Italians Becoming Shepherds as Unemployment Rises

Younger Italians unable to find work are turning to an old tradition: shepherding. At least 3,000 young men have left their careers or have drastically altered their plans in order to tend flocks, according to a report by Coldiretti.

"I'm happy with the choice I've made," Davide Bortoluzzi, 25, told the Telegraph. Even though he has a degree from a technical institute, Bortoluzzi has decided to live his life tending to 400 sheep. "I started out by following other shepherds and learning the ropes from them. It was not easy."

"Day by day, I made progress without becoming too discouraged," Bortoluzzi noted, "sometimes working in pouring rain and at other times under a burning sun."

Right now the unemployment rate stands at 10 percent in Italy, leading younger Italians to flock to shepherding. It's a tradition that has biblical associations; King David started his career as a shepherd, and Jesus is commonly referred to as the Good Shepherd.

While most shepherds are not paid well, they learn to live off the land and use their flocks to provide wool, meat, milk and cheese. These things provide the opportunity for trade and financial stability.

Shepherding requires a drastic lifestyle change, as one must always be at the ready to defend a flock from predators. According to Sheep 101, a guide for 4-H members, "Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good 'decision.'"

This means that a shepherd must always be paying attention to his or her flock, guiding them to safety and helping them make good "decisions." One interesting fact is that shepherds in Iceland have begun training animals known as "leadersheep," which help protect the flock.

"Leadersheep are highly intelligent animals that have the ability and instinct to lead a flock home during difficult conditions. They have an exceptional ability to sense danger. There are many stories in Iceland of leadersheep saving many lives during the fall roundups when blizzards threatened shepherds and flocks alike," reads the guide.