Friday, 4 October 2013

Alpine farming and Triglav

Not many people know that the wonderful Triglav National Park in Slovenia is twinned with the Snowdonia National Park. Twinning began in 1993, shortly after Slovenia became independent from Yugoslavia, and over the years there have been exchange visits to and from both parks. This week I had the pleasure of meeting four members of Triglav while they were staying at Plas Tan y Bwlch.

Urban, master cheese maker in the Julian Alps
As we chatted I mentioned some favourite memories of people I had met a few years ago including Urban, who had introduced me to the pleasures of hand milking sheep and goats 1,200 metres up a mountain. Every afternoon a solitary shepherd gathers over 200 sheep and about 50 goats from pastures as high as 2,200m. No sheepdogs, just a call or a whistle and the little darlings walk downwards in an orderly line with their bells clanging as they descend.

After some food the sheep are milked by hand by the five farmers working together as a co-operative and sharing the milking according to the number of sheep they own, a farmer with seventy sheep will put in seventy days of milking during the season. As for the goats, they are milked last and kept separate from the sheep to avoid fights. After a night in the barn and early morning milking, the animals are turned out into the pasture and the daily cheese production gets under way.

Ready for milking
Goats’ milk is added to the sheeps’ milk, heated up in a copper cauldron over a log fire and made into big rondels of cheese. In June the flock yields about three hundred litres of milk per day, whilst by August this is down to a hundred litres. At the end of the short season two tonnes of cheese will have been produced and sold for about £20,000.

I asked Urban why no sheepdogs? ‘We don’t need them. We have a relationship and we know them by their names’. It’s difficult to imagine Snowdonia farmers gathering without dogs.

It was good to hear from the Slovenian visitors that Urban and his sheep are going strong, and that alpine farming is alive and well in the Triglav National Park.

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