• 2017.11.14
  • A Sheep Parade
Once a year, cars are expelled from the center of Madrid and sheep take over. On Sunday, October 22 this year, sheep paraded through the city center, where 10 days previously soldiers and armed forces vehicles had paraded. Some 1,600 sheep, 55 goats, two 1,000-kg cows drawing an oxcart, some sheep dogs, and so on, paraded along the streets of the capital Madrid, as though it belonged to them.

Leading the parade was an oxcart with a total “cow-power” of two 1,000-kg cows.

This migration of animals is held twice a year, in spring and fall, but is now a midyear fixture called the Fiesta de la Trashumancia (Transhumance [Migration] Festival), with the intention of ensuring the animals are not forgotten, while allowing them to cause chaos in the metropolis only once a year. While the word “transhumance” is an unfamiliar one, the animals’ journey ends in a permanent destination, so it is distinct from “nomadism.”

Goats join the grand parade.

The leader of the esteemed party meets the Mayor in the city center, so he is dressed dandily in a black hat.

Long ago, one of the main pillars of Spain’s economy was the wool industry. For a long time, Spain exclusively grew a breed of sheep called “merino” which originated in the Iberian peninsula and has particularly high-quality wool. Merino wool is first class. It’s white and super fine, its hollow, shortened fibers combine to give excellent springiness, heat retention, and humidity retention, and it has superb texture, so the finished goods were prized by European royalty.

Although exporting merino sheep was prohibited, when Spain rose up to start a war of independence against occupation by France’s Napoleon early in the 19th century, England came to Spain’s aid and as a gift of gratitude, merino sheep were presented to the Queen. The sheep were then transported to Australia to create what could be called the foundation of that country’s wool empire.

Spain has prized its wool industry for quite a long time. In 1273, King Alfonso X of Castile, dubbed The Wise, issued a royal decree giving special protection to the Cañada Real (Royal Sheep Way), a route for the movement of sheep seeking pasture in spring and autumn. Thanks to the King’s signature on this decree, flocks of sheep were allowed to freely come and go across land owned by other people.

Then in 1418, after discussions between the Madrid city authorities and the shepherds’ guild, a toll of 50 maravedi, the currency of the time, was set for each flock of privileged sheep. Incidentally, the price of one chicken in 1610, the time of Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was 55 maravedi. This agreement permitting the passage of sheep through Madrid has been kept to this day. Again this year a ceremony was held for payment of the toll to the Mayor, while the flock took a breather in front of city hall. Plans are underway for a grand ceremony marking the 600th anniversary of the agreement to be held next year in 2018.

The Mayor of Madrid (the blonde middle-aged lady) collecting the toll from the head of the shepherds’ guild (black hat).

Long-distance sheep movements, which have been in decline in recent years, benefit environmental improvement in unexpected ways. Apparently 1,000 sheep produce over 3 tons of excrement in a day, which contains 5 million plant seeds, and so on. The theory is that because they scatter “fertilizer” as they go everywhere along the roadside, they promote plant growth, thereby fixing atmospheric CO2 in the soil, and ultimately contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases. Commendably, the sheep are thus countering global warming, but when things take a turn for the worse and they end up traversing a golf course, you can easily imagine the disastrous scene that ensues.

While the Japanese media have recently been preoccupied with imminent military action (or the “smell of gun powder”) when it comes to Spain, I hope this blog post counters that with a topic that has the “smell of the country” about it.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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