Livestock herding is one of the oldest jobs in the world, but also one of the most undervalued; even when it is acknowledged, it is often considered lowly and antimodern, and is associated with bad pay.
The commercial logic of industry risks wiping out the art of livestock herding, particularly where the chain has been broken and livestock farmers sell their milk rather than making it into cheese themselves.
Who are herders and what do they do?
- Herders protect the environment: They keep mountain meadows clean, encourage the growth of a large variety of plants for the following year, rarely take their herds to graze in the same place twice in a row, and, with their activities, protect the local area from wildfires and landslides.
- They know about botany. They know the plants that their sheep, cows, or goats feed on; in the case of reindeer, herders know the lichens that grow under the snow. They recognize harmful plants and those that are best for the animals and the quality of their milk.
- They know about genetics. They know the strengths and weaknesses of the breeds with which they work and what breeds to cross them with, and they can identify the animals that will reproduce prolifically and pass on the best traits.
- They know about veterinary medicine. They know what a healthy animal looks like and how to cure a sick one. They assist their animals during birth and know when to protect them from the cold. Based on the plants that the animals choose when grazing, they can see what nutrients they need.
- They know how to train dogs, who help them direct and group together the animals.
- They milk their animals and make and age cheese.