An ethnographic survey among shepherds and farmers: perceptions and knowledge about livestock protection measures

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As part of the preparatory actions for the LIFEstockProtect project, ethnographic research was conducted among shepherds and farmers in the project regions, under the coordination of Eliante and with support from other partners.

The choice to adopt livestock protection measures and attitudes toward large carnivores are closely tied to, among other things, people’s culture and perceptions not only about these specific issues, but also about nature in general and the position humans occupy in it. For this reason, we decided to conduct qualitative research on these topics whose results could provide input into the implementation of the project’s conservation actions. Inoltre, poiché il progetto prevede la trasmissione di conoscenze e competenze per la disseminazione delle misure di protezione del bestiame, la comprensione delle modalità attraverso cui le persone costruiscono il proprio sapere e lo fanno circolare, e i modi in cui scelgono le proprie fonti di informazione, costituisce un elemento fondamentale per la buona riuscita del progetto.

In order to carry out the research, a method of semi-structured interviews was chosen, which involves an experienced person conducting the interview based on a pre-established questionnaire, but leaving the questions open-ended and allowing the respondent some freedom in his or her answers.

I temi su cui si concentrava l’intervista erano:

  • Metodi di allevamento e pastorizia
  • Conoscenza e uso delle misure di prevenzione
  • Percezioni e conoscenze sul lupo
  • Percezioni sul futuro della pastorizia e dell’allevamento
  • Problemi che devono affrontare pastori e allevatori nello svolgimento del proprio lavoro
  • Formazione la circolazione delle conoscenze.

Sono state intervistate dieci persone in Austria (diverse regioni), dieci in Germania (Baviera) e dieci in Italia (Trentino e Alto Adige), dei trenta informatori, cinque erano donne. I possibili informatori sono stati indicati dai partner di progetto e le interviste si sono svolte nel corso della stagione di alpeggio 2021 presso le aziende agricole o gli alpeggi nei quali i pastori o gli allevatori lavoravano. Ogni intervista è stata registrata, trascritta, tradotta e codificata. Presentiamo qui alcuni dei risultati emersi dalla nostra ricerca.


The group of interviewees is very heterogeneous and reflects the diversity of situations and practices in the world of animal husbandry: we interviewed part-time shepherds, full-time farmers and shepherds, and people who practice animal husbandry as a hobby. Some of them own a few thousand animals, others a few dozen; in Austria and Bavaria many of those interviewed are organic producers.

Formazione e circolazione delle conoscenze

Respondents were asked how they had learned to do their jobs, and what their primary sources of information were. Direct field experience, practice with animals and on the ground is considered the fundamental source of knowledge. Some of the farmers have received agricultural or pastoral training, but experience, time spent in the field and with the animals, (observing them, handling them, taking care of them) are always the most important thing.

An important issue is the transmission of knowledge and the relationship with other professionals: the people who are recognized as having authority are colleagues or those who spend a lot of time in the field “getting their boots dirty”.

Opportunità e difficoltà delle misure di prevenzione del bestiame

Many of the farmers who have already adopted protective methods think they are a necessary measure to continue doing their jobs and a way to care for farm animals. The adoption of protection measures also has difficult aspects: the increased workload and expenses, and the problems associated with the management of protection dogs in places that are particularly touristy.

Those who have not yet adopted these methods often express doubts about their effectiveness, the increased expense and labor associated with them, and the use of dogs. Some also think that fences can cause damage to the health of pets and wildlife, and that dogs can scare away flocks that aren’t used to having them around.

Cani da lavoro

Working dogs (both herding and protection dogs) are considered a key component in the work of herders.

To choose a puppy to place on their farm, shepherds usually look at how their parents work, and seek advice from other shepherds or working dog breeders.

Most shepherds and breeders work on the dogs’ innate skills, but a small amount of training is still necessary, especially to inhibit unwanted behaviors.

I cani da protezione sono considerati uno strumento molto efficace nella protezione dai predatori, ma destano sempre qualche preoccupazione dovuta soprattutto alle loro interazioni con i turisti e gli escursionisti. That is why it is very important that they also respect some simple rules of behavior in the presence of these animals.

Raccomandazioni per il progetto

The ethnographic survey allowed the participating team to make some recommendations for the project’s conservation activities, some of which may also be useful for future projects. In particular, with regard to the selection of trainers, it is recommended to choose people whose authority is also recognized by breeders and who have a good knowledge of the field. Regarding the involvement of dogs in protection work and their certification, it is important to also involve experienced shepherds in the creation of protocols.

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