Revival of the shepherds
Location: Schoppernau – Austria,
Story by: Herbert Strolz
The farmer and shepherd Herbert Strolz is one of few farmers in Austria who went to Switzerland on his own initiative a few times to learn from the experience in terms of livestock protection measures there. He is convinced: in Austria, livestock protection measures must be implemented and financed now! He knows that it is urgent and calls for a rethink.
Vorarlberg is the very western part of Austria and is located on the border to Switzerland. Since 11 wolf packs live in Switzerland, there is a great need for preventive measures on the topic of livestock protection and a revival of traditional shepherding is needed.
Austria is one of the last countries to be colonised by wolves, whereas the neighbouring countries have had much longer and more experience with the wolf (Switzerland 25 years, Germany 20 years, in Italy the wolf has never completely disappeared).
We have simply forgotten how to live and deal with the wolf. In Austria, we can learn from the experiences of neighbouring countries and combine old and new methods in livestock protection.
Herbert Strolz has known a very effective, old method since his childhood: shepherding. A few years ago, he also got himself a sheepdog: Milo, a Bordercollie who accompanies him wherever he goes. Such a dog is invaluable in herding large flocks of sheep – it can do the workload of several people.
Herbert Strolz and his wife worked on the largest sheep pasture in Vorarlberg for many years: 1000 sheep are being herded there in the summer. Without a sheepdog, it would be almost impossible to keep the sheep together.
The job of a shepherd is very demanding: you have to be able to observe well, recognise injuries or diseases immediately before they spread. With a large flock of sheep, you have to recognise quickly when a group is missing- then again, the dog comes into play.
But it is also wonderful to live so close to nature, you learn to read the weather and you can lie down in the warm fragrant grass when taking a break. Time feels much slower.
Herbert and his wife have also learned a lot about the effectiveness of wild herbs over the years and have even healed festering wounds in the animals with herbal poultices.
As beautiful as the sunny days on the alps are, it can be terrifying when thunderstorms come up or you have to look for the sheep in the thick fog without losing your bearings or even worse – falling off in the steep terrain. But Herbert Strolz likes to tell the story when they had kids joining them on the alp: mobile phones were not allowed and those children, now grown up, loved being on the alp with them and still talk about the great summers, completely exposed to nature.
“You learn something for life there!”, Herbert says.
A few years ago, the first wolf kill occurred on the large sheep pasture in Vorarlberg. Herbert Strolz then became more and more involved with the wolf issue. It quickly became clear to him that something had to be done to protect the herds! After he had repeatedly visited the authorities and wolf commissioners to urgently fight for something to be done in terms of livestock protection, he finally set out on his own initiative with his wife to Switzerland to learn more about livestock protection measures. He was there 4 times because Switzerland is very similar to Vorarlberg in topography, agriculture and tourism. He learned that each region needs it’s own measures and often you have to find solutions, like merging of herds, shepherds and livestock guarding dogs and of course electric fences. On high and steep alpine pastures by night the shepherd can gather the herd and bring the sheep to a mobile night paddock with an electric fence where livestock guarding dogs protect them over night.
In Austria all these measures have to be build up, “better today than tomorrow”, Herbert Strolz says.
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 traditional profession of shepherding will revive. It is very important that this “new old profession” is attractively paid and that suitable accommodation is provided. Two very innovative young students of the Imster Innenarchitektur-HTL have now developed such mobile shepherd’s shelters, that’s great! A real solid shepherd training is also needed in Austria. If all these conditions are met, I am convinced that more and more young people will become interested in this great profession!