Cowboys wearing heavy boots and wide-brimmed hats gallop across a scrubby plain, a hazy cloud of dust trailing behind them. South-West United States? I beg your pardon! South West Tuscany is what you mean… the Maremma to be exact!
Known as butteri, these Italian cowboys are a part of a waning but still active profession in the Maremma. Butteri have roamed these ranges since the mid-1800s, tending their herds and moving them seasonally back and forth between the highland pastures and low-lying fields.
There are some organizations that offer trail rides and historic re-enactments for travelers, yet there are also a handful of authentic, real-deal butteri still plying their trade and keeping their region’s unique but little-known tradition alive. A few large-scale cattle ranches employ full-time butteri, although many of these determined cowboys (and cowgirls) have weekday careers, saddling up on weekends to work as hired hands on various farms.
One such ranch is Marina Pisaneschi’s, Villa Trappola. This 1,200-acre estate relies on the services of the butteri two to three times a year. Energetic Marina operates an organic farm and maintains a herd of 35 cows, all of them the rare, pure-white breed of cattle known as Maremmana which is unique to this area. There are also 11 horses on the farm, bred to maintain the Maremma equine lineage.
The butteri are invaluable to smaller-scale farms, such as La Trappola. They lend their specialized assistance on an as-needed basis with animal husbandry, delivery of calves, branding, fence-mending, performing the necessary government-required inspections of the herds and habitat, and of course moving the herds between pastures – all on horseback of course.
While the butteri are a rare breed – like the Maremmana horses and cattle they tend – they are not extinct and their work allows estates like Marina’s to keep the local Maremma animals (and long-standing traditions!) healthy and thriving.
– 1st two photos courtesy of the Associazione Butteri d’Alta Maremma. Many thanks!