The most important domestic animals were sheep, goats, mules and donkeys. The goats and sheep provided people with meat, milk, wool and hides; the mules and donkeys were still a necessity for transport in a village without a road connection. In 1978 the official statistics showed that Agios Ioannis and Aradena had a total of 5.950 sheep and goats. Fodder for sheep was subsidized. The Agricultural Bank would subsidize 60 kilos of grain per head of livestock, and as we were told – everybody exploited this by reporting a higher number of animals.
Taking care of the animals was a man’s job. He had to give them water every day, food when necessary, and milk, shear and slaughter them. When there was a lack of males in the household, men from other households (including my husband) would be called upon to give a hand. Normally, men from several households were found working together, both milking and shearing the sheep. Tending to the goats was less work, and as the population grew older they shifted from sheep to goats. Our landlord claimed he had about 500 sheep when he was 50 years old, in 1970 when he was about 65 years he had about 300 – 350. He sold the last ones in 1978.
The sheep and goats stayed around the village from November to May. Each herder had a defined range, and the animals wandered freely within that area. The bells of the flocks were tuned each in a separate way to let the owner hear where his flock was located. When they wandered over to another person’s land or ate from somebody’s olive trees or vegetable garden, conflicts could and would arise. They were only taken to the sheepfold for feeding, water and later, milking. Lambs and kids were born in February and March.
The milking started in April and continued until July. Two brothers still made their own cheese in the village. The others would bring the milk to a cheese factory in Anopolis every day until they moved the sheep to the summer pastures in the middle of May. Earlier, everybody made their cheese in Agios Ioannis but in the early 70’s they gave up the production. In 1979 only three households brought milk to Anopolis.
In May the sheep were taken up to their summer pastures. The high mountain pastures were considered the most desirable, but most people did not have the rights to use these lands, which could be obtained through inheritance, dowry or purchase. Good grazing land was always at a premium in Sfakia; conflicts over grazing rights appeared to have been a major source of blood feuding in the area. Pressure was on the owner to fully utilize the area to which he had the rights, by sharing the land he owned with other sheep owners who did not own rights to the best high pastures. Alliances were therefore formed; several flocks of animals could exploit the whole range, and the owners together provided enough manpower to milk, feed, and water a large flock, and to defend it from encroachment.
In 1979 two cousins took their sheep across the Lefka Ori, to a high mountain pasture near Omalos, a 12-hour walk from the village. My husband accompanied them. The pasture was shared with two brothers from Anopolis who were not related to them. Together they owned about 700 sheep. In May and June they made cheese in the mountains, and four men were needed to do the work. At the end of June, the sheep were sheared. Later, when the milk diminished, two people could handle the work, and the men took turns at staying with the sheep.
Some households would take their sheep to a small mountain plateau about 500 meters and one hour’s walk above the village. They went up every day to give the animals water and food and to milk them in the early part of the season, or they took turns at staying at the hut to make the evening cheese. Two of the households had sons old enough to help, and they would go up almost every day to help their fathers.
One man only took his goats to higher pastures during the summer of 1979. The other families kept their goats around the village throughout the year. They only had milk and cheese for their own consumption and for their relatives in the cities. Some sheep and goats were kept around the house. These provided milk for the family when the other animals were at their summer pastures.
The shearing of the sheep was done in May or June. Work gangs of several men helped each other, and sons living elsewhere would sometimes return to help with the work. Wool was used to knit the men’s woolen undershirts and to weave sacks and blankets. According to the yearly statistics for the kinotis, wool production for the entire village had declined from 1.100 kg. in 1974 to 450 kg. in 1979.
The village of Agios Ioannis was dependent on its mules and donkeys for transportation of goods and people to villages with road connections. But even in Cretan villages with road connections one found that mules and donkeys were common. Most people could not afford a car and had to rely on their animals. The village once had fewer mules and more donkeys. The figures from 1961 show only 5 mules but 18 donkeys. In 1979, there were 7 mules and 9 donkeys in Agios Ioannis and Aradena combined.
Beehives were owned by nine families. In 1977 there were about 500 hives in the kinotis; in 1979 only 150. Some people had 20 – 30 beehives while several had only one or two. Two persons had hives in Aradena, and one owned hives, together with his married sons, above the village of Samaria. This was supposed to be the best honey in the area.
Honey was highly valued by the villagers and would usually be found on the table when guests were being served. An average of 25 kg. of honey was taken from each hive in August or September.
Most people would keep their bees in one place all through the year. One man used to move his to different areas, in order that the bees had access to better pollen. The hives were transported by mule. This could be a dangerous task: one year a hive fell off the mule and broke open. The bees escaped after killing the mule and badly injuring two men.
Every household had poultry, but only a few had pigs or rabbits. The eggs were not sold, but were sufficent for the local population and enough to feed the tourists that came by. The pigs were slaughtered for Christmas, and the rabbits were used to feed visitors. A few households also kept pigeons. In 1982, we observed that one household had introduced turkeys to the village.
Dogs were found in 10 households and about half of the households had cats. In Sfakia dogs were not used for herding, but were usually watchdogs (though there were a few exceptions). They were trained to bark at and sometimes attack strangers approaching the house or the flock.