Preserving the Biodiversity of the “Il Felcetone” Farm in Tuscany

Project location: Italy, Pescina, Seggiano
Project start date: September 2013 - Project end date: October 2013
Project number: 2013-041
Beneficiary: L’arcobaleno Sul Felcetone Associazione Culturale


Il Felcetone, a Farm dedicated to biodiversity, which is also a WWF Panda Farm and a Pilot Center within the framework of the Vagal Project, is conducted by two farm businesswomen who, once completed their respective work activity, continue to devote all their energies to the project, and its ambitious goals:
To optimize the Farm, make it independent and productive, giving back the right valuee to the needing protection animals.
To pass the work carried on the Farm's heritage on to future generations, so that they can keep pursuing its goals by keeping alive the research activities il Felcetone started with the scientific and technical support of the Universities of Florence and Pisa and under the supervision of the Region of Tuscany and Provincia of Grosseto.
To coordinate learning and training courses for the dissemination of the results through conferences and guided tours.
To bring the world of agriculture closer to the young and less young people through the great, precious experience of the elderly, which is in itself a heritage to preserve: a handover that lets the richness of nature to be conveyed in its fullness, while greater dignity would be returned to the elderly, and new generations would stay in touch with their own roots, with the aim of forming new young enthusiasts of sustainable agriculture granting the generational replacement, by creating job opportunities in the field of organic market and biodiversity.
It is a project dedicated to safeguard nature and the environment, a project that operates within the framework of agricultural activity to return the right value to husbandry in a time when this field of human activity lost its charm and its primary role.

The Genetic Center for the recovery of the black pig Macchiaiolo Maremmano currently houses 80 animals, a number that lets to consider the breed as "saved". This Center is presently in a rented land at about 10 Km far from the Farm. The animal shelters and the fences built 8 years ago on an experimental basis to house 4 pigs are now insufficient and inadequate. Moreover the floods that hit Tuscany during last autumn and winter have completely damaged these old facilities. These being the conditions, intrusions of wild boars could happen at any time and the risk of destroying the purity of the breed and nullify all the work done is very high. It is no longer possible to keep family groups separated and this compromises the hardly achieved genetic differentiation which is essential in a Genetic Center. Overload can cause health problems and aggressiveness that may compromise animals' welfare. It is essential, therefore, to transfer the animals to Il Felcetone Farm: functionality would improve and assistance could be more effective, with less waste of human and financial energy. Here, thank to the acquired experience, housings and fences, able to prevent the current problems, could be build. The breeding area will be wider, extending both into the forest and in pastures (these animals need to graze); the fences will be stronger, with reinforced wire and chestnut poles. Mechanical means will be necessary to install it, since the terrain is rough, sloping, and partly rocky. The fence will have a length of approximately 5000 linear meters with subdivisions inside of it.
Inside and outside will run an electric wire powered by a solar panel and, in order to buffer any possible failure, an emergency generator will be present as well. This electrical wire will protect animals from intrusions and keep the pigs inside their separate spaces.
The pigpens will be suited to the winter climate particularly rigid in this part of Italy, and to the animals' needs, in order to ensure their well-being.
An appropriate number of feed and water troughs will be necessary, as well as a constant supply of water also in the form of pools of water and mud, where pigs can immerge during summer and find protection from the heat and parasites. To access the area a service road will be realized.
All this will be achieved without impacting on the territory, in respect of the environment and in total safety. This new Center will have a better visibility; will be more accessible and facilitate research and study projects already scheduled with the University; will organize professional courses on farming and create new job opportunities. The moving of the animals is very urgent, and it has to be done immediately: it can only happen during Summer, with favorable climate conditions. Given the wild nature of these animals, they must be transported after a slight sedation, with the assistance of a veterinarian who will apply the microchips for their identification.
They must be moved in small groups to avoid transport stress and in order to have the time to adapt to the new place before winter. This is the first and urgent need.
The next steps are: a mobile slaughterhouse unit (recommended by the European Community ) that, in compliance with the public health laws, allows a painless slaughter that can happen in the Farm, following the guidelines of Farm philosophy: avoiding the animals' suffering as well as the accumulation of adrenaline in their flesh which has effects on consumers' health. A space dedicated to the processing and seasoning of the products, carefully done by following the ancient farmers' recipe of this area, in respect of the requirements and specifications designed by the University with regard to this breed, will be also necessary.
The optimization of the Farm also requires the purchase of silos with warehouse for the storage of grain during harvest time, to ensure organic stocks at an affordable price. Are required, also: the mechanical equipment for the mixing and distribution of food for horses, goats and sheep; animal transportation Equipment; shelter for goats and sheep, equipped with automatic feeders with a blocking mechanism granting safely as they feed themselves and suited for milking as well, so that it will be possible to start the study on milk and cheese yield. Five further horse stalls, paddocks and training areas for foals are necessary for the ancient Maremmano Horses, that are the core of a starting study project already planned with the Province of Grosseto and the University of Florence. A project that will be carried out in the Farm, consisting in collecting the stallion semen for the sperm bank of Tuscany Region and in assisted fertilisations with the purpose of recovering the appropriate use of this breed.
Restoring of the present access road is also necessary.
The moving of the pigs must start at the beginning of Summer and end at the end of August 2013: these times are dictated by the mountain difficult climate.
By October it is necessary to realize the warehouse for the storage, purchase silos and mechanical equipment for the distribution of food. For the production of January-February a mobile slaughterhouse unit has to be bought.

This project received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation. The Farm will become self-sufficient and productive, able to launch high-quality products (since 2013 the Black Pig Macchiaiolo Maremmano ham is Slow Food Presidium), by ensuring the transparency of the production with a short supply chain, from producer to consumer, supporting the weakest links of the agroindustrial chain (producer and consumer, precisely); it will be point of reference for the formation of new farmers and breeders prepared and responsible, and a center of support and information for those who already work in the field. There is already a breeders association of the black pig Macchiaiolo Maremmano which selects the members based on reliability, competence, and transparency.
With the collaboration of a training agency a "Training Course for equine breeders" is already arranged, and about to be presented to the Province of Grosseto.
In collaboration with the University of Florence and the Tuscany Region a study on transformation processes and conservation of pork, for the purposes of traceability of the meat itself. Again with the collaboration of the University of Florence is in its start up phase the study on the Goat of Montecristo.

Il Felcetone is a Farm on Monte Amiata, in the beautiful land of Tuscany, at an altitude of 750 m. in a protected area surrounded by woods and chestnut trees, overlooking the Val d'Orcia, a World Heritage Site since 2004.
The Farm owners arrived in Tuscany in 2005, purchased 10 hectares of land and built all the animals handling facilities. The plot of land is fenced and equipped with pig sheds, a 100 sqm. stall and 12 stables. On a ground of one and a half hectare, il Felcetone built a 100 sqm structure to welcome visitors and organizing  product tasting events. The structure has solar and photovoltaic panels with stand-alone island system.
Il Felcetone's committiment is to retrieve and save both animal and vegetable species that are at risk of extinction, operating as an organic farm in the utmost respect of animal welfare and the environment.
To recover these breeds, representative of a bio-territory and of a whole rural culture with its traditions, means to retrieve one's history and recreate a bond with one's roots. This is the Farm's goal, which deals with and is committed to biodiversity. It is a precious work in which Il Felcetone firmly believes, that has been done and is still done with enthusiasm and much faith, a work, however, that did - and still does - cost a lot in terms of financial resources and personal commitment.
Alongside with the Vagal European Project, it has been now drawn up a leader Program in "Interregional and Transnational Cooperation" , which in 2013 is going to be presented by the Region to the European Community. Il Felcetone Farm will be leading the project, while the partners are l'Università di Firenze and the Agenzia di Formazione per i corsi professionali per Allevatori ed Addetti Zootecnici (Training Agency for Professional Breeders and Livestock Staff), and the perspective is to create new job opportunities in the field of agriculture.


The black pig Macchiaiola Maremmana

The certified organic Farm is regarded as Pilot Project for the recovery and conservation of native animal germplasm, in the framework of the Vagal European Project. With the scientific collaboration of the University of Florence il Felcetone recovered and saved from extinction a swine breed whose traces were completely lost: the Macchiaiola maremmana black pig, or Macchiaiolo Maremmano.
In the Etruscan-Roman period the black pig was present in the wild on the whole extent of the Apennines' ridge. Over the centuries the species went through a morphological modification, in order to adapt to different habitats and give rise to other breeds. Still, pigs morphologically resembling the Macchiaiola Maremmana are portrayed in sacrifice scenes on Roman Forum bas-reliefs.
Until the beginning of 1900, these black pigs have been raised in the wild, grazing grass, eating chestnuts and acorns on the Amiata Mountain and the Sienese Hills. Even then this species was described in zootechnical texts as "Rustic and primitive, a producer of excellent meat". Its disappearance happened for different reasons, including the reduction of natural habitats and new agricultural choices. In 2005, with the fortunate rescue of 3 swine, il Felcetone begun the difficult recovery of this species.
Today in the Genetic Center there are 80 pigs, reared in the wild and in the respect of their vital needs, all genetically tested and monitored by the University of Florence Zootechnics Department.
With the registered trademark of Macchiaiola Maremmana o Macchiaiolo Maremmano the breed is today certified and protected. The analysis on these pigs' flesh showed a very interesting and unusual result: it is actually the only pork meat with omega 3 and omega 6 acids in its fat. This makes its level of digestibility comparable to that of the fish meat.
With a rigid discipline that regulates both the animals' rearing and the slaughtering (which according to the Farm's ethic must be done in the farm and in a painless way), the meat is transformed and matured by retrieving the ancient late 19th century recipe: Mediterranean forest aromas, no pepper, and a maturation period of 2 years.
By taking care of every detail of the process with passion and love, our purpose is to achieve excellence while being respectful of traditions, and above all of animals' welfare. At the same time our aim is to guarantee quality and traceability for the consumer. After four tasting events organized by Slow Food Italy and having participated to the Salone del Gusto in Turin, the Macchiaiola Maremmana ham has been compared to the highest quality hams. As a result our ham is going to be, starting from 2013, a certified "Presidio Slow Food", i.e. a product of maximum excellence, destined to the best restaurants in the world, at an appropriate price.

The Montecristo goat

Another species that bred as "Allevatori Custodi" (Breeder Custodians) is a small group of full-blooded Montecristo goats. This species, La Capra di Montecristo, takes its name from the tiny Island of Montecristo, part of the Tuscan archipelago, near the more famous Island of Elba.
The history of this goat breed dates back to the Phoenicians who inhabited the island, later the species propagated to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and were reared in Greek colonies.
About 200 specimens, identical to their ancient progenitors who lived on the island 3000 years ago, are still living there: they have the same light and elegant profile, and the male goats exhibit the same scimitar-shaped horns that have been illustrated in the prehistoric cave paintings. The Capra di Montecristo is the only Italian wild goat.
A few decades ago, before Montecristo Island became a Natural Reserve, a small group of goats, composed of a few families, was taken from the island for research purposes: the descendants of that group are now in our Farm Il Felcetone.
The first studies on these goats indicates that their milk is very easy to digest, particularly suitable for diets and children nutrition. In addition, high quality cheese can be produced from this special milk. Together with the University of Florence il Felcetone are studying how to recover ancient and more natural systems of making cheese, in order to obtain a product of maximum excellence, as was done for the Macchiaiola Maremmana ham. In 2014 il Felcetone will be producing all the three highest quality products: meat, milk and cheese.

The ancient Maremmano Horse

The Farm's livestock is also enriched by the presence of the Antico Cavallo Maremmano, which for decades has been reared in the previously owned Farm near Rome: these days 4 mares and a stallion are part of Il Felcetone livestock in Tuscany. This breed of horse used to live in the Maremma land, an area that includes part of the Tuscany and Lazio, between Grosseto and Viterbo.
The history of this ancient autochthonous genetic type, is closely tied to the land of Maremma. In fact this horse is the symbol of Maremma. Having adapted over the centuries to the harsh characteristics of this territory, the Maremmano breed is strong and capable to endure fatigue and adversities; it has a great personality, never servile, brave and tireless.
Maremmano horses have been used in military cavalry, and were protagonists of the last cavalry charge in Russia, during the Second World War. They have always been used by the Butteri (Italian cow-boys) for managing wild cattle.
Its origins seem to come from the Berber Horse, a northern African breed the Maremmano still shares many traits with. During the Roman domination, and then along with the Saracen raids, this horse breed arrived in the Mediterranean area and there, undergoing the influences of the environment, changed its nature in accordance to the different conditions.
During the Middle Age, the Maremmano horse was the most popular horse in Italy, depicted in the sienese Lorenzetti fresco "Il Buon Governo", reared in Italian Renaissance Courts, and depicted again in "La Corsa dei Berberi" ("The Race of Berbers") in the papal Rome.
In the 19th century on the Maremma, between Tuscany and Lazio the Maremmano Horse was a free and wild being living in large herds. He has been celebrated in Macchiaioli and Fattori's paintings of that time. Today this horse still has the ancient Berber's typical mutton-like profile, the mane as well as the tail long and thick (useful to defend himself against the insects present in the Maremma in great number). In this rough and difficult territory - wet and boggy, but also rocky and presenting a rich wild scrub - the large foot helps him to walk safely on any terrain, and the peculiar hair called "barbette" protects him both from the moisture of the swamp and the roughness of the rock. The arched neck, very strong and pyramidal, recall the horses of the Renaissance frescoes.
In order to avoid the extinction of this precious animal, a reproduction plan was elaborated with the University of Florence and the Province of Grosseto's collaboration, using the stallion semen, already collected and deposited in the Sperm Bank of Tuscany Region.

The Sopravissana Sheep

The recovery of endangered species' work begun in Lazio by saving from extinction the sheep Sopravissana, the only Italian breed of sheep, together with Gentile di Puglia (the two breeds share the same origin) to produce Merino wool.
In the second half of 1700, due to the will of the Papal Government, Merinos rams were imported from Spain to be interbred with the Vissane sheep, originating in Visso, near Macerata. The crossing process at the origin of the Sopravissana breed particularly interested Pope Pius VI who, through a state law, forbade the slaughter of lambs of both gender. To propagate their Merinos' blood he ordered to distribute the exceeding number of lambs among Vissane sheep, regularly transhumant throughout the Papal State. In fact every year, moving along the Macerata-Terni-Rome route, they would leave Monti Sibillini, arrive to the Roman Countryside and go back again.
Thanks to their qualities of rusticity and resilience Sopravissana sheep were able to leave the mountainous areas of Umbria and Abruzzo at the beginning of the Autumn season, reach the Roman countryside and Tavoliere delle Puglie, and then - always following the ancient tratturi (cattle tracks) - return to the mountain pastures, at the end of the Spring.
They are medium size animals with very soft, thick and white fleece covering forehead and limbs, which protects them from bad weather and plants with thorns. They have a typical mutton-like profile and, in males, very peculiar horns: important and twisted.
Sopravissana is considered a "triple attitude" breed: it produces wool, meat (very tasty) and milk. The milk is not abundant, but of very good return: in ancient times it was used to make the cheese pecorino romano.
Wild, with a strong character forged in the rough environment of the Appennini Mountains, the Sopravvissana sheep "has a calm and frugal way of grazing" and the ability to take advantage of every productive potential of ground turf, even the poorest. The end of the transhumance, the wool industry crisis, the price of milk (paid on the basis of quantity and not quality) have almost caused, since the 1960s, the total extinction of this species.
At the end of the 1970s, the previous Farm near Rome began breeding 4 beautiful and very typical Sopravvisana specimens, 3 females and 1 male coming from different flocks. In 1995 then, after a very laborious work aimed to improve reproduction, the flock counted 600 animals all regularly registered in the Genealogical Book and supervised by the University of Perugia. In the Abruzzo Region, and in the Ascoli Piceno area (Marche) there were only a few other specimens.
The elevated number of animals in our flock motivated the Regional Authority of Lazio to submit to the EEC the request for the recognition of the breed as "Species at serious risk of extinction".
At the same time, on an experimental basis, the recovery of the wool, organically processed and colored with vegetable dyes was started. For its quality of elasticity, fineness and resistance, this precious wool can be processed without chemicals and kept 100% organically pure. This is why it is particularly appreciated by the organic Market.
Due to environmental problems and lack of available space it was no longer possible to keep all the sheep in the Roman Farm so currently the flock is in Abruzzo.
The intention is to bring a group of specimens to the experimental pilot Farm for biodiversity Il Felcetone, on Monte Amiata (Tuscany), to keep studying the milk, meat and wool for a high-quality production, in collaboration with the University of Florence.


The chestnut grove

Il Felcetone also owns a chestnut grove of about one hectare and a half, with autochthonous chestnut trees implanted in the 1700s. The grove is located on a road of connection between the Amiata Mountain and the Via Francigena, the way walked by travellers who went on pilgrimage to Rome.
The chestnuts produced are very tasty and good for la farina dolce, "chestnuts sweet flour", as well as for the "fattening" of pigs.

The olive grove

There is also a small olive grove of olivastra seggianese, the only 'cultivar' whose name contains the place of origin.
Legend has it that in the Abbadia San Salvatore the Benedictine monks, ever since 1300, noted that a particular type of olive tree did not suffer the sharp slaps of the freezing cold. They begun to take care of this plant. Perhaps it is possible to date at the time the care and selection of the olive Olivastra: Olea oleaster, the most ancient, a species per se, a botanical unicum.
It has small fruits, roundish, such as berries, but juicy; it endures the bitter cold and is not subject to parasites' attacks; it is organic by nature, it has no need of treatments whatsoever.
The oil that it produces is very peculiar, with an intense and persistent fragrance, a slightly spicy taste yet non-invasive and non-aggressive, and an aftertaste of sweet almond; it perfectly pairs with fish dishes.
After eight years of passionate work, the project is clear and outlined: to retrieve and save both animal and vegetable species that are at risk of extinction in an organic farm which operates with the utmost respect of animal welfare and the environment.
It is now time to involve other parties interested in this project to ensure that what has been achieved over the past years won't go lost but will be growing and flourishing in the future. For this to happen funds are needed to raise and handle all of the animals; to re-do and expand the rearing area with new fences, shelters and facilities; to optimize the work and increase the breeding; to build the structure for the transformation and maturation of our products in accordance with the Regulation on production enhancement; to provide a house of 100 sqm. for the owners of the Farm and also to build educational structures.
Many have become interested and passionate about the project, like Provincia di Grosseto, Università di Firenze, SEFEA, Fondazione Iris Bio, giving to the project positive responses, but the time-consuming bureaucracy have made it hard to really establish a collaboration, while at the same time, the Farm economic resources are about to finish.

This project received another grant for activities to be completed by December 2015.

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