“Grazing with wolves”: a quality mark to profit from coexistence
Location: Santa Colomba de Sanabria – Spain,
Story by: Rosa Fernández, Alberto González
Rosa González and Alberto Fernández are a young couple of farmers from Santa Coloma de Somoza, Zamora (Spain). Used to hearing that farming in an area with wolf presence was a handicap, they decided to turn the situation around and make profit of it. The quality mark “Grazing with Wolves” (“Pastando con lobos” in Spanish) is endorsed by different organizations, as WWF or GREFA, and certifies to the consumer the wolf-friendly origin of the lamb they are acquiring.
For us and and our three kids, farming is not just a job. Being the third generation of shepherds, sustainable and natural farming is for us a lifestyle. “We are what we eat” so we deeply believe in the quality of extensive farming and natural pastures.
We live in the area of Sanabria, in Castilla y León, the western area of Spain which hosts the highest wolf population in Europe. The wolf is present in every stone of traditional architecture in the area and traditional practices to coexist with them have never really disappeared.
However, shepherding in a wolf area has a disadvantage: the cost of prevention measures, like maintaining our 15 mastiffs- the livestock protection dogs from this area -, the workload of gathering the 1200 sheep together every night and the cost of being shepherded by one of us during the day.
We are aware the wolf has to be there. Obviously, for us it would be easier and cheaper if there were not wolves around, but that is not negotiable so… we decided to see it from the bright side and make the most of it.
That’s how Grazing with wolves came to life. A brand and quality mark that certifies that our lambs and sheep are bred in a wolf-friendly environment, which leads not only in a sustainable final product but also in a high quality lamb meat as they are bred with their mothers which feed free on natural pastures. The quality mark definitely gives our meat a distinctive added value.
Large carnivores can have a negative influence on the economic situation of local citizens working in an area. On the other hand their presence can be a chance to create economic success. The branding of local products that are linked with large carnivores can help to raise awareness and interest for the conservation of wolf, bear or other carnivores. This can also be an opportunity for tourism. For example cheese made of milk from sheep or honey that are produced in a bear area can be branded with the names and/or symbolic elements of the protected species.
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.
The wolf has been always seen as a handicap. But it is probably because we do not understand its role. For us, as long as we minimize the damages – which is possible with the appropriate use of prevention measures – the wolf is an ally. It preys on the ill wild animals and therefore it prevents diseases as tuberculosis, which are naturally present in wild populations of ungulates, to infect our sheep.
We believe that with the help of the Administration to afford prevention measures, the wolf can definitely be an asset for our businesses.