February 2022

Enrique ‘Jarito’, free-range shepherd in Tierra de Pinares, Segovia (Spain)

Jarito, Enrique Torrego Muñoz, has been a shepherd for over 60 years in Tierra de Pinares, Segovia (Navalmanzano, Spain). He began, aged 10 (at that age it appears in this image), with his parents’ sheep and is still at it, now he’s turned 70. He is a quiet and reserved man, who doesn’t like being interviewed or photographed, but he knows us well and agrees to chat about sheep and plants for a while. We will briefly get him out of his solitude and his meditative character.

He represents an older generation of shepherds, free-range shepherds, of whom but few remain in this area, only seven or eight «but you never forget your job». Free-range shepherding takes place in the countryside in the open, there is no penning, and usually with dogs to keep the flock together. His grazing area, where he has his warehouse, is called La Revilla.

He knows everything about his sheep, and knows each of them very well, that they are «raza castellana» («Castilian breed»), an elegant and hardy sheep, the breed he has always had «de toha la vida» («all my life»). They give bad wool but good meat and are expensive to keep as they «eat a lot». He sees to everything, he used to shear them, but now a team come from Medina and go shearing from village to village: «the wool ain’t worth nothing, nobody wants it: it`s over there breeding rats» and he shows me.

He could retire, but for the meantime he carries on shepherding; he won’t sell his sheep and keeps working with his brother’s help as he «wouldn’t know what to do or how to spend his time». He believes his flock is very good —at present he‘s got about 450 sheep and several rams. The lambs go to the abattoir in Carbonero and Abel, the local butcher, buys them. They are good quality lambs, he can’t complain, «they fetched a good price this year». The machorras (sterile sheep) and the desvieje sheep (too old) are taken to the abattoir in Segovia or Medina; mutton is good but has a strong flavour, although some people prefer it to lamb. The average life of a sheep is 7 or 8 years; after 10 they are old.

Jarito is a free-range shepherd. He takes his sheep out (as he puts it) 365 days a year («when I take them out I forget all my worries»), spending all day in the dusty fields. «Out there some days are good and some are bad», he says about the grazing pastures and the state of the sheep, which can change greatly from one day to the next.

He also knows a lot about plants and their nutritional value for sheep (Ethnobotany) and it is a pleasure to walk the countryside and look at plants with him. He knows all the plants at any season of the year. After fallowing, he likes all farmed crops (carrots, leeks, beetroot, etc…). During our walk we talk about wild plants for a long time. For free-range shepherds, identifying plants is closely linked to the time of year, the two concepts being inseparable. They distinguish four groups: autumn-winter, spring, summer and late-comers (late summer-early autumn). Each plant is linked to its yearly period or phenology, as shepherds know well. Let us look at some by its local names (see the list including their Latin names below).

Winter plants are those which reappear after autumn and sheep like eating them. They are the same plants which will be in full bloom in the spring, but they play an important role in winter too. Now he shows us vallico, capillo, cadillo, margaza (also known as amargaza or gamarza) and garzapedos —also known as soníos in other villages. 

There are many in spring, especially «the countryside ones», as he puts it. Clover is the best, but there are many more: poppies, capillo and junquillo are also very good, although junquillo is «un poco fuerte» («a bit strong», not very nutritional). If it rains they seek out plants which don’t absorb much water, and which they wouldn’t normally eat, like zamayo.

In the summer fallows, acejo, enramadilla and grama are what the flock like; they love them in fact. Grama and vallico are summer plants, but they eat them all year round. However, they only eat cadillo until it starts to dry and becomes prickly, which means they can’t eat it. This plant is also known as zaragüelles (Jarito pronounces it zarabueyes) or espigajos, «and there are several kinds».

Summer and late-summer plants grow in amongst the stubble, and in the edges and ditches, like enramadilla or cordoncillo, sangraeras, lecheros, ceñiglos and tender albojos.

Few plants harm this flock, those that do are the ones which causes them «se implan» (serious swelling due to gases); for example, uva de perro cagantino or estranmonio (stramonium), which they usually ignore. But the worst illness the sheep can get is mamitis, infectious swelling of the udders, which he himself treats with penicillin.

We will now identify the wild plants mentioned in the text above. It is important to focus on these local names as they are original, beautiful and/or strange in certain cases. Of all the names used by Jarito, at least 10 have yet to be registered, they are unheard of and belong to the local oral culture (Nombres vulgares de las plantas en la Península Ibérica e Islas Baleares, Doctoral Thesis by Beatriz Teresa Álvarez Arias, 2006):

-Acejo: Polygonumarenastrum and P. aviculare.
-Albojos: Tribulusterrestres.
-Cadillo, zaragüelles or espigajos: Bromusdiandrus, probably other similar Bromus; also Hordeummurinun and H. hystrix.
-Capillo: Erodiumcicutarium, Plantagocoronopus.
-Ceñiglos: Chenopodiumalbum and very probably other species from the genus Chenopodium.
-Enramadilla, cordoncillo: Corrigiolatelephiifolia and C. litoralis.
-Estranmonio: Datura stramonium (recent name, previously unknown).
-Garzapedos, soníos: Seneciovulgaris.
Grama: Cynodondactylon.
-Junquillo: probably Schoenoplectussupinus (or Schenoplectiella supina) and/or Eleocharispalustris.
-Lecheros: Sonchus asper, and S. oleraceusy, and Lactuca serriola and L. viminea.
-Margaza, amargaza, gamarza: Anacyclusclavatus, Anthemisarvensis and Cladanthusmixtum.
Sangraeras: Digitariasanguinalis.
-Clover, field clover: Trifolium pratense, T. repens and very probably others (Jaime Gila has identified over 20 species in the area).
Poppy: Papaverrhoeas.
-Uva de perro cagantino: Solanumnigrum and S. physalifolium.


José Emilio Blanco Castro, Doctor in Biology, is an environmental consultant specialising in Botany and Ethnobotany, with 44 years of experience in both fields. He is one of the pioneers of ethnobotanical research in Spain and is currently teaching in the Facultad de Ciencias Biomédicas (Faculty of Biomedical Science) at the Universidad Europea in Madrid, in Grado de Farmacia (Pharmaceutics). Enrique de Frutos Pascual graduated in Pedagogy and is now a retired secondary school teacher. He has worked as a teacher in prisons and as a pedagogical therapist in different institutions, and is currently cooperating with CEAR (Spanish confederation of aid for refugees), where he teaches children and organizes environmental activities and trips. He has a collection of old rural photos which is being catalogued.

The main interview with Enrique Torrego Muñoz, Jarito, took place in January 2022. The authors would like to thank Félix Santos, a shepherd from San Martín and Mudrián (Segovia, Spain), for his help in kindly comparing the information. Our thanks to Ignacio Abella, Beatriz Álvarez, Teresa Cantero and Jaime Gila for checking and commenting on the text.