Successful herd management in Graubünden, Switzerland

The European Wilderness Society participated in a workshop organised by AGRIDEA in Flims in Graubünden. This mountain village is close to the city Chur and the Wilderness in Misox valley, and even closer to the well known Calanda Wolfpack. The presence of this wolf pack, and the governmental decision not to change the strict regulations for shooting, has triggered several innovative approaches to protect the livestock of the local farmers and ranchers. Participants (Hunters, shepherds, government and NGO employees) came from the Italian Province of Trentino and South Tyrol, Province of Salzburg and Tyrol, Austria and Bavaria, Germany.

The key to herd management

Key to herd management is the availability of trained herd protection dogs. Alberto, a veterinarian has focuses his life on breeding and training Patou (Pyrennees sheep dog) for the purpose to protect the livestock in a touristic region. The original Patou from the Pyrenees were good for herding of livestock. However, the first tests showed that they were unpractical in a touristic environment. He has managed to modify the traditional training methods of these dogs to be touristic friendly.

Sheep Herd Management - © All rights reserved
Herd Management – © All rights reserved

Christian. A local shepherd, asked Alberto for help with protecting his large herd made up of 300 sheep of 8 different sheep breed from up to 19 different farmers. Alberto provides the dogs free of charge. In addition, Christian is using the standard Swiss electrical mesh fencing systems with 90cm height.

Sheep Herd Management - © All rights reserved
Sheep Herd Management – © All rights reserved

Astrid and Sandra are the two women herding the sheep in the summer between 1500 and 2300 hm. Their main challenge each spring is to get the sheep from different farmers to get along with each other. This seldom last longer than 4 weeks and after that, they can herd the sheep without too much trouble. By that time the sheep are also used to the herd protection dogs and the herd management dogs; which in Switzerland, are typically Border Collies.

Sheep Herd Management - © All rights reserved
Sheep Herd Management – © All rights reserved

By trial and error the Ranchers also discovered the lowest threshold on the number of guard dogs needed to protect a herd regardless of the electrical fence. If the number drops below 6 dogs per 400 sheep, the wolves will try their luck.

The local ranchers also showed us wolf proof fences, which were set up in areas where there are no Patou being used. These fences are 1,30 m high and have 5 electrical wires running all around. They are primarily used for with cows with calves.

Sheep Herd Management - © All rights reserved
Sheep Herd Management – © All rights reserved

The same is true with herding of cattle. In this case, the guard dogs spend the winter with the cows of one rancher and then meet the cows of the other ranchers on the joint alpine meadow in the spring. The other cows easily adapt to the presence of these large dogs and accepted them as their guard dogs.

Another observation the farmers and AGRIDEA made was the inability of livestock and the wild animals to see orange fences. Andreas Schiesser explained how they analysed the results along highways to minimise road kills with deer by employing blue reflectors and then recommended that farmers should switch their fencing from orange and green to blue.

Summary of this workshop is simple. If ranchers and farmers are keen on protecting their herds and minimising any losses, several successful best practice examples are available to assist them in their work.  In addition, fences need to be supplemented with herd protection dogs to minimise any conflict.

Several other best practice examples will feature in our upcoming Herd Management Best Practice Examples from Europe Guidebook.

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3 thoughts on “Successful herd management in Graubünden, Switzerland

  • Hi,

    Romania has extensive experience on herd management and could share its experience with other countries.

  • “…main challenge each spring is to get the sheep from different farmers to get along with each other”. That’s quite funny since in Tatras for centuries sheep are collected from various farms (500 or more in one flock) and with no problems guided for mountain pastures where they spend whole summer being guarded by mountain sheep dogs.

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