La mémoire longue d'un métissage : la « métisse » ou la race ovine mérinos d’Arles

Patrick FABRE & Guillaume LEBAUDY

fr Anthropozoologica 39 (1) - Pages 107-122

Published on 30 July 2004

This article is a part of the thematic issue Animal domestications: social and symbolic dimensions. Homage to Jacques Cauvin

A story of crossbreeding: the "métisse" or the Merino sheep of Arles.

The Merino sheep of Arles celebrated 200 years of existence in 2002. In 1802 in the Crau region (Bouches-du-Rhône) the first crossbreeding occurred between local ewes and Merino rams from Spain. In this article we examine the social and cultural situation of the creation and development of this breed, including contemporary developments, in the context of sheep breeding in lower Provence. A sheep which produces high-quality wool, the Merino of Arles should have died out in the second half of the 19th century on account of the crossbreeding imposed by the collapse of the wool market and the new tendency of sheep breeding towards meat production. But the Provençal breeders wished to preserve an animal adapted to the practice of transhumance and so have preferred, through selection, to adapt the breed to the new economic context. Today the development of the breed follows the exact technical criteria of selection prescribed by the UPRA Merinos of Arles (Union for the promotion of the breed), but it also owes much to the individual choices (especially aesthetic criteria) of certain breeders. Although the originally wool-producing Merinos of Arles became meat-producing animals, their breeders and shepherds retain great pride in their sheep, known especially for their rusticity and for their wool, although this is today only a byproduct. Today there are three professional positions in which each type of breeder attempts to impose his own definition of the Merino of Arles from the "true Merino of Arles" - the crossbreed - to those for high meat production. It has become a debate in which this breed is recognized more and more as a producer of spaces; could this become its role in the future?


Merino sheep of Arles, crossbreeding, transhumance, Crau, breeders, identity, products.

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