was an Iberian settlement before the Romans came, and its first civic document dates from 1153 when Ramon Berenguer IV gave Rasquera to the Templars, whose castle was in Miravet. Increasing from its first recorded population of 14 souls in 1497, it rose to its height of 1542 people in 1910 and has eased back down to 955 at the latest count. It’s primary economic activity is agriculture: vineyards, olive trees, some fruit trees (it is typical of the houses in the village to have open attics for the drying of figs), and breeding and raising of goats and sheep, most notably the Cabra Blanca (white goat), a breed native to Rasquera.