Opportunities and questions on livestock protection in South Tyrol

Foto: Klemens Villgrattner

South Tyrol, Summer 2021. Wolf and golden jackal are on the rise. Between May and September, over 170 sheep and goats were depredated nationwide. As in previous years, the atmosphere is tense. This year however, eight mountain pastures began to protect their herds on the summer meadows – with constant shepherding and night pens. With support from specialist departments in the Bolzano province, fences and pens were purchased and erected, and shepherds watch over the grazing livestock daily. Result: Around 2,500 of the 40,000 sheep and goats in the South Tyrolean Alps were watched over by a shepherd and, apart from a few exceptions, were protected from wolf attacks.

Although this sounds promising, it must be critically considered. At the Shepherds’ Day in Salern (reported on here), a livestock protection advisor from Bolzano Province expressed various concerns and questions from mountain pasture managers, livestock owners and breeders, such as:

Who will pay additional expenses?

Can you even protect small, private mountain pastures?

How do you address the argument of wolf-free mountain pastures?

And delivered some facts about the situation in the country: many places are missing suitable accommodation for shepherds, or they are in a poor condition. Shepherds are rare, trained herding dogs even rarer, and the topic of livestock guarding dogs is generally a no-go.

These matters and open questions are similarly explosive in other alpine regions, including in Austria and Bavaria.

Things are progressing though, and diverse institutions and societies are working on local and international solutions and improvements. In South Tyrol for example, the Salern Agricultural School is beginning a shepherd training in February 2022 (more information here), which can be completed with official professional recognition. The livestock protection courses with modules about herding and guarding dogs will begin in the coming Spring within the framework of LIFEstockProtect. And the South Tyrol regional government authority wants to continue to support concrete proposals about livestock protection.

Apart from these technical problems, the specialist advisor also brings up the biggest challenge: the human factor. “It was always done this way”, “It has to stay the same”, are excuses, that are all too often encountered in discussions surrounding livestock protection. The most work must be done on the different opinions and realities of humans. Having to rethink habits and adapt. This is likely the biggest challenge, which can’t just be solved with technical advice. And it will take time. Highlighting future perspectives matters. This is more important than ever, if we want to protect alpine pastoralism and especially small livestock keeping. The will to adapt mustn’t only come from the farmers themselves, but the frameworks have to also be adapted accordingly. Prevention is better than cure is not a familiar concept to the advisor in Salern. This is sadly often the case. The first careful steps in the right direction have been taken: livestock protection doesn’t just present a problem, but a new opportunity. In the next few years this needs to be worked on further. Targeted grazing and guarding by a shepherd improve animal wellbeing and pasture quality, as well as giving back value and recognition to one of the world’s oldest professions. The eight mountain pastures can thereby set an example, although this is just a start.

More information about targeted grazing in the LIFEstockProtect project can be found here.

Source: Amt für Bergwirtschaft, Autonome Provinz Bozen; Amt für Jagd und Fischerei, Autonome Provinz Bozen

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