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Transhumant Shepherd preparing his bed | by Paul.White
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Transhumant Shepherd preparing his bed

Location: Katrosa - Transylvania


By night sheep are corralled in pens which are patrolled by the Livestock Guardian Dogs. The shepherds are not far away, sleeping in boxes raised from the ground and have a side opening doorway to protect them from the elements. Once the alarm is raised the shepherds spring from their shelters to assist their dogs.


The life of these shepherds seem so idyllic, living in the great outdoors making their living in a sustainable way from the wilderness, hardy, healthy and robust individuals that are honest and hardworking. There is some truth in this, but the reality is far from easy or ideal. Shepherds make their living in two main ways, dairy products, milk and cheese and of course from the high quality fleeces shorn from their sheep. However, the only real winners are the middle men who buy these fleeces for pittance, then sell them for a much higher price to wool mills in the cities, where the end products are sold for ridiculous prices to western retailers. The retailers then make the biggest profit of all. You have to feel somewhat sorry for the shepherds when you see the difference in profit between the fleece and the jumper sold in the shop. Some shepherds would even argue that they make no profit at all which is why they live in abject poverty and are poorly educated. I would argue that the majority of shepherds are just surviving and only stay in the business as so many of them can barely read or write, so are unable to apply for better paid jobs in the cities and towns.


They really need a break and a turn in fortunes, but the story only gets worse. European Union regulations have been imposed on pastoral shepherds since Romania joined the union which require much higher standards of hygiene and packaging production, which is simply not affordable for most shepherds. This has been the final nail in the coffin for many of these proud men. For centuries shepherds have milked their sheep daily and produced cheese on site inside huts that they move when relocating to find fresh grazing. Their cheese was then sold directly to individual customers or on local markets by the shepherds or their wives, simply packed in the shaved bark of trees. The EU is trying to stop this practice on the grounds that their cheese is neither pasteurized or packaged properly, so therefore not healthy. Locals strongly disagree as they believe much of the microbes that they consume in traditionally prepared cheese actually boost their immune systems. Some shepherds are now selling their sheep milk to dairies, again for a low price where it is pasteurized, labelled and packaged in sterile conditions, but then many locals cannot afford to buy this EU approved cheese as this extra preparation increases the cost.


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Taken on September 15, 2011