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Livestock guarding dogs protect sheep and goats on alpine pastures in Switzerland

Overview

Bruno Zähner successfully protects his sheep with livestock guarding dogs on alpine pastures - right within a wolf pack territory. The livestock protection constitutes efforts and has its challenges – but since over four years, there has not been one single depredation by wolves.


Story by

Bruno Zähner

Occupation

Livestock breeding

Location

Valens

Province

Sankt Gallen, Switzerland


Chapter 1

background

The Zanai-valley – a relatively wild side valley westwards of Valens (in the canton of St. Gallen) – forms a closed semi-circle in which sheep and goats were pastured every summer since the end 70ies.  Bruno Zähner took over the alpine pastures of Zanai in 2013 - a year after the «calanda» wolf pack established itself in the region. In previous years the valley was confronted with numerous losses due to wolf depredation. Bruno Zähner was determined to protect his livestock.

On the Zanai pastures around 900 Sheep and 160 goats graze every year from early June to end of September. As the valley is vast in size, it is compartmentalized into three pasture-sections (Alp Lasa, Unterzanai and Oberzanai). Together they have a surface of around 600 hectares of which half is grazing land. The livestock also is split into three independent flocks, of which each is supervised independently by shepherds. To the lowest hut (on Alp Lasa on 2100 meters altitude) there is a narrow path. The access to the higher pastures is more difficult.

Chapter 2

approach

“It was clear to me since I took over the alpine pastures, that I need to protect my animals from wolf attacks”

says Bruno Zähner. 

His concept is based on using shepherds, enclosures at night and livestock guarding dogs. Overall, he uses 7-9 livestock guarding dogs. The goal is to have 3 dogs per flock. He is aware, that during the years he has had a steep learning curve and that mistakes have been made. But every year his system is improving. And the result is positive: not a single sheep or goat has been killed by wolves, despite wolf observations in the valley.

Bruno Zähner thinks his livestock is still not optimally protected:

for this I would need a few more dogs. The area is just too vast for them. 

But he is willing to accept the remaining risk, due to financial reasons. Some costs are covered by the state, others by himself. Overall however, the pastoral season comes down to a financial balance.

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Livestock Guarding Dogs

Livestock guarding dogs defend the herd against attacks by wolves. They feel like part of the herd and settle down with the pet owner.  The dogs live permanently outside and defend "their" herd against all intruders from the outside. Well-trained livestock protection dogs are no danger to walkers and hikers, but these should lead their dogs on a leash. To make this work, well trained herd protection dogs are required, which are adapted to the type of grazing by the livestock. This requires regular checks made by experienced people so that the dogs do not start to behave incorrectly.

Report your experience with this tool

Beatrice Jouenne

24.08.2018

The project "Pôle Grands Prédateurs" aims to support sheep breeders whose herds are victims of lynx attacks. An important step of the project is to learn breeders the educational protocol of dogs. During this project, we developed a protection tool: the multi-herd guarding dog. We educated a dog in order to place him in one season after another with different farmers whose herds were attacked. This dog was immediately effective and stopped lynx damage. After this test, the Pôle Grands Prédateurs proposed to breeders to take one or two puppies to replace him. In this context, breeders had the experience of a livestock guarding dog, knew the benefits, and could better apprehend the arrival of a new dog on their farms. Since 2015, the Pôle Grands Prédateurs is no longer a breeding pole for livestock guarding dogs. The association continues its action of support to the sheep breeders by being a platform of discussions and putting in relation breeders who look for dogs and breeders who have puppies to place. We also take in charge directly pups placement. Besides, we organized a lot of communication actions around the theme of “livestock guarding dog as a tool of prevention against lynx predation”. Please reply to this post for more information, reach out directly to Jean-Marc Landry or go to our website: www.polegrandspredateurs.org

Beatrice Jouenne

24.08.2018

Studies of the wolf – livestock guarding dog interactions are a source of consistent data that brings new perspectives on the relationships and interactions that occur in herds, their immediate vicinity and their extended periphery. The Canovis project is a possible response to major challenges that aim to significantly improve the coexistence between extensive livestock (sheep, goats, cattle) and wolves. Thanks to scientific research, the project designs and develops concrete and adapted solutions. The discoveries we made during the first 5 years of the project are major. Our results are in the process of completely revolutionizing the knowledge of the eco-ethology of the wolf in pastoral system. Unfortunately, our financial resources are limited and this is our major difficulty to continue the project. Please reply to this post for more information or reach out directly to Gilles Moyones.

Beatrice Jouenne

25.08.2018

Farmers and predators is a format that AlmoNature is trying to spread in both Italy and Europe. This was a non-binding measure implemented by AlmoNature in the frame of Farmers and predators in a province in the mainly Liguria Region. It specifically involved Farmers. It operated for 1 years (from 2016 to 2017) and received partial financial support from Private donors.Please reply to this post for more information or reach out directly to Haluska István, Patkó László.

Chapter 3

outlook

His livelihood, Bruno Zähner earns with his actual farm in the lower valleys. The pastoral season on the mountains allows him to offset costs, which he would otherwise need to invest for fodder during those four months. On top of that, he is able to produce additional fodder from the alpine pastures, which also offsets costs.

A not yet fully solved problem is the husbandry of the livestock guarding dogs outside the pastoral season. “The dogs are trained to protect the flocks. But as there is no danger, they are so to say unemployed. Hence it takes additional time resources to keep them busy” says Bruno Zähner. Another challenge is the loud barking of the dogs on the winter pastures, where livestock husbandry and human settlements share the same area. Not all humans are happy about this.

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Livestock guarding dogs protect sheep and goats on alpine pastures in Switzerland

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