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Proper herd management does not only protect our livestock from predators, but also from extreme weather, diseases and injuries. The practice of herd management is centuries old and a tradition in many mountainous areas in Europe. However, in areas where predators disappeared over time, the knowledge disappeared. Now that the wolf, bear, lynx and golden jackal are returning in many areas, people need to relearn and use proper herd management.
Please also read: Herd management is more effective than killing wolves
The multi-functional shepherd
Our partner CHWOLF, a NGO in Switzerland, actively helps to bring back the knowledge on proper herd management. And it is necessary, as approximately 250 000 sheep and goats still graze on the summer alps. Herding is a Swiss tradition that goes back centuries, passed on from generation to generation. Coexistence with the wolf used to be normal, until it was eradicated. Over the last 150 years, wolves were forgotten and the trade of shepherds disappeared almost completely. Still, between 4 000 and 6 000 animals die from diseases, injuries or extreme weather annually, mostly on unprotected alps. Compared to the 200 annual wolf attacks on insufficiently protected herds, the wolf’s impact accounts for about 4% of all livestock deaths.
Proper herd management protects not only sheep from attacks. A shepherd can monitor the animals for diseases, anticipate weather changes and prevent accidents. Consequently, more animals will survive the summer because of this. It helps the equal grazing pressure on the alps by regular rotation, benefiting local flora and insects a lot. Furthermore, controlled grazing management contributes to the economical maintenance and conservation of the alpine landscape.
No easy job
The work of a shepherd is hard, but diverse and rewarding. A shepherd works 7 days a week, of course. From early morning till late in the evening, regardless of the weather. Most of the time the shepherd, or shepherdess for that matter, is alone on the alp and will only get visits or help sporadically. The shepherd will patrol the pastures and let the animals use them in a sustainable way. He or she will patrol the fences, and monitor the guard dogs while assessing the surroundings for any risk.
By the end of the day, a shepherd brings the animals together in a night pen for optimal protection during the night. For all this, a shepherd needs to be competent in handling livestock, guard dogs and other protection measures like fences. They have to know the local area, the wildlife and more. In other words, a shepherd is an allround multi-tasking alp- and herd manager.
Alternative protection can help as well
In some cases, electric fences are difficult to implement when the area is steep for example. A specific assessment of the topography and alp size is thus crucial. The efforts to implement proper herd management are financially supported by CHWOLF in local Swiss areas. Their professional team supports research, development and implementationthrough various ways.
One of the alternative measures that they test in Switzerland are guard lamas. Lamas are successfully protecting livestock from coyotes, dingos and stray dogs in the USA and Australia. Since 2012, CHWOLF supports a project from AGRIDEA to test herd protection with lamas. Lamas have a natural reluctance against wolf-like animals. Just like guard dogs, lamas can bond with livestock and defend them from intruders. Lamas will run after attackers, or even bite or kick them. Especially for small herds, where guards dogs are too expensive, lamas offer a good alternative. Yet, guard lamas cannot replace guard dogs, though they can be a good addition in some places.
If you want to read more about the projects of our partner CHWOLF, visit their website.