VILLAFALE, Spain (Reuters) – Brought to Spain on a special flight amid the coronavirus lockdown, some 250 Uruguayan sheep shearers race against time to shear millions of Spanish sheep as the sweltering summer temperatures hit.
The Uruguayan shearers come to Spain every year, where farmers value them for their skills, their speed and particular care for the animals’ wellbeing. This year the pandemic delayed their arrival by about a month to mid-May, leaving the sheep in urgent need.
The shearers are so prized in Spain, that farmers chipped in to charter a plane for the Uruguayans after border closures, flight cancellations and restrictions on movement threatened to leave them unable to make the journey.
The farmers, who even asked the Spanish King for help, convinced the government to authorise their stay after the Uruguayans underwent medical tests before flying.
Federico Ventura is one of the workers each shearing around 10,000 sheep over a 70-day campaign in the northern region of Castilla y Leon. They use special machines and an animal restraint technique that further speeds up the process.
“I’ve been coming here for six years. Because of the coronavirus, everything was delayed, but we’re moving at a good pace,” Ventura told Reuters at a farm in Villafale, around 300 kilometres northwest of Madrid.
The Spanish season is crucial to his livelihood.
“With the 70 days here we live for a year in Uruguay.”
Three or four shearers can shear 750 sheep on a farm in just one day, while with less skilled workers it could take up to a month, said farm owner Angel Leon. The Uruguayans earn 1.5 euros ($1.68) plus tax per animal.
“Had they not come, we would not have been able to shear,” said farmer Jose Moran, one of those to help fund their flight.
(Additional reporting and writing by Emma Pinedo, editing by Andrei Khalip and Alexandra Hudson)