What is a pasture?

what is a pasture

A pasture is an ecosystem that you have surely heard of. The most important thing is that it is one of the natural resources of our country related to the breeding of the Iberian pig. The origins of the dehesa date back to the Reconquista, when ranchers in the area began to fence their lands to protect them from wandering livestock. The term “dehesa” comes from the Latin word “defensa,” which translates as defense or land specifically designated for grazing purposes. This term refers to the geographical distribution of pastures.

In this article we are going to tell you what is a pasture, its characteristics, importance and much more.

What is a pasture


Located in the southwestern area of ​​the Iberian Peninsula, the pasture stands out for being an unparalleled ecosystem. This Mediterranean forest has been intentionally transformed by human intervention, as it would otherwise remain intact and unused.

This phenomenon It is mainly observed in Extremadura, Andalusia, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid. According to data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, the estimated land area ranges between 3,5 and 5 million hectares, depending on the specific definitions used, with varying degrees of restriction.

This type of ecosystem, which covers approximately 1,3 million hectares, is also found in Portugal. Thanks to human intervention, an artificial ecosystem has been established. Using a sustainable approach, this ecosystem has transformed previously unproductive and undervalued land into a thriving hub of biodiversity. Land use includes a combination of agricultural, livestock and forestry practices.

By cutting down a part of the original forest, large lands have been created for the establishment of pastures, which facilitated the expansion of extensive livestock farming. This transformation has had an impact on the biodiversity of the newly formed grazing areas.


In the Dehesa, trees of the Quercus genus predominate, among which are holm oaks, cork oaks, oaks and gall oaks, which constitute the majority of the tree population and provide the precious acorns.

Although the scrub is fleeting and scarce, it plays a vital role in sustaining the pastures. Notable features include rockrose, broom, thyme and rosemary. The main fauna of the pasture is made up of sheep, goats, cattle and Iberian pigs, these animals being priority animals in extensive livestock farming.

Within the wildlife pastures, there is a wide variety of wildlife, including over 20 species of mammals and 60 species of birds. It should be noted that some of these species are at risk of extinction, such as the lynx and the imperial eagle. Grass has multiple purposes and has various uses.

The pastures and the Iberian pigs

Iberian pig ecosystem

Since 2014, the number of animals raised on pasture has steadily increased, making them a valuable asset for many. This particular animal is very emblematic of the pasture and has great meaning.

In 2017, an astonishing 1,3 million Iberian pigs were produced, raised in open-air pastures and fed with acorns. However, this figure pales in comparison to the 1,9 million Iberian fattening pigs, which are raised similarly to white pigs in industrial settings and predominantly confined to stalls.

The Iberian pig, particularly the purebred variety, is a creature well suited to grazing on pastures, taking advantage of the environment to feed on acorns, grass and drink from nearby streams. This extraordinary animal has the ability to thrive without depending on human intervention for its continued existence.

Capable of traveling great distances daily in search of shelter and sustenance, this creature maneuvers effortlessly across rugged terrain. Unlike their bovine counterparts on pasture,

Other livestock

The pastures of Spain are home to a significant number of sheep, with approximately 8 million sheep raised for milk, meat and wool production. As for goats, I think their population of 3 million is relatively small, but their significant presence on pastures cannot be overlooked.

The pasture is used for various purposes, including hunting, in addition to housing more than 1 million suckler cows, 1.200 farms dedicated to the breeding of fighting bulls and nearly 800 farms specialized in the breeding of purebred Spanish horses. The popularity of using pastures for small game hunting is increasing and aligns perfectly with the practice of livestock farming.

Economy of a pasture

iberian pigs

The economic advantages associated with big game hunting have led to its increasing popularity in this region. Additionally, the forest is used for grazing purposes. The main purpose of cork is its high demand in the specialized wine industry, where it is widely used in production.

From the cork oak, after approximately half a century, cork suitable for the production of stoppers is obtained. Spain alone produces about 88.000 tons of cork per year, which represents 30% of the world total. If you watch the Canal Sur video you will understand in greater depth the entire journey of cork, from its growth in pastures to its various commercial applications.

Firewood production, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem, is mainly derived from pruning and honey production, making both activities very important.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the collection of mushrooms and truffles, which is worth mentioning. In addition, tourism activities in the pastures have also seen an increase.

By revitalizing old farms and preserving rural heritage, nature tourism is increasingly promoted and the connection with the rural environment is strengthened. In these regions, known for their above-average economic situation, suggested activities often include horseback riding, hiking, hunting or gastronomic tourism. These activities offer additional advantages, contributing to the general development of these areas.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what a pasture is, its characteristics and importance.

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