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 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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2 thoughts on “Successful herd management in Graubünden, Switzerland

  1. Hi,

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

  2. “…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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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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