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Feature story

Being a shepherd is a way of living

Overview

Juan Miguel Diaz was, in his own words, born as a shepherd. He grew up in Extremadura, an area in Spain where wolves had disappeared and shepherds have abandoned the traditional measures to avoid damages. He had to learn how to work in a wolf-area when he moved to León, one of the areas with the highest wolf densities in Spain. He is a great example of how shepherds can adapt to wolf presence in recently recolonized areas, as he did. For him, the wolf is not the biggest threaten for extensive farming, a way of living which he is afraid of losing due to the hard working conditions and low profitability. 


Story by

Juan Miguel Diaz

Contact

Occupation

Livestock raising

Location

Valverde de la Sierra

Province

Castilla y León, Spain


Chapter 1

starting point

Due to a strict anti-vermin law back in the 50’s, the wolf disappeared in the most of the Spanish territory.  However, the species resisted in the North of the river Douro, where one of the main farming activities is sheep shepherding. Both, shepherds and wolf, have evolved together in this region and luckily ancestral knowledge and techniques to coexist with the species have survived too. After a change in the national law and the protection coming from the Habitats Directive, wolf populations have slightly recovered some of their previous territories, but, unfortunately, ancestral shepherd’s knowledge on coexistence was already lost.

Juan Miguel Diaz is a good example on how this can be learnt. He grew up in Extremadura, one of those regions where the wolf disappeared long time ago, where he learnt everything he knows about sheep from this grandfather… except, obviously, how to avoid wolf damages.

Chapter 2

approach

We, as trashumant shepherds spend summer in the North of Spain, where fresh pastures can still be found, and winter in the South regions, to avoid the hard weather conditions. The first year I worked in León, North of the river Douro, the wolves killed 121 sheep of our 1000-sheep flock. Neither me, nor my dogs knew anything about the wolf, we were not prepared and I had to learn from mistakes.

The next year, I got good mastiffs, the breed of livestock guardian dogs typical from the area and started using other management tools as electric fences. I have not had any other issue since then, also thanks to my presence with the sheep. For me, coexisting with wolves is the shepherd’s responsibility, it is a matter of being professional and “being where you have to be”.

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.

 

prevention measures © WWF.jpg

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

However, I am really concerned about losing my way of living. I was “born shepherd” and that is what I would like to do “forever and a day”.

It is a hard job and people do not want it. The wolf is often blamed as the scapegoat but it is important that society understand all the underlying problems that the rural environment is facing to be able to solve them.

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Being a shepherd is a way of living

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