Violaine Calcoen, the eco-friendly shepherdess of the mountains of Flanders

She hadn’t planned it, but Violaine Calcoen fell in love with sheep a few years ago. At 39, the former political science student is the only shepherdess in Flanders who transforms the organic milk of her animals into yogurts and cheeses.

» One of my pastures is on a slope, at Mont des Cats », defends the young woman when she is called a shepherd in the flat country. In the middle of her flock of ewes who, twirling on the ground, try to cool off as best they can, Violaine Calcoen further explains that “ bells, on the other hand, are for fun » : not really necessary in the Flemish pastures where the animals occupy nine months out of twelve. But now, she cut her teeth in the mountains where she learned everything and to which she retains a certain form of attachment.

The beginning of the herd

Violaine Calcoen grew up in the house she bought from her parents a few years ago, in the heart of Flanders, between mountains and fields. But before writing his own story there, he first flew away. In Lille, where she studied political science, then in Norway where, after a first experience of woofing, she left to spend a year on Erasmus in Bergen. » I was looking for gateways to agricultural issues, but there were none in France at the time. recalls the man who, more literary, quickly became interested in the social sciences, particularly in relation to environmental issues.

When his master’s degree in development theory is in his pocket, the question arises: ” And now what do I do? » « I could have worked in NGOs but I did not see what right I had to give advice when I only knew the theory “recalls Violaine Calcoen, who then joined a collective of farmers in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. » This is where I discovered the sheep, I had never seen them up close. »

She stayed there for eight years, learning everything from lambing to processing, not to mention grazing or mowing. She leaves these mountains with the first fruits of her future flock: five ewes who will accompany her on her journey aboard a cattle car. Afterwards, an installation project in Cantal which overflowed, but which Violaine Calcoen used a professional agricultural business manager certificate (BPREA) in organic farming.

Time and nothing else

She then became a salaried shepherdess in a sheepfold where she had done her internship in Savoy. She stays there for a year: three-quarters of the time at the sheepfold and the summer in the summer pastures. Then comes the idea of ​​settling down as a dairy sheep, the young woman feels ready. And because when you have animals you no longer move as you want, she chooses to return to her roots. Violaine Calcoen lands in the family home, makes the sheepfold of Vieraym and squats the adjoining hectare of pasture.

In 2019, she goes in search of another country: » For me, the life of a sheep is outside and the production of milk must be linked to the land “, she formulates. Fortunately, Violaine was given a first plot, then another, then… nearly 10 hectares in total, which she had certified organic and where she put the sheep in rotation, separating rams, ewes and kids when the time comes.come.The opportunity to get together with friends for small transhumances, between five and ten in the year.

And then there’s Hypothesis, one of the original ewes who is now retired and staying with the little ones. » It’s the mascot, smiles the shepherdess who says she had a hard time this year with the loss of two sheep. » She plays the role of the grandmother. With a miscarried sheep, last year’s seven cubs and this year’s seven, it gives them time to grow “, observes the Flemish for whom the question of time is not negotiable. And a pity if her harvest is smaller because she chooses to leave the lambs with their mother for up to eight to ten weeks. She then resells the meat from the lambs of milk after having had the chance, she admits, to have them slaughtered in the small butchery specializing in sheep and goats in Bailleul, a few kilometers away.The meat thus valued still represents a quarter of the turnover.

Hand milking on pasture

Violaine’s herd has 44 animals, including 26 suckler sows of three different hardy breeds: the Brigasques who come from the Alpes Maritimes and Italy, the Thônes and Marthods who come from Savoie and the Basco-Béarnaises, which she integrated for their richer production. Common points between these three breeds: the horns, which gives them a distinctive side and is a sign of rusticity “Judging the shepherdess in Flanders. Milking twice a day, by hand and on pasture – ” calm moments, truly magical – the ewes give 13 liters of milk a day, which can make as many liters of yogurt as she sells in returnable 375 ml pots, because “ even if it means producing, you might as well not produce waste », or fresh or aged cheeses for the empty and full-bodied.

Still occasional productions, such as ricotta produced on the days when the chicory tommes are made or poured. For all these fragile products, there is direct sale at the sheepfold and for the rest, go to the few points of sale nearby. With her production on a human scale, Violaine Calcoen does not try to expand too much. What does she prefer? » Lambing season: more than 45 lambs in three weeks this year exults Violaine. A story of scale and cycles. Life, no more no less.


2007. It is the discovery of the sheep.

2017. She spent a year in Savoie, which gave her the assurance of settling down.

2020. Installation in Flanders

Justine Demade Pellorce

Read also : “Diversifying into sheep’s milk: the right idea?

Ralph Hutchinson

"Creator. Communicator. Twitter evangelist. Passionate couch potato. Thinker. Pop culture aficionado. Award-winning web junkie."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *