Camargue | Manade Raynaud: Where Nature Meets Tradition

Venturing into Camargue is embarking on a journey to explore an untamed and pristine wilderness. It involves traversing vast expanses where horses, bulls, and flamingos coexist harmoniously, all under the watchful eye of the gardians.

Manade Raynaud, Camargue
Gardians of the manade Raynaud

A manade, in a few words

Bull breeding

A “manade” is a traditional agricultural estate in the Camargue region. More precisely, a manade refers to a livestock breeding farm specializing in rearing Camargue bulls.

Living in semi-liberty in vast marshy areas, the Camargue bull is the sole European bovine breed still regarded as wild. Interactions with humans are kept to a minimum, limited to essential health checks, branding of calves with a hot iron (known as “ferrade”), cattle sorting, and herd gathering for sales purposes.

Bulls, horses, and gardians at the manade Raynaud.
Bulls, horses, and gardians at the manade Raynaud.

In addition to breeding bulls, some manades raise Camargue horses, primarily used as working mounts for herding cattle. Renowned for its adaptability to marshy terrains, the Camargue horse’s agile and maneuverable qualities make it the perfect companion for the gardians and manadiers.

Gardian on horseback
Gardian on horseback

The Manadier

The manadier, whether owner or operator, oversees all activities related to managing the manade. Their role encompasses various tasks, from breeding to ecosystem preservation, animal care to pasture management, and organizing tourist activities.

In addition to managing the herd, the manadier also contributes to preserving Camargue’s traditions and heritage. They play a crucial role in passing on the knowledge and skills required for animal husbandry and upholding cultural traditions like the Camargue races.

The manadier works closely with gardians.

Gardians and manadier
Gardians and manadier, manade Raynaud

The gardians

A “gardian” is a term specific to the Camargue region, referring to a shepherd who guards the herds.

If the manadier is responsible for managing the operation and breeding, the main role of a gardian is to ensure the well-being of animals and guide them in the pastures.

To navigate marshy areas and safely manage herds, the gardians rely on using Camargue horses. These magnificent creatures aid in gathering, sorting, and relocating animals as required for livestock management.

Gardian on horseback
Gardian on horseback

The work of the gardian

The profession of a gardian is demanding and financially unrewarding. Making ends meet often requires a combination of animal husbandry, farming, and catering to tourists. Despite the technological advancements in this trade, the traditions are meticulously preserved, especially in the unique riding style exclusive to the “gardians.”

Becoming a gardian, especially a manadier, is primarily a tradition passed down from father to son.

Today, there are many more self-proclaimed guardians than professional guardians. These individuals lend a helping hand to ranchers during busier periods.

Manade Raynaud
Herding the livestock at the Raynaud ranch is a remarkable sight to behold.

Deeply rooted in the traditional Camargue culture, the guardians uphold methods and expertise passed down from generation to generation. Among their responsibilities, they carry out tasks such as:

  • Ferrade – the branding of the young one-year-old bulls (“bouvillon”) with the mark of the manade on their left thighs and an identification number on their ribs (as requested by veterinary services) using a red-hot iron.
  • Sorting – the gathering and enclosing animals from the manade to sort them before a race or ferrade.
  • Bistournage – the castration of young bulls to reduce aggression and enhance their suitability for Camargue bull races.
  • Engasade – a phenomenon where herds are immersed during the crossing of the Rhône or a marshland, showcases a unique spectacle of nature’s wonders.
  • Abrivado – the thrilling galloping journey of bulls, escorted by horseback guardians, to the arenas (a commemorative tradition from when trucks were not available to transport the race bulls).
  • Bandide – the escort of the bulls from the arenas to the pastures.
Cattle herding at the manade Raynaud
Cattle herding at the manade Raynaud

Proud of their role in preserving local culture, the gardians actively participate in events and festivities that showcase their skills. This includes the famous Camargue races and the region’s unique equestrian activities.

Every 1st of May, on Saint George’s day (patron saint of the Confrérie des Gardians), the Fête des Gardians brings together numerous gardians and manadiers in Arles. Clad in traditional costumes, they parade through the city before gathering in the arenas for a grand equestrian spectacle.

Camargue races

The bulls bred in manades are primarily used for Camargue races, which take place in arenas, public squares, or in the streets.

Camargue racing is a traditional sport where participants, known as “raseteurs,” strive to catch the attributes fixed on the frontal part of the bull, referred to as the “cocardier” or biòu. Unlike corridas, there is no intention to harm the bull fatally.

Camargue Race, Arènes of Grau du Roi
Camargue Race, Arènes of Grau du Roi

Manade Raynaud

Established in 1904, the manade Raynaud is located near the charming town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, boasting a picturesque setting at Grand Radeau.

The Raynaud family has been raising Raço di Biou bulls for six generations. Two of their bulls have proudly earned the highly coveted Biou d’Or trophy (awarded to the finest bull in the Camargue): Régisseur in 1957 and Ratis in 2013.

With 250 bovines grazing across nearly 1000 hectares, this is the oldest breeding farm of Camargue bulls.

Story of the manade Raynaud

In 1875, Théophile Papinaud acquires Camargue breed bulls to establish his own cattle farming. After disappointing attempts to crossbreed with Spanish cattle, he devotes himself to preserving the pure bloodline of Camargue. His son, Gustave Papinaud, takes over in 1896 and carries on his father’s meticulous breeding work.

Upon his demise in 1904, and by his wishes, Mathieu Raynaud, his trusted manager, acquires the manade. In the subsequent years, he continues to refine the purity of the herd’s breed through meticulous crossbreeding.

In 1922, Joseph, his son, takes over the reins. This is followed by the succession of his two sons, Casimir and Jacques, in 1945. The manade settles in Grand Radeau, between Le Sauvage (right bank of Petit Rhône) and the sea. In 1951, the manade appears in Beaucaire under the name of Raynaud Frères.

After the death of Casimir in 1959, his sons Marcel and Jean inherit their father’s livestock, while Jacques retains his share.

In 1985, Frédéric, Marcel’s son, purchases his uncle’s livestock to prevent the herd from being divided. Then, in 2016, his daughters, Aurélie and Aude, buy Marcel and Jean’s animals. Today, as women managing the manade, the two sisters successfully carve out their own space in a predominantly male-dominated industry.

Frédéric Raynaud introduces us to the guardians who came to help him at the ranch.
Frédéric Raynaud introduces us to the guardians who came to help him at the ranch.

A close encounter with the gardians

Experiencing a visit to a manade allows you to immerse yourself in the rich traditions of raising Camargue bulls while discovering the local culture’s profound passion and authentic charm.

The manade Raynaud welcomes visitors to traditional Camargue days, allowing them to learn about the guardians’ profession, explore the estate, and witness an impressive demonstration of their horse-handling skills.

Manade Raynaud

We arrive at the manade in the late afternoon. After exchanging greetings with Aurélie, one of Frédéric’s daughters, we embark on a trailer for a guided estate tour.

Manade Raynaud
Manade Raynaud

The herd is approaching from behind. The gardians calmly and authoritatively guide the herd in perfect synchronization with their horses.

Manade Raynaud

With an unwavering knowledge of every nook and cranny of the landscape, the gardians effortlessly maneuver through the vast pastures of the herd. Their fluid and confident movements suggest that they guide the cattle with seemingly effortless ease.

The trailer stops, allowing us to witness the gardians directing the herd toward us. Once the animals are gathered, the gardians form a circle around them, maintaining a proper distance to ensure they remain stress-free.

It’s time to get moving again for a sorting demonstration.

But beforehand, the gardians welcome us and introduce themselves.

Frédéric Raynaud seizes the opportunity to express himself. He effortlessly conveys his deep passion for being a manadier in just a few minutes. He also shares his concerns about the future, particularly in light of the advancing sea that encroaches gradually upon the territory of the manade.

The cattle sorting begins. Two cowboys work together to separate a selected beast from the rest of the herd. By communicating through signals and vocal commands, they coordinate the movements of their horses and bodies until they successfully isolate the chosen animal.

Sorting cattle with the gardians requires patience, skill, and a profound understanding of the animals. These skilled individuals utilize their experience and knowledge of bull and horse behavior to anticipate reactions and guide them with fluidity and efficiency.

Manade Raynaud

The visit concludes in an atmosphere permeated with serenity and respect for these gardians who embody the soul of the Camargue. Their work, steeped in tradition and passion, bears witness to the close relationship between man and nature and underscores the significance of preserving natural habitats.

Manade Raynaud
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