Zapata is a very good biosegadora at his thing, a real machine that leaves nothing around him. Said like that, it seems that she is an annihilator connected with the Terminator, but that is not exactly the feeling she gives when you look at her closely. If he lets you come closer, of course, because Zapata is a churra lebrijana or marismeña sheep, a breed in danger of extinction of which there will be less than 400 copies in all of Spain and which highlights the surly character of its character. Now three of them work in the San Jerónimo park in Seville as biosegadoras, which is a more shocking way of saying that they are dedicated to grazing and swallowing the slightest blade of grass that is available to them.
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The small herd, which is completed by the goat Pepa (the name came to him because he was born on Constitution Day), is part of a project of Ecologists in Action to help from the capital Seville itself to the recovery of a breed that comes to be the Sheep equivalent of the lynx. The problem is that it is not easy: they are quarrelsome, harsh, distrustful, difficult to handle, they hardly give milk, they don’t grow much, they give little wool … That is, they are not very productive, which explains their decline. In fact, its wool, being long-stranded, was used to fill mattresses, a sector that is not in great demand, let us say, it has neither future … nor present.
A livestock project in the park
So all the gestures are few to help them not disappear. The task is basically carried out by the Diputación de Sevilla, which has the only large herd that remains of these sheep on Mount San Antonio, in Cazalla de la Sierra. That’s where those from the San Jerónimo park come from, which Ecologists in Action raises in its Germinal Social Ecology Center (CES), near the Huevo de Colón, where it has a livestock program that has already completed a decade.
Lebrijanas churras were incorporated three years ago. In fact, those who now graze are their descendants and that is why they can jog through the park. Although their parents are surly, “these little ones are only a few months old and we have formed a friendly herd with them,” explains Juan Cuesta from Ecologistas en Acción. “We have to take them out with a rope like a puppy because they are very scary, at the least they run away,” he says.
Tough sheep made to the marsh
Pepe Serrano, one of the volunteers who is in charge of his daily walk, says that the main problem is the dogs, who approach with curiosity to the terror of the sheep. “We have had to chase some of them to the other end of the park”, and as it is not a plan, they tie them with a long rope to a tree so that they have a good perimeter of grass at their disposal.
The name comes from the sheep trunk from which they come, the churro, and the lebrijana is because it was a breed specially adapted to the geography of this environment of the Lower Guadalquivir. Hence, they are also known as churras marismeñas. In fact, Doñana’s natural resource management plan lists them as the only sheep that can graze in the park “because they are adapted and originate from there,” Juan Cuesta notes.
Pepe Serrano is accompanied on the task by Adelina Baracco, an Italian Biology student who was offered this possibility for her Erasmus. “Due to the coronavirus, they do not let us be in jobs that are in closed places”, so he was planted in Seville as two other students will also do.
Already distributed three breeding lots
The Ecologists in Action project goes beyond its small herd, as it seeks to give specimens to family herds that are committed to the conservation of this breed. Since they were launched, they have already delivered three breeding lots, in Almadén de la Plata and Pilas (Seville) and in Vejer de la Frontera (Cádiz). The program is being delayed because “during our confinement, four adult sheep were stolen from us”, which was a major slowdown. In the San Jerónimo park there is now a male and two females to continue with the breeding program, which gives this green space the consideration of a livestock reserve.
Although they are not very competitive against other breeds, Juan Cuesta highlights their rusticity and adaptation to the environment, the Guadalquivir marshes. They were free there and had become accustomed to the uniqueness of the terrain, with periods of prolonged flooding of their pasture areas that alternated with others in which the heat or droughts only left dry kernels on the menu.
Biosegadoras in Action
The San Jerónimo project has been baptized as Biosegadoras en Acción, due to the fact that when grazing they help to reduce mechanical clearing “that pollutes and annoys due to the noise they originate”. By the way, “they naturally fertilize the meadow, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers”, to which is added that the children have a great time when they come across the biosegadoras in full operation. The working day of the little sheep is a minimum of a couple of hours in the morning from Monday to Friday, although on weekends they can also take a walk in the afternoon.
The goat Pepa puts the note of color in the little herd. “For me, it is believed that it is a sheep because they have been raised together,” says Pepe Serrano. In fact, she leads the march when they leave the Ecologistas en Acción center, but now it turns out that Pepa has come out gourmet and before the grass prefers the carts that flourish next to the San Jerónimo sports complex. So they take her there, but then the sheep get restless and start calling her, a little daily drama. And so one more day passes in the biosegadoras office.