The geographic home area of the Transmontano mastiff corresponds to the northeastern part of the Portuguese province of Trás-os-Montes.
This is an extremely rich area from the landscape point of view. Over short distances it is possible to find a diverse set of natural and semi-natural ecosystems that lend a mosaic aspect to the landscape. Such diversity is the result, on one hand, of specific natural conditions, such as relief, geology and climate that favour a diverse flora and fauna. On the other hand, there is a human transformation of the natural environment, lasting since long ago through agriculture and shepherding that led to the creation of semi-natural ecosystems that further enriched an already high biodiversity.
A large proportion of the region is made up of plateaux with altitudes ranging from 500 to 750 meters. These are cut by the valleys of the main rivers that run from North to South and interrupted by some elevations, the main ones being Nogueira (1318 m), Montesinho (1474 m), Coroa (1272 m) and Bornes (1000 m).
Climate is characterised by short springs, followed by three summer months with maximum temperatures often above 35ºC. Autumn is brief and from November to April, temperatures below 0ºC are frequent.
The original vegetation was essentially made up of vast oak woods of Pyrenean Oak (Quercus pyrenaica), Oalm Oak (Quercus ilex), Cork Oak (Quercus suber) and Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea), interspersed with ash, alder and strawberry tree. Nowadays, some woods of variable dimensions dominated by these species still persist among vast heaths scrublands in cooler areas, gum cistus scrubland and agricultural land in warmer places and small pastures along the water lines, locally known as lameiros.
Fauna is rich and diverse as well, hosting around 250 terrestrial vertebrate species (from a total of 466 inventoried in Portugal). Such diversity results from the coexistence of Atlantic, Mediterranean and even Cantabrian species. Top predators such as the Golden and Bonelli's Eagle, the Otter and the Wolf have their territories in the region, the last one sharing them with those of its main prey: the Wildboar, the Roe Deer and the Red Deer.
The human settlement in the area is quite ancient, as demonstrated by the rock engravings dated from the High Paleolithic found in river Sabor, just a few kilometres away from the town of Bragança. However, it is only in the Final Neolithic that human occupation seems to extend over this whole area, which is probably related with the beginning of the domestication of some animal species. Long before the dawn of recorded history, the level of human occupation was already important, as testified by numerous hilltop-fortified settlements. From this period until present, many changes took place as a result of the Roman occupation. These were mostly maintained until the late Middle Ages and afterwards, with the royal campaigns to promote the settlement in rural areas, until the XVth century. In the XIXth century, a reverse migration took place, when successive agricultural crises and the rise of industrialisation led many people to the coastal urban areas. In the first half of the XXth century, a new land clearing cycle took place, with a governmental incentive to the cultivation of cereal that would later end up in a new agricultural crisis, which led to a massive emigration to foreign countries in the second half of the century.
Today, hundreds of towns and villages are scattered about the whole northeast of Trás-os-Montes, mostly small, with population numbers usually ranging from 30 to 1.100 inhabitants. The larger ones are the county capitals, such as Bragança, with around 20.000 inhabitants.
The local agricultural production system is a reflection of the constraints of the natural environment. Based for many years in the culture of cereals, mainly rye, in the Terra Fria Transmontana (literally cold land) and wheat in the Terra Quente Transmontana (warm land), nowadays sheep herding and cattle raising are the main activities. Cereals are still cultivated in the less steep areas and have a fallow period up to two years. During autumn and winter, turnip and cabbage cultures take place also as livestock fodder. In the cold land, the chestnut culture has gradually raised in importance, especially for the production of fruit, its role being replaced by the olive and cherry trees in the warm land. Although richer soils of alluvial nature, usually around the villages, are used for vegetable gardens, their whole production is for self-consumption. Alluvial lands farther away from human settlements (locally known as lameiros) are used as pastures and for the production of hay.
Livestock raising is the most important economic activity in northeast Trás-os-Montes. The main species are sheep and cattle raised in the traditional extensive way. Cattle – mainly of the Mirandesa breed - grazing are based essentially in the lameiros both directly and using the hay after the pastures are cut by the end of spring. Turnips, oats, maize and sometimes rye are also used as fodder.
The breeding of local sheep breeds in northeast Trás-os-Montes is directed to the production of meat (Churra Galega Bragançana and Churra Galega Mirandesa breeds) as well as milk plus meat (Churra from Terra Quente and Badana breeds). Grazing areas change along the year but uncultivated and cereal fallow land are mostly used and sometimes the lameiros as well. Sheep flocks – locally known as gados – are usually small (150 to 250 animals), watched by one shepherd and usually guarded by 2 to 5 mastiff dogs that defend them from eventual wolf attacks. Since the last decade the presence of herding sheepdogs has also become frequent.
Goat breeding, although still with some importance, is on the decline, their grazing areas resuming to uncultivated areas in the steepest hills of the rivers and brooks' valleys. Breeding is oriented towards milk and meat production, especially in the case of the Serrana breed. Herds are small – 80 to 120 animals – and watched by one shepherd and 2 to 3 mastiff dogs.
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