Proper livestock management often demands the presence of shepherds. Shepherding is an old craft and there are many European countries, mostly eastern, southern and some northern countries where livestock was and still is commonly managed and protected with shepherds. In other countries, mostly central and western European countries, the need for shepherds declined due to the changes in the agricultural polices and structure. Because of the current comeback of the large carnivores, the comeback of this traditional livestock management measure is becoming more interesting. Livestock management employing shepherds also decreases natural losses due to severe weather and diseases.
Please also read: Wolf Survival Linked to Livestock Guarding Dogs
Switzerland as a pioneer in the training of shepherds
Switzerland is the home of several wolf packs. This in combination with a strategy to revitalise the local and regional alpine pastures has increased the need for livestock management and protection in recent years. The Swiss canton of Valais offers a training programme for shepherds. The training was developed by the Department of Economy, Energy and Spatial Development together with the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural School of Valais, Plantahof and AGRIDEA. AGRIDEA and the agricultural schools of Visp and Landquart carry the training out. The registration to the training can be done directly at the two agricultural schools.
The training aims at future shepherds and part-time and full-time farmers. Interested persons should have practical skills, patience and perseverance, a sense of responsibility, good observation skills and an interest in animals and nature especially in shepherding. The shepherd training consists of three theoretical modules and two practical internships. The whole programme can be completed over the course of one or two years. After successfully attending the theoretical and practical part, participants complete the training with a final oral examination.
Module 1 deals with a basic introduction to alp managment and pasture farming in the Alps. Topics such as:
- rights and obligations of shepherds,
- risks in the mountains,
- infrastructure and daily life on the alps,
- legal frameworks,
- differend types of pastures,
- plant communities,
- forage plants, weeds and poisonous plants,
- basics of protected areas,
- traditional usage systems and
- different kinds of fences are covered.
The topics of module 2 are “sheep keeping and traditional sheep keeping in the mountains” and “animal protection on alps”. The module covers topic such as:
- characteristics and anatomy of sheep
- species, breeding objectives, marketing
- herd management on the alps, daily routine
- animal health
- first aid
- canton specific laws
- book keeping
- animal protection laws
- emergencies, rescue and emergency slaughter
- transport of live animals and carcass
Module 3 takes a closer look at livestock protection and the work with guard and herding dogs. An excursion and practical exercises with own dogs offer hands-on experience. Covered topics include:
- species and suitability as guard or herding dogs
- feeding, dog care and costs
- safety and daily challenges when working with dogs on alps
- possibilities and limits of livestock protection
- occurance and behaviour of large predators
- learning behaviour and development of dogs
- healthy, sick or hurt dogs: support on the alp
- insurance and rights of working dogs
Practical internships on the farm and the alps
Practical experiences are essential for the shepherding training. A 3-week internship at a farm and a 9-week internship at an alp teach the necessary skills of shepherding. During the 3-week internship at the farm, the participants are part of the daily chores. This includes feeding, claw care, deworming and lambing. The alp internship has to be at least 9 weeks long and the participants have to document their work in a final report. During this time at the alp the participants are part of the daily chores of shepherds. Additionally, the training includes a training with herding dogs by the Swiss Sheep Dog Society (SSDS). The training is for beginners and advanced dogs and dog owners.
Proper livestock management is an essential part of shepherding in Europe, and necessary with the return of large carnivores across the continent. The Swiss are pioneering the way with this training, and are providing a good example for the rest of Europe. More information about the current training schedule and prices, can be found here.
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