In 2013, sheep farmer Georg Höllbacher was one of the first in Austria to use guarding dogs to protect livestock from being attacked by wolves. Today, he is calling for more support from politicians so that others can follow his example.
"Doing nothing is not an option, otherwise sooner or later we will be shipwrecked. In order for farmers and the local people to learn to live with wolves, livestock protection is inevitable. Because whether wolves are hunted or not, they are back and there will be more.”
A small flock of brown sheep grazes on a steep pasture in Bad Vigaun. Jenny, Aris and Oreon protectively circle around them -- three magnificent Maremmano-Abruzzese guarding dogs, whose presence is both natural and reassuring for the sheep. Georg Höllbacher once brought Jenny from central Italy to the Salzburg mountains. There she gave birth to two male puppies, Aris and Oreon, right among the sheep. Since then, sheep and dogs are an inseparable family.
"In Abruzzo there is hardly a flock of sheep without guarding dogs. In Austria we have no such tradition. But dogs are a very effective protection measure, especially in high alpine terrain."
This is how Georg Höllbacher describes the main difference between Italy and Austria. However, the lack of knowledge compared to countries with traditional use of guarding dogs is not the main challenge, since know-how can be imported. One does not have to reinvent the wheel. What has to be improved are the legal conditions. Although the legislator demands livestock protection in the animal protection law, in practice farmers encounter legal hurdles and contradictions. Those need to be dissolved.
According to Höllbacher, speeding up the breeding and training of guarding dogs while simultaneously improving the legal conditions is imperative to reduce conflicts.
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.
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
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.
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.
Electric fences are an important foundation for protecting herds. Through the painful contact, the predators learn to stay away from farm animals. We recommend a fence system with five taut wires, at least 90 centimeters high and with a minimum voltage of 2,000 volts. It is important to remove the grass under the fence, since otherwise the electricity is permanently discharged. Holes made by lynxes and badgers must also be removed, as otherwise the wolf uses them for digging through. Some vendors specialize in fences that are very easy to assemble and disassemble mechanically - they are particularly suitable for mobile use.
Georg Höllbacher openly admits that without more support for farmers it will be difficult to follow his example. Because it also needs the increased use of shepherds to successfully implement livestock protection with guarding dogs. Especially part-time farmers lack the necessary personnel and above all the financial means.
"In Bavaria, livestock protection measures are now one hundred percent subsidized by the state. This is exactly what is needed in Austria. It is ultimately a question of political will whether farmers are left alone to protect their herds, or whether coexistence with as little conflicts as possible is enabled with more support.”
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