They say it doesn’t pay to follow the herd. But according to Italian agricultural organisation Coldiretti, no fewer than 3,000 young Italians have recently opted to do exactly that, throwing up conventional career aspirations and taking to the hills to tend sheep.
Coldiretti puts the sudden increase in interest in the shepherding business down to Italy’s parlous economic state – growth is stalled and overall unemployment of 10% (bad enough) masks a youth joblessness rate of a frankly crippling 36%. In such circumstances, high status jobs as doctors, lawyers and engineers are exceedingly hard to find for youngsters – especially since Italy’s static labour market means that entry level jobs of any kind are extremely hard to come by.
Hence even the well-qualified are abandoning city life and the stresses of job seeking in favour of the simple outdoor life of the hill shepherd. One of them - 25 year old Davide Bortoluzzi, who has a degree in surveying but now tends a 400 strong flock in the Dolomites – told the Telegraph ‘I’m happy with the choice I’ve made. I started out by following other shepherds and learning the ropes from them. It was not easy. But, day by day, I made progress without becoming too discouraged, sometimes working in pouring rain and at other times under a burning sun.’
The influx of new blood to a trade traditionally dominated by older people is reportedly having a beneficial effect on Italy’s ovine resource, with Coldiretti reckoning that 80% of young shepherds favouring modern husbandry techniques which improve the quality of meat, cheese and wool their sheep produce.
Of course it says something about the ‘traditional’ nature of Italian farming that tending sheep manages to be such a recession resistant occupation. The Eurosceptics out there in MT land may already be wondering how much EU subsidy the average Italian shepherd enjoys.
But out in the fresh air, miles from anywhere, a shepherd is at least his or her own boss and presumably doesn’t have to worry too much about checking their email for yet more job rejection letters. We can think of worse ways of riding out the Euro crisis. More pecorino cheese anyone?