The herds of cattle, in their itinerant cycle from the highlands of origin to the low winter pastures, moved by corridors denominated generically ravines.
These cattle routes (destined to the transit of transhumant cattle) form a mesh throughout the peninsular geography. This mesh is formed by different routes classified according to their width and importance: royal ravines, cordeles, trails, castings ...
The main roads are "The Royal Gullies", whose width was already fixed in a Royal Letter of 1282 where it was said "seys ropes of frame and every forty-five spans the rope" (75,22 meters). The most important Royal Roads run parallel, drawn from North to South, joining the "Sierras" of origin or pastures with the flat lands of the South or winter. Only the Cañada Real Soriana Occidental It is oblique to the others and runs from Northeast to Southwest.
Generally a cattle hut was formed by 10.000 heads and organized in a hierarchical manner. It was common for the master to delegate the functions to the foreman, an experienced man with a lot of trade who occupied the peak of power within the hut and was in charge of its administration. The division of the cabin was done in 1.000 herds heads and these in 200 herds. At the command of each herd was a shepherd. The rabadán was the pastor of greater authority, responsible for the other shepherds of the flock. On the last rung of the hierarchy was the zagal.
La merino sheep It gives an abundant fleece of high quality and is the fruit of the crossing of breeds and the very careful selection of the specimens made by the farmers of the region.
The product, the very fine merino wool, was destined mainly for export, being Burgos the collector of Castilian wool that arrived from the sheeps and laundries that were located at the foot of the main canyons.
From Burgos the wool was sent to the Cantabrian ports, where they embarked in the direction of different European countries to be manufactured and turned into fine cloths.
The development of wool farming led from the thirteenth century to the emergence of an incipient textile industry. The first two strictly industrial operations in the manufacture of wool were shearing and washing of wool.
The Shear Houses or Ranches
A sheep can be sheared anywhere without the need for special facilities, but this is not the case when the number of heads to be sheared is very large and time is limited. As an example we can mention that in the Shear of Alfaro, in 1809, they lost their fleece 80.000 cattle. The sheeps were authentic factories where, in addition to shaving the animal, sorting, weighing, packing and storing the wool, different operations were carried out with the cattle, such as the beating and marking. In a shear, the division of labor was total and each worker had a specific job.
The shears, like all construction with an "industrial" purpose, respond in their distribution, routes, volumes and dependencies to satisfy the work process that will be executed in them and the needs that this process generates. Some shears, like Alfaro's, had built-in the laundry, with the rafts to store the necessary water and the boiler to heat it and thus degrease the wool. Others were equipped even with a machine to wash, like that of Ortigosa del Monte.
The decline of the shear is directly associated with that of the Mesta. These large constructions designed to rape thousands of sheep in a limited time lost their usefulness with the disappearance of the large huts. The introduction of the railway and its use for the transport of the flock was the final point.
The shear houses or ranches were located mainly on the banks of the Western Soriana Cañada, which in its journey through the lands of Segovia is known as the Cañada de la Vera de la Sierra. The causes of this location are:
- The joint offer of all the gorges, which limit and communicate with this line.
- Its situation in the midst of the extremes that coincides with its passage, back to the pastures, with the favorable period for the shearing of the flock. The shear began in the first days of May and lasted between 24 and 30 days.
- The fresh and abundant grass that these highlands maintain still in the days of the shear.
- The owners of the most important cabins were based in Madrid.