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WORKING IN SPAIN

Hi-tech herd: Spanish school rolls out 21st-century shepherds

If you've ever dreamt of running your own livestock farm, this shepherding school in western Spain is offering free training to foreigners and Spaniards alike "to bring in people who love the countryside".

Hi-tech herd: Spanish school rolls out 21st-century shepherds
Professional shearer Jose Rivero (R) gives instructions to French student Thibault Gohier as he learns to shear a sheep at the Cooprado farm's shepherding school in Casar de Cáceres in May 2022. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

“It’s scary!” said Castillo, 37, slightly unnerved by her first attempt at sheep shearing at a school for shepherds in western Spain.

“You have to pull the animal’s skin taut, really slowly, so you don’t cut it,” explained Jose Rivero, the professional sheep shearer giving the course.

Sheep shearing is just one of the classes offered at the school in Casar de Cáceres in rural Extremadura to counter the flight from the land that has left large swathes of inland Spain thinly populated.

Set up in 2015, the idea was “to bring in people who love the countryside”, said Enrique “Quique” Izquierdo, who runs the school.

It aims to provide all the training and resources needed to create “a shepherd for the 21st century… with the most up-to-date methods in a sector where the traditional and the cutting-edge merge.”

Much of Spain’s sheep and goat farming is concentrated in rugged Extremadura. The school at Casar de Cáceres is one of several across the country, the first set up in the northern Basque Country in 1997.

Veterinarian Jurgen Robledo (C) gives a class at Cooprado farm’s shepherding school in Casar de Cáceres. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

Tech and tradition

“The traditional image of a shepherd wandering through the fields all day” doesn’t exist any more, said Jurgen Robledo, a vet who said the students are taught how to use many hi-tech tools including milk control programmes.

This year, 10 students are taking the five-month course which also includes hands-on experience of working with animals.

Thibault Gohier, 26, is learning how to milk goats and to identify whether any of them are sick, which could affect the quality of their milk.

“You need to use your fingertips as if they were your eyes,” said Felipe Escobero, who heads the farm where the school is based, as they feel a black goat’s mammary lymph nodes at the top of the udder.

When they’re healthy, “they should feel like an almond”, Escobero added.

The shepherds’ school at Casar de Cáceres is one of several such initiatives across Spain, the first of which was set up in the northern Basque Country in 1997. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The course also covers financial matters and how to fill out certificates attesting to animal welfare or pesticide use.

Completely free, it is funded by the Cooprado livestock farmers’ cooperative.

Vet Robledo said modern hi-tech tools mean shepherds can now “measure the individual (milk) production of each animal.

“Such data can let a farmer see if production has dropped due to a subclinical mastitis infection by detecting a drop in production in a certain number of animals.”

Unlike normal mastitis, such infections don’t cause any visible changes to the milk or udder appearance, making them difficult to detect, although they do affect the farmer’s bottom line by reducing milk production and quality.

Different backgrounds

Some students already work in farming and want to specialise, while others are completely new to the field, such as Vanesa Castillo, who is taking the course with her 17-year-old daughter Arancha Morales.

Originally employed at an old people’s home until it shut down two years ago, leaving her scrambling for work, her dream now is to have a sheep farm.

“We’re looking for a way to bring home some money,” said her daughter, whose father can’t work after having an accident.

Both women know they face an uphill battle, above all to find an affordable piece of land for their flock, a common problem across Extremadura.

Moroccan student El Ouardani El Boutaybi (R) and French student Thibault Gohier take part in the course completely for free, as it’s funded by the Cooprado livestock farmers’ cooperative, which pays for the teaching staff and course materials. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

Thibault Gohier comes from a very different background.

A young Frenchman who loves animals and the countryside, his dream is to have “a bed and breakfast with a small farm attached with about 30 animals” in a mountainous area of France.

As the other students are learning to shear, El Ouardani El Boutaybi is feeding dozens of restless goats who are scampering around a pen.

“I did the shepherds’ school and all the practical courses in June 2020… and then they took me on to work with them,” said the 20-year-old, who comes from the coastal town of Nador in northeastern Morocco.

He got to Spain in 2017 after crossing the fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in North Africa, where he spent time in a centre for unaccompanied minors before being transferred to the peninsula.

“I’ve got a future working in the countryside,” he said proudly.

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SPAIN AND THE US

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

The governments of Spain and the United States have agreed to recruit more English and Spanish-language assistants from each other’s countries as a means of bolstering bilingual education in the two nations.

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

Spain’s Education Minister Pilar Alegría and US ambassador to Spain Julissa Reynoso met on Wednesday to sign a memorandum of understanding which will reinforce educational cooperation between the two countries. 

The agreement had been previously signed by Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education, who tweeted: “This week, alongside [Spanish] Ambassador [Santiago] Cabañas, I signed a memorandum supporting the study of Spanish language & culture in the US, and the study of English in Spain”.

It is in fact a renewal of a memorandum between the United States and Spain which has facilitated mobility of both conversation assistants and students between the two countries in recent years.

The aim of this newest memorandum of understanding is to further strengthen student and teacher exchange programmes and promote bilingual and multicultural teaching in both educational systems.

No exact details have yet been given about how many extra language assistants will be given grants to join the programme. 

Several teacher recruitment sources suggest the current number of North American language assistants (including Canadians) heading to Spain every year is between 2,000 and 2,500. 

The Spanish government has stated that in 2023, this figure will be around 4,500, which represents a considerable increase in the number of US and Canadian citizens who can apply through the NALCAP programme, which stands for North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. 

According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, the following requirements must be met by US candidates in order to participate in the programme:

  • Be a U.S. citizen and have a valid passport
  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree or be currently enrolled as a sophomore, junior or a senior in a bachelor’s programme. Applicants may also have an associate degree or be a community college student in their last semester.
  • Have a native-like level of English
  • Be in good physical and mental health
  • Have a clean background check
  • Be aged 18 – 60.
  • Have at least basic knowledge of Spanish (recommended)

NALCAP recipients receive a monthly stipend of €700 to €1,000 as well as Spanish medical insurance.

Application dates for 2023 are usually announced in late November. See more information on the NALPAC programme for US nationals here

According to The Fulbright Program, one of several US cultural exchange programmes that organises the recruitment of US nationals for Spain: “English Teaching Assistants assist teaching staff at the early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, vocational and/or university level for up to 16 hours per week, with an additional two hours for planning & coordination meetings. Responsibilities include assistant-teaching, in English, subjects such as social studies, science and technology, art, physical education, and English language.”

READ MORE: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

There are also currently more than 1,000 Spanish teachers working as visiting teachers in the United States, Spain’s Moncloa government has said, without adding yet how many more will be recruited in 2023.

Additionally, more than 1,000 North American students now take part in the Spanish Language and Culture Groups managed by the Spanish Education Ministry’s Overseas Education Action (or Acción Educativa Exterior, AEE).  

Canadian applicants can find out more about working as language assistants in Spain by visiting the NALCAP Canada website.

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