I admit that sometimes it is very hard but it is also very rewarding and fulfilling. The goats give me everything I need”
Goatherding is part of her genetic makeup. Maribel Sánchez and her family have been cattle ranchers for five generations in the highlands of El Raso near the village of Candeleda. At age 49, this mother of two single-handedly leads a herd of 250 “verata” goats, a goat breed in danger of extinction. Every day of the year, regardless of the weather, she goes out to herd her goats, walking an average of 10 km a day. Although she acknowledges that it is a demanding life-style, goats are everything to her. “I usually joke that goats are my heroes, I’m hooked on them and I can’t live far from my animals,” says Maribel with her usual smile.
Her experience away from the village did not last more than a year. She was one of nine siblings, and her parents sent her to Madrid to work in a family as a nanny: «I did not take a liking to the big city. They treated me very well but I was very sad. I then realized that what I wanted was to be in the mountains surrounded by goats».
Goats have a very important role in taking care of the high mountain vegetation. They keep the undergrowth clear against forest fires and fertilize the land.”
The Sierra de Gredos is her territory. When she grew up in the middle of nature in El Raso there were still about eight goatherding families living “up in the mountains.” But the life-style is tough and today only she and Roy, her faithful Golden Collie, remain. Together they herd the goats and hike the mountain trails lined with thyme and wild lavender. Unlike other goatherds, she opted for extensive cattle ranching, where goats graze freely in the mountains. And it doesn’t matter if one of them gives birth far from the corral, Maribel returns with the kid in tow as night falls. It’s worth the effort, “they are better goats and the milk has more flavor,” says the goatherd. “In addition, goats have a very important role in taking care of the high mountain vegetation. They keep the undergrowth clear against forest fires and fertilize the land.».
After their daily walk, the goats return to the pen to be milked mechanically. The milk goes to cooler tanks to be transported to the village cooperative and distributed to cheese factories and dairy plants. But Maribel’s working day is not over yet. “Once at home, I have to go through extensive administrative paperwork and attend to the orders for kids.” She herself set up her own website where she sells hundreds of suckling kids a year throughout Spain. The meat is natural, tender and of excellent quality, perfect to be eaten roasted or in a stew.
She has won several awards as a female entrepreneur in the rural environment. The prestige gained has silenced people questioning her skills. “Some people thought that I was not going to be able to manage the entire enterprise on my own. I admit that sometimes it is very hard but it is also very rewarding and fulfilling. The goats give me everything I need,” says Maribel as she recalls one of the hardest episodes she experienced with her herd. Two years ago, she almost lost half of her goats when they were poisoned by a mushroom. About a hundred died, another 40 aborted. “I cried a lot, it was very hard but I hung in there, not only for me but especially for them.” Maribel is an example of endurance, and opens her doors to receive anyone who wants to learn about the goatherding profession, one of the oldest of world.