A shepherd strikes out in a new direction. An update from Vinschgau

The climb to Erich isn’t easy. The hike from the cattle pasture up to him and his flock of more than 400 sheep is steep and there is no marked path. Erich leads his sheep to graze on the mountainsides of the Krippaland-Alm on the Swiss border. Erich has been a shepherd for over a decade, practicing guided grazing accompanied by his two trusty herding dogs. There is a new development this pasture season: two livestock guarding dogs of the Maremmano Abruzzese breed are supporting him in his work. The dogs were previously kept together with sheep, but this was there first experience on an alpine pasture. There were many doubts of whether this could work with dogs. But Erich wanted to give it a try: “Now I’m glad they’re here”.

Before the pasture season: Familiarisation between people and animals. Photo: Johanna Platzgummer

The results so far have been positive. The dogs complete their work intuitively and there have been no incidents with hikers so far. At night, the dogs patrol around the sheep’s night pen; by day, they are able to rest at the hut while Erich moves around with the sheep.

“The main enemy is bad weather and fog. There, you often don’t have a chance.”

Erich had to experience two sheep depredations – at night, with bad weather, outside of the fence and far away from the hut and dogs. Unfortunately, complete protection is not possible, but the results so far have still been positive, especially since the confirmed presence of wolves.

“It isn’t easy, especially when enclosing alone. But time and again people get in touch who want to help.”

The interest in shepherding as a job is experiencing a renaissance. And this interest needs to be encouraged to support shepherdessses and shepherds, who have completely new tasks to undertake as part of the topic of livestock protection. This year, LIFEstockProtect has started to build up a volunteer workforce network for short and long assignments with shepherdesses and shepherds, as well as livestock farmers. You can register your interest here.

Meanwhile, Erich is climbing the slope again to get new fences for constructing a bad weather paddock, just in case.

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