Generational change on behalf of coexistence
Location: Cerdillo (Zamora) – Spain,
Story by: Fernando Rodríguez Tábara
Fernando Rodríguez Tábara is a young farmer from Cerdillo, Zamora (Spain) who is determined to take over his mother’s farm. A difficult decision, as extensive farming is nothing popular among young people. Neither was being in favour of coexistence at his parent’s times. But he wants to prove that times has changed: he and his patrol of livestock guarding dogs are the evidence.
Young people willing to stay in rural Spain are not easy to find, but if they are even determined to make a living from extensive farming, then it becomes almost an impossible task.
Lack of generational replacement and depopulation in rural Spain is one of the biggest problems that currently faces extensive farming. The wolf is normally blamed for it although the figures reveal the situation is the same in both areas with and without wolf presence.
I decided I wanted to take over my mother’s farm against her advice. She wanted me to go to the city, study and get a different kind of job. I did go to the capital and study, but to come back and work with animals, which is what I really like. I grew up in this region, in this farm, with the general message that the wolf was mean. That’s what my parents had learnt and that is what media and society (even kid’s tales!) tell us. I was, of course, against the wolf.
We live in an area where there has always been wolves around. We knew mastiffs, the typical guarding dogs from this region, worked to protect sheep but we had cows and it is commonly believed mastiffs would not protect them in the same way, so we didn’t have any. We were wrong. We had many attacks in the same year, until some friends heard of our problem and gave us the first dogs.
At first I was skeptical. We couldn’t sleep, even knowing there were dogs now with the cattle. I had heard so many stories of people saying dogs didn’t work… I didn’t trust them. This changed when Javier Talegón, a biologist and nature guide specialized in wolves, came to my high school to give us a talk and then invited me to go with him to the field. We were lucky enough as to see wolves, but not only that, they were not far from about 50 cows with a couple of mastiffs. I saw the dogs playing with the shepherd and actually leaving the cows alone running after the man. Luckily he didn’t have any attack, but he had been close!
At that point I understood that it is not only a matter of having dogs, you need to know how to work with them. And mine are not just pets, they are proper guardians which would never leave the cattle alone.
Now I have 14 adult dogs and 6 puppies. Keeping them is expensive: food, veterinary costs, insurances… I think if the administration did its job and help the shepherds who protect their livestock, the wolf wouldn’t be a problem at all.
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.
Now Javier is a good friend of mine. He regularly visits my farm with tourists, who are very interested in how the dogs work. I am even going to build a visitors centre! I have also met other farmers and people who think like me thanks to him and to WWF and the EuroLargeCarnivores LIFE project.
It is maybe difficult to convince old farmers, but for the young, it is easy to see that coexistence is not just possible, it is a chance to demand to the Administration and the society the support we really need to keep our activity and way of living alive.