Rare Breeds Preservation in Bulgaria
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Rare Breeds Preservation in Bulgaria

October 22, 2019

Linking Nature Protection and
Sustainable Development Project With the support of Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme present High peaks, green meadows, herds of sheep… This is what travelers found in
Bulgaria a century ago. RARE BREEDS PRESERVATION In an article on Bulgaria from 1932, National Geographic Magazine states that there are
10 million sheep in the country! About a century later the spectacular herds are just a memory, and many rare local
breeds are on the brink of extinction. Karakachan Sheep, Murra Buffalo, Bulgarian
Screw-horn Long-hair Goat and Replyana Sheep were bred here for ages, adapting perfectly to the specifics of
the local climate and terrain. This long-term selection has produced hardy,
unpretentious and resilient domestic animals. A true genetic treasure that should be preserved. Nikola Kulov from Vassil Levski village
struggles to preserve this precious heritage by keeping the family tradition alive. The shepherd’s trade is in our blood. Karakachan people have always bred sheep. In the past our ancestors earned their living
mostly as shepherds. They traveled a lot: in summer their herds grazed
on the meadows on the Balkan Mountain, and then spent the winter in Greece. Free grazing means a lot of herbs and wild
grasses that are good for the animals. The meat tastes great. Their milk is fatter than that of dairy breeds
and they are easier to keep. The breed is small in size. It doesn’t need
a lot of fodder for the winter. The sheep are left to natural selection.
The old and weak die in the mountain. Only the young, tough ones survive. It’s a natural process. I think Karakachan Sheep
are one of the most resilient breeds. No other sheep are that tough. We take them down from the mountain
only when the snow cover is a meter thick. At the river, we need to break the ice
so that they can drink before we bring them in. Karakachan Sheep are autochtonous: a primitive local breed, one of the
oldest in Europe. The animals can cover long distances
but their milk production is lower than that of commercial dairy breeds. So modern breeders turn to other breeds,
leaving the Karakachan in decline. We are blessed here: there are excellent pastures
and pure mountain water on the Balkan Mountain. Since their birth the sheep feed
on natural mountain herbs. Karakachan Sheep products not only taste nice,
they are also very good for the health. It’s natural food without any additives. The only supplement they receive all year round
is salt; herbivores need salt. The cave paintings in Magurata Cave
reveal for certain that humans coexisted with animals since the dawn of civilization. Millennia later Dimitar Ivanov struggles to
preserve the Replyana Sheep. The name of the breed comes from the village
of Replyana where its origins lie. This is the only breed able to tolerate
life high in the mountain. Winters here are quite harsh, with severe blizzards. Since people started breeding them, Replyana Sheep have adapted to these
conditions for years. This whole area is included in
the Natura 2000 network. My lambs feed mainly on wild herbs
that are not found at lower altitudes. The produce from this area is 100% clean. We don’t use any chemicals for our dairy products;
or for the raising of sheep and lambs. It’s all natural and pure. That’s it. I just love the landscape – it’s breathtaking! What’s the connection between nature conservation,
sustainable animal farming and healthy food? Livestock grazing on the meadows provides
the right conditions for many rare wildlife species. The decline in sheep numbers means less produce
and less income for local family farms. It also leads to a decline in biodiversity. In the past sheep were bred for milk,
meat and high-quality wool. At present synthetic fabrics
devaluate wool on the market. For a year now there’s renewed
demand for wool. Unfortunately the prices are ridiculously low. A pity, as the internationally praised
carpets from Chiprovtsi, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List,
are made from Replyana Sheep wool. Carpet weaving is an old tradition in Chiprovtsi. Even today we can follow the thread
from the sheep to the ready carpet. First comes the shearing. This experienced shearer works on
a young Replyana ram. His skill, speed and precision allow him
to shear more than 120 sheep per day! The Autochthonous Breeds Fair provides
a platform for him to demonstrate his skills. Later, old carpet weavers from Chiprovtsi
process the wool using traditional tools. Then the wool is dyed with natural dyes
made from plants, herbs and minerals. Last is the weaving itself – true mastery! Nikola and Dimitar keep tradition alive by preserving the Karakachan and Replyana Sheep
and the Murra Buffaloes. The farmers have followers and even fans. More and more people realize that
the rare breeds are a synonym for clean food and natural produce from the Balkan Mountain.

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