Tyrolean sheep farmer Thomas Schranz is a livestock protection pioneer in Austria. Besides his guarding dogs, he also works with alternative methods, like llamas. He is convinced that the future of alpine livestock protection lies in the intensified cooperation amongst farmers.
"No farmer is happy about the return of the wolves. But they are here to stay and we have to deal with them in the best possible way. My protective measures show how it can be done. I haven't lost a single sheep to wolves yet, although there have been attacks on unprotected herds nearby."
In comparison to other countries, Austria has little experience in livestock protection. Thomas Schranz is one of the few pioneers and wants to show how it can be done successfully. For six years, Tyrol's only wandering shepherd has grazed different pastures with his 200 sheep. This way he wants to preserve the cultural landscape. And he has made it his mission to show other farmers how to use electric fences and guarding dogs in order to be prepared for the return of the wolves.
His attempt to also use llamas as protectors is unique in Tyrol. However, they can’t replace electric fences and guarding dogs. Schranz is convinced from his own experience that the protection of livestock is possible. He wants to inspire others. Livestock protection in alpine terrain is a greater challenge than in the lowlands. On the other hand it is easier to combine herds and jointly manage large alpine pastures through targeted grazing. Larger herds also make the employment of shepherds and guarding dogs more affordable. To foster the cooperation of alpine farmers is therefore the key to success.
“If we introduce a joint pasture management concept, we will not only be prepared for the return of the wolf, but also efficiently manage pastures. If we don’t, the wolf will be the least of our problems as overgrown alpine pastures will no longer be manageable.”
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.
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.
While the guarding dogs Dijay and Summ circle around the flock of sheep in a protective manner and the llama keeps an eye on everyone, Schranz explains his vision of the future of alpine pasture farming. Over are the times where every farmer only looks after his flock. Instead, we need new, communal concepts and the revival of pastoralism.
Sheperds have to learn to hold together and guide large herds in steep terrain. That way it would be easier to set up protective night paddocks for the animals. They have to consider how large alpine pastures could be managed in a targeted manner and how to protect them from scrub encroachment. This way, the return of the wolves can ultimately help to bring us closer together and jointly face the various challenges.
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