Livestock protection for a threatened breed – the Villnösser Brillenschaf in South Tyrol

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The Villnösser Brillenschaf is South Tyrol’s oldest sheep breed, having already originated in the 18th century through a crossing of the Bergmasker and Paduaner Seidenschaf sheep breeds. It owes its name (Brillenschaf – spectacled sheep) to the black pigmentation, which forms a spectacle like shape around the sheep’s eyes and also adorns the mouth and ears of the animals. Alongside the classic white colour scheme, there are also uniform brown and black variants of this breed.

Conservation and Innovation

The breed was widespread in the valleys of the Dolomites – in the Villnöss Valley alone, there were around 2 500 of this breed around 1850. In the following decades, sheep husbandry, to a great extent, lost its importance and the number of this breed in the valley toady lies at 450. Especially threatened is the black Villnösserschaf, with only 70 still present across the world. In order to prevent the extinction of this traditional breed, EU funds are used to support the breeding of this animal. As a result, the biodiversity of domestic animal breeds, which are a part of and an expression of local culture, is promoted.

Having mentioned that, the Villnösser sheep farmers are innovative and have made the products of their animals known beyond the borders of the province. The wool is, in cooperation with a local clothing company, made into high quality clothing. In addition, beds, blankets and slippers are produced and meat is sold at the farms. Moreover, the meat is cooked and sold annualy at the Furchetta Lamb Week by the local catering sector. An impressive concept that has a promising future!

Challenges and Livestock Protection

Especially since the last Alm summer, the wolf und golden jackal are posing a growing problem for sheep farmers. However, the farmers are on the search for solutions and are starting with an extensive livestock protection project on their high alpine pastures this year. Shepherds, night pens and electric fences should protect the animals. Günther Pernthaler, representative of the breeders in the valley and above in the picture, is fully committed to protecting his animals and hopes for a positive balance of sheep come the end of summer. LIFEstockProtect will continue to keep track of the project and is engaging in exchanges with the famers on-site. Excursions with the project partners to Villnöss are also planned, in order to take a look on-site at the innovative overall concept, which combines sheep husbandry, marketing and livestock protection.

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