The Gerês Shepherd’s Lifestyle – A Traditional Way of Life

The wild animals are not alone amongst the mountains of Gerês. Here the shepherd is a man or woman who spends most of the time up in the mountains with its fellow domestic livestock species and the rustic, exclusive breed of shepherd dog, the Castro Laboreiro. Accept A2Z's invitation and discover more about this endangered profession and way of life.

Mainly an agricultural and shepherd society, this responsibility is passed early on, during childhood, making the population living in this National Park old, but strong. Their determination grants them the will to earn the mountain’s favour and allows them to harvest most of their commodities.

The shepherd ensures herds are kept safe and sound at all times, managing animals belonging to multiple owners from the region. A shepherd must also be very resourceful and tough, as he or she has to subsist in difficult conditions during the uninterrupted months they travel with the animals through the mountains’ pastures.

During spring and summer, shepherds roam the mountains all week, taking the long-horned cattle, goats and endemic sheep from place to place, helping the mountain pastures renew and sleeping in old shelters called "Curral". These archaic buildings protect the shepherd and the animals from the cold and predators, such as wolves. The Castro Laboreiro dogs play a crucial role in this process. In Autumn and Winter, the shepherds and herds return to the lower lands and graze in their surroundings during the day.

A seasonal movement of people and livestock between their wintertime homes located in the valleys – Inverneiras – and their summertime homes, located at higher altitudes – Brandas – has become part of the locals’ way of life.

Besides goats and sheep, the shepherds in Gerês are also accompanied by a local species of cow easily mistaken with bulls due to their long horns. It is the "Barrosã" breed and, although they look fierce, they are quite friendly. The cattle breed Barrosã descends from a Mauritian species from North of Africa brought to Portugal before the birth of our nation (1143). These bovines have become the second most prevalent breed existing in the country.

Some villages have a deep background of communitarian and pastoral lifestyles. Century-old traditions are still visible and the community acts as one huge organism. Communal watermills and olive oil and wine presses are some examples, but the clearest is the animals’ herding. A2Z walking and biking tours in the Peneda-Gerês National Park will provide you with an experience with the ancient flavour of these mountains. Scrumptious Barrosã beef is just a small part of it.