Xalda sheep belongs to Ovis aries celticus trunk.
Apart from the archaeological remains encountered in some hill forts,
we know for sure that Astures had sheep because of the quotations
of two classical authors: one of them in Edictum Diocletiani de
Pretiis Rerum 25, where “Asturicensis” wool is mentioned,
and the other one in the third book of Geographika, by Estrabo (H.
29-7 e.C.), where we are told about the “sagus” or the
gown these people used to wear, which was made from black wool,
as this was the colour of their sheep.
In the foundation document of the Oubona Monastery
(Tinéu), in 780, “triginta oves” are inventoried.
In Oviedo by-laws, in 1274, we are told: «Firstly about the
meat: we establish that the meat of the Asturian ram is equivalent
to a quarter from the best and very good eighteen money.»
In the Tumbo (matrix) book from Balmonte Monastery
(Miranda), we find this quotation: «In this year 1604, sheep
from this land are five or six annual “reales”, as this
is the way the Monastery is usually paid.»
In 1701, Balmonte Monastery renewed the registration
of the Cuevas village population for another 150 years. They paid,
altogether, 330 “reales” a year, and, moreover –every
fifty years– a sheep for the census taking; one of the residents
was in charged with paying in representation of the whole group.
The last of these sheep was delivered in 1801.
In 1726, County by-laws from Arenas de Cabrales registered
in chapter 16 that those inhabitants who owned sheep and goats would
have to watch over a male flock on day-shifts, under penalty of
an eight “reales” fine and two-days shifts if they did
not fulfil this obligation. The date chosen to gather the sheep
at the county pen was July 25th. “Celadores” (guardians)
and two experts ordered the weaker ones to be castrated and selected
the ones of the best race and abundant wool to be sires.
In the General by-laws of the Principality of Asturias,
in 1726, important prizes and advantages in the pastures were proposed
for those citizens who maintained twelve mother cows, a hundred
sheep or a hundred goats.
In 1782, Jovellanos –when speaking about “Vaqueiros”
livestock–, pays special attention to their sheep and describes
them thus: «It is true that these stocks are small; their
sheep seemed a hybrid between "merinas" and common “churras”
to me, maybe because of their short-term annual migration, or perhaps
because of the excellence of the grass they pasture making the fineness
of their wool lie between that of the other two kinds.»
Also, in the 18th century, in the census made by
Marqués de la Ensenada, we are told of Asturias having 595,000
sheep exemplars, 353,307 cattle, 278,448 pigs, 197,874 goats and
28,111 horses. The 1865 livestock census registered 361,180 head
In the 40’s of the last century, the extinction
of the xalda started due to foreign species plantation in communal
mountains, making their number decrease in many of the ranges where
they used to pasture. Western counties such as Tinéu, Ayande,
Salas, Eilao, etc., suffered considerably from these massive plantations
in the nearby mountains. In villages like Brañaivente (Salas),
some inhabitants had to migrate to Germany, Belgium… because
of “La Forestal”, which seized the pastures where cattle,
sheep, goats and stud had grazed for thousands of years. We should
not forget the fact that, in the East, xaldas were substituted by
other races (carranzana, latxa), better milk producers, the focus
being on cheese production: “Cabrales”, “Camonéu”,
In other villages, a lack of people and shepherds made the “vecera”
disappear: «It was over because there were insufficient people».
Nevertheless, in the 40’s, a lot of xaldas
were sold (“añójos”, most of all) in Llaciana
and El Bierzu (León). Dealers went to Partido de Sierra (Cangas
del Narcea) to buy them, as well as to villages like Mieldes –where
flocks were bigger– and fairs like El Puertu (Sumiéu)
and Tinéu. The official census at this time was 293,080 sheep,
most of them xaldas.
When, in 1982, the xalda sheep is described, its
census is very low (hardly 800 females in all the Principality).
At that point, the idea of creating an association did not succeed.
The numbers of both females and males (which were not xaldos any
more in some of the flocks) continued to decrease. It was a species
that kept its racial purity but that was very old.
This is how, in 1992, the Asociación de Criadores
d’Oveya Xalda –with the aim of preserving the races–
was created at last .
The xalda, as we see, is a kind of sheep with a Celtic origin, the
same as ousseant, from Brittany; black Wales, from Wales; morite
(moor sheep), from the Shetland Islands, in Scotland; skudde, weibe
gehörnte heidschnuck and moorschnucke, from Germany.
he “Vecera” is a complex organisation
that inhabitants from a certain village create to shepherd every
family’s flocks (sheep and goats) at the same time. Vecera
is also the name given to this flock.
Small livestock was an important economic support
in a farmer’s life. The protein contribution they got from
these animals was essential in a rather poor diet.
From sheep and goats, milk was used for “cuajada”
(curd) or to make cheese, apart from providing wool and leather:
«Wool dressed the whole village.»
In those towns where the vecera never existed –at
least where people did not remember about it– the distance
to the pastures was used as an excuse. The vecera had to leave and
come back to the village every single day. During the summer, it
went to the top of the mountain. Distance determined whether the
vecera could be taken and brought back on the same day. This is
why, if the village laid in the depths of the valley, it was not
worth it: «We do not have a vecera, don’t you see the
pass is very far away?»
In those towns where there were not a lot of goats,
these went with sheep. There were also some changes: in village
of Vil.l.axime (Quirós), there was only a sheep vecera, but
–after the Civil War– the importance of goats increased
to the point where they had to create two veceras: sheep and goats.
In winter, when the heavy snowfalls arrived, the vecera could not
leave. Then, it stayed in the stalls and sheep and goats were fed
with “fuechaos”, which were oak, birch or ash tree leaves.
If there was no snow, the vecera went out and could divide in two
or more veceruques. This time was bad, females gave birth and then
lambs had to be brought down, wolves were around… Then, the
organisation changed: shifts were reduced by half and the watch
was more frequent: «Shepherding consisted on one day for every
six sheep. During the winter, it was four sheep a day». This
is how big vecera divided and, so, more people took part in shepherding.
There was also a lamb and a baby goat vecerina. The
vecera was very hard for baby sheep because pastures were very far
away. The vecerina stayed either at the nearby fields or at a hillside
that was let for the purpose in the communal lands. This kind of
vecera was organised at the same time as the big one, although –before
leaving with the vecerina– lambs could stay in their owners’
stalls or fields. In June or July they were already able to go with
Principality by-laws from 1781 give Juntas de Agricultura
from each county the possibility of establishing veceres in their
When April came, a Xunta was held in villages to
take a census of the animals of every. Shepherding days were strictly
defineded so that there was an equal division of the work. Sheep
that were left over after counting and making the shift division
were taken into consideration for the following “correura”.
Every single detail is still kept in people’s mind: «It
was six sheep per day in all the correuras; if there were three,
it was a day per every half correuras; the same as for three, was
for five, and if there were eight, the same as for six»; «During
the winter, you shepherded a day per four sheep; two for eight;
for five, the first round one day, and at the fourth round, you
shepherded two days».
On the other hand «The one who had only a few
often did not have to shepherd». Everybody knew what everyone
had to watch over, and no changes were accepted, nor were people
allowed not to respect the shifts.
The existence of fines was evident. It was perfectly well understood
that nobody could miss his duties because, otherwise, the vecera
would run the risk of disappearing immediately.
The shift went from house to house all around the
village and always keeping the same order: «Everybody knew
the order, and in the afternoon had to take his sign, you knew where
the round was, you had to carry the “seña” (sign)
with you. Don’t worry, nobody forgot; no one felt like shepherding.»
• Head: Small, always straight –even slightly
hollowed– profile on females and sub-convex on males. Big
and lively eyes. Prominent eye sockets. Its ears are small and point
to the front. Black sheep, apart from gueifes, have the same colour
in the snout. No spots on their whites, or maybe just some little
• Neck: medium in length, and firm, more noticeable on the
males. They show a kind of hair all along the neck and up to the
chest that gives them a muflón-like expression. At the bottom
of the nape there appears the melota, a sort of mane formed by very
abundant hair. The tail is short and reaches the hocks.
• Trunk: long. Straight on females, a little hunched at the
cross on males. Well-curved ribs.
• Extremities: Fine, with small, hard nails. Good support
at the front legs, there being many examples with the heels twisted
• Skin: Fine, without wrinkles.
• Mammary glands: well-developed, small teats.
• Horns: only on males. Their shape of a turned, compressed
spiral, of singular appearance and with wrinkled sides.
• Weight: Female average is 22 kg and male average is 33 kg.
• Height: 55.5 cm for females; 61 cm for males. (Campa Torres
measurements yielded a 54.8 cm average).
• Colour: black, white, cardín and pezu. The black
ones can be coronistes or moñiralbes (with a white spot on
their head), gueifes (white spot on the snout) and coreyalbes (white
spot along their neck). As their wool grows, it turns reddish.
• Fleece: over the hocks. Fibres of variable length. Small
tufts. The head has some wool on the moña, particularity
on the forehead with small and very thick curls. Wool is 1.05 kg
on females and 1.71 kg maximum on males.
The future for the Xalda sheep is extremely hopeful.
Since its foundation, the Asociación de Criadores d’Oveya
Xalda (ACOXA) has been carrying out important work in the recovery
of the census, attracting new breeders every year and working on
the Genealogical Book.
Today, there are 521 females and 47 males registered.
Wool is still used to sew traditional costumes. This breeding activity
is directed towards lamb production for meat.
The Xaldo lamb «Oveyu Xaldu»
Francisco Pañeda Alonso«The organoleptic
characteristics of Xalda meat have no similarity with lamb meat
from foreign races that have been brought into Asturias to the detriment
of our own race, which was displaced with the only argument that
the others had a better meat production, as a consequence of their
bigger size and better adaptation to the systems of intensive stock-breeding
that give preference to forced fattening rather that natural raising.
The extensive stock-breeding system on which “xaldu”
flocks thrive, having extensive lands to roam, and far removed from
the prevailing concentration in stables and feeding places, is –perhaps–
not the most profitable, but it is a guarantee for the consumer
these days, when sanitary scandals caused by the quality of the
food we eat follow one after another.
And what we eat is, in this case, a kind of food
with a taste that is at once attractive and original, most probably
more reminiscent of young goat than of the lamb we are used to.
A highly fibrous meat, but also tender, with bright strands and
a soft feel, with the necessary fat so that the lean is not dry
but the plate does not swim in fat.
To sum up, this is a kind of
meat that is recovering –step by step– from the black
days where it was about to be lost forever, as our xalda was on
the edge of extinction as a race, and only the determination of
a few people avoided the disaster. When you choose to consume this
product, you are joining these few: flocks will grow to the rhythm
the demand establishes. Although it looks like a paradox, eating
–sometimes– is the same as preserving that part of nature
composed by those animals that offer their meat.»