Excursion to the Abruzzo region

This post is also available in: Deutsch Italiano

LIFEstockProtect, together with Maschinenring Tirol, organised an excursion for shepherds, mountain pasture managers, and sheep and cattle farmers. The excursion took the participants to Italy, to the Abruzzo region, with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the interaction and use of livestock guarding dogs in touristic areas in Italy. Although all participants had to travel a long way, in the end everyone was happy for the opportunity to see this special place.

The Abruzzo Region

Abruzzo is an Italian region that is geographically located in central Italy, but historically it belongs to the northernmost region of southern Italy. The landscape is extensive and consists mainly of olive plantations, some fields and large wasteland areas. As in many other places, the rural exodus is making itself felt here too. There are only a few young people left who are willing to put up with the hard work and low pay as farmer, stock breeder or shepherd. Nevertheless, there are some who still or again practise this profession. Abruzzo has a very long and in part still active shepherding tradition. During summer months, flocks of sheep in particular can be seen in the vast Abruzzo landscape. But there are also herds of cattle, donkeys and horses moving around, sometimes alone and sometimes with shepherds. Almost all herds are accompanied by livestock guarding dogs. Driving through the national parks, we see many signs on the roadside that warn of possible bear crossings and drivers are asked to reduce their speed. The handling of wild animals and herd protection here differs significantly from that in the Alpine region.

Talks With Shepherds

During the three-day excursion, we got to talk to a lot of different shepherds. What they all have in common is that they enjoy talking to us and are happy about any social contact: “It’s a tough job,” they say. Sometimes friends come to visit for dinner, but most of their time they spend alone with the animals. Most of them are already at an advanced age and therefore very experienced; leaning on their crooks, they watch their herds and move with them from pasture to pasture.

The shepherds, who are out on the pasture with their animals every day, make an important contribution to the protection of their herd. Their tasks go far beyond the care of sick or injured animals. By using herding dogs, they ensure that their herd is kept together. The livestock guarding dogs protect the herd from threats such as wolves and other predators.

In the evening, the shepherds drive their flock of sheep into the night pen, where the dogs get their food, and so the work of the shepherds is finished for the time being. While the Shepherds rest, the dogs continue their work – all night long.

Once we meet a shepherd who leads a flock of 500 sheep and nine guarding dogs. While he is telling us about his job, he lets his herd move on independently. When asked about the frequency of wolf sightings, he shakes his head and explains: “The wolf doesn’t just come by often, but always. He’s watching us as we talk about him.” At this he laughs. A few days ago, his lead dog had a fight with the wolf, which is why he is now limping. Nevertheless, he was able to successfully protect the lamb and ewe. Of course, the presence of livestock guarding dogs does not offer absolute protection against predators. But the risk is significantly reduced, which definitely justifies working with dogs. The shepherd says that he loses about three to four sheep per season due to wolf attacks. In comparison, 20 to 25 sheep die every year from diseases and natural causes. So the wolf is by far the lesser evil.

The wolf is seen very differently in central and southern Italy. It has never been eradicated here, so livestock farmers have had to protect their animals for thousands of years. To this day, livestock protection is a very common practice among all. A sheep farmer with 1,300 ewes calmly answers the question of what he thinks of the wolf with a mischievous smile: “The wolf is beautiful.”

A shepherd with his Hungarian herding dogs

Campo Imperatore

Campo Imperatore, a plateau in the Italian Gran Sasso mountains, is a very impressive place. The vastness is endless; herds of animals of all kinds with dogs and shepherds, hikers, cyclists and many motorcyclists are enjoying the sunny day.

There are food trucks at a large crossroads; the Ristoro Mucciante is the highlight. Raw meat and meat skewers are sold here, including the regional specialty “arrosticini”. There are barbecues in front of the shop where you can grill your own meat. On a sunny Sunday, all the tables are occupied. Herds pass by while guarding dogs search for fallen meat. The guests feed the dogs in a relaxed atmosphere. It is quite normal here for large white dogs to search for food between the tables.

The feedback round from the excursion participants brought some insights: Livestock guarding dogs are not fundamentally aggressive, they all like to be stroked by strangers; herd protection works, even if not 100%; calmness in dealing with the issue can only be an advantage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *