Did you know that there is the Quadricorn sheep? And do you know the donkey of the Lepini? and the Ancona hens?
I am sure that many have never heard of these endangered animals and few know Roberto Dalia who has made the rescue of these species the mission of his life.
We go in order and start from the story of Roberto who works in the bank but devotes all his free time to the preservation of these species. His love for animals began to manifest early with an incubator for chicken eggs that was given to him at the age of 14.
His family has many ‘shades’, his grandfather was born in Casablanca from Sicilian parents, one grandmother is Albanian but his mother is from the beautiful village of Monte San Giovanni Campano and it is there that Roberto lives in the countryside.
Growing up, he fell in love with horses and for 14 years raised Italian horses to compete, from jumping to obstacles, until he found an increasing contrast between his love and the greed of those who treat with little care the animal as it is seen only as a machine that must win competitions.
Then one day something strange happened:
‘I was in Picinisco and looked at a book on shepherds’livestock rearing, I was very drawn to the last page where I found a picture of a sheep with four horns and, in a sense, I fell in love and wanted to know more about this animal’.
He found it in the Arsial, the regional agency for the development and innovation of agriculture in Lazio, among the species considered extinct, that is when there are less than 100 specimens remaining. Since the book was about
Picinisco he began his research in this village perched on a mountain on the Lazio side of the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise.
At the same time, he met the veterinarian Cesare Veloccia who had taken care of the research and the cataloguing of the autochthonous breeds on behalf of Arsial. At that time some scholars were even convinced that it was a genetic mutation.
Roberto went to the butchers of Picinisco and one of them, who had slaughtered many, felt almost guilty for having contributed to its endangerment and took him to a shepherd who still had some.
The history of this animal is unusual and I reconstruct it thanks to a 1905 Hoepli book which describes it as ‘Sheep of Syria’, thus attesting the Middle Eastern origins, that is very widespread in the central Apennines.
The history of livestock raising in these areas has undergone major changes since the Second World War. We recall that the Gustav Line, the German defensive front against the advance of the Allies, passed precisely through these territories. The bombings, destruction and war brought great poverty and a strong emigration abroad after the end of the conflict.
Many shepherds left their flocks to go to work in large factories and this abandonment has undermined socio-economic systems that had stood for centuries, perhaps for millennia.
The advantage of the Valle di Comino has been its isolation and this has allowed towns such as Picinisco to retain some traditions and local work such as that of sheep farming. It is no coincidence that today Picinisco is well known for its Pecorino di Picinisco DOP and for events such as the Pastoralism Festival that combine culture, food and wine, with outdoor experiences and music.
In 2011 Roberto managed to find his first male called Quattro, then 18 months after his first female and finally 6 months after that he had his first lambs.
They found travel reports of the 1400s of Niccolò Frescobaldi in the Terrasanta where he wrote 4-5 lines concerning the quadricorn sheep: “around Cairo I saw sheep with 4 horns and a tail so fat that they use it as we use the pig”. Perhaps this tail served these sheep in the desert to store energy like the camel’s humps and Damara sheep.
Today there are about 30 known and constantly monitored specimens. Those of Dario are fit and are nourished with love and with first class products like those given to him by the friends of the Terre Sane Cooperative which produces ancient grains using techniques that go beyond the simple biological, without the use of anything else that is not produced naturally. At Ripi , Atina, Esperia … abandoned land is recovered to plant the wheat from which you can produce one of the best pasta you can taste.
Roberto’s dream? Have 100 animals and declare the quadricorn sheep ‘not extinct’, then start making cheese from the milk of this sheep. He assures us that it is something special … we will be there for the next tests!