SMALL CATTLE HUSBANDRY
As in other parts of the Alps, seasonal migration between the valley and alpine pastures is also practiced in the Bovec region. Historical evidence dates this heritage back to as early as the 15th century. Small cattle husbandry, in tune with the seasons of the year, is as such rooted in an old tradition and is a result of human adaptation to life in the Julian Alps.
The most important subject of this practice is the indigenous Bovec sheep breed, whose high milk yield is a result of breeding over centuries with the intention of producing high quality milk. Apart from sheep, goats are also bred on this territory. In the past, the year began with lambing in April and the separation of lambs from ewes in May. Soon after that the shepherds moved to their mid-altitude pastures, where they produced cheese individually. From June 24th until the end of September, collective small cattle husbandry took place on the high mountain pastures. In the autumn, sheep and goats were moved back to the middle dwellings and spent the winter there, or were stabled in the valley in the following month.
In the past, seasonal migration and the rational use of landscape were necessities. Nowadays, migration is still practiced because of the rich and juicy vegetation just above the forest margin, and because collective herding is more economical.
Due to a strong decrease in small cattle husbandry, the middle pastures have lost their economic significance and are not in use anymore, while many of the facilities have been adapted into holiday cottages.
Herdsmen who still decide to take their small cattle to the high alpine pastures begin their work process sometime in the second half of June. The first week is still marked by the so called ‘mera’ (measurement), which follows a set of rules for collective farming formed hundreds of years ago. The milk of each herdsman’s flock is measured and the quantity becomes the basis for the division of cheese, cottage-cheese and labour on the pasture. This indicates the point when care for the goats and sheep is put into the hands of the herdsman community, called ‘kompanija’ (It. compagnia - community), where the chief dairyman carries the biggest responsibility for the seasonal produce. At the end of the high alpine pasture period, all of the produced cheese and cottage-cheese is weighed and divided between the members of the community, according to the established ‘mera’.
On the account of a number of devoted herdsmen and modern farming politics, with a well-developed system of financial support for traditional farming, this activity has managed to survive. A lot of high alpine pastures are nowadays abandoned, while three of them are still in function. These are the community pasture of Mangart, easily accessible by car and the individual pastures of Loška Koritnica and Duplje. The development of small cattle husbandry and the change in landscape use has allowed many herders to start producing cheese individually, only in the valley.
The knowledge which today’s herdsmen were given by their ancestors can be seen in the breeding of goats and the indigenous Bovec sheep, whose milk enables us to enjoy in the unique taste of Bovec cheese and cottage-cheese, made in accordance with traditional cheese-making methods. Apart from that, the herdsmen also preserve knowledge about the names for uninhabited areas such as parts of mountains, rivers or paths, knowledge about the weather, cattle treating and the preservation of the architectural heritage of the area.