State herd protection in Switzerland

Location: Lindau – Switzerland,
Story by: Daniel Mettler

© WWF Switzerland


In Switzerland, all herd protection measures, such as fences and guard dogs, are coordinated by AGRIDEA, which acts on behalf of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). The long-term goal is to protect livestock species in Switzerland, such as sheep and goats, from attacks by wolves or other large predators. 
AGRIDEA also supports federal and cantonal authorities in enforcement, advice on herd protection and also in the development of technical bases for herd protection. In addition, AGRIDEA is responsible for handling the financial support of the measures in Switzerland.
AGRIDEA is responsible for the transfer of knowledge in agricultural extension. In the field of “Rural Development”, besides agriculture in mountain areas, regional development, agricultural sociology, agricultural policy as well as climate issues, topics such as alpine farming and herd protection (large carnivores), wildlife conflicts in general, prevention of wildlife damage are dealt with. The team “Rural Development” consists of 10-12 employees, several interns, as well as 4-6 community service workers in herd protection, who support 2-3 weeks in farms.


Daniel Mettler is head of AGRIDEA’s herd protection team and coordinates training and cooperation with herd protection advisors, livestock owners and the Federal Office for Agriculture.
He also oversees international projects and regularly publishes CDP News, which he produces with an international editorial team. The magazine is an international project independent of AGRIDEA. Currently it is financed by WWF Switzerland and the ELC project.
In addition, Daniel Mettler conducts international herd protection trainings that teach Swiss herd protection management to interested people and can serve as a model for other countries/authorities.


In Switzerland, too, it is a great challenge to convince all livestock owners of the advantages of herd protection. In addition, many mountain pastures are difficult to reach, making the implementation of the measures even more difficult. However, also in Switzerland the return of the large carnivores cannot be stopped anymore and appropriate measures have to be implemented all over the country. The following large prey predators live in Switzerland:
The lynx has been back in Switzerland for a long time. Since the 1970s, the population has been increasing. There are now 250 lynx living in Switzerland, making it the largest lynx population in the Alps.
Bears, on the other hand, are not numerous in Switzerland. Only individual animals visit Switzerland from time to time and hibernate here and there. However, there is no Swiss bear population. Animals that stay in Switzerland mostly come from Trentino and also move further south again. Because in Switzerland there are no optimal living conditions for them. The media reports about animals passing through neutrally, but negative headlines can occur when the animals approach human settlements.
The wolves are currently in an exponential growth in Switzerland, which means that there is a rapid growth rate. The wolf is in the hunting law in Switzerland and there is conflict-oriented management, as well as damage thresholds that determine when an animal can be shot. Thus, regulatory shooting is possible, but applications must be approved. In general, the shooting of wolves in Switzerland is “easier” than in the EU.


Switzerland’s herd protection program is designed to support livestock-based agriculture so that there are as few restrictions as possible despite the return of large predators. The goal is to be achieved through appropriate preventive measures, such as electric fences or guard dogs
The concept for the management of large carnivores such as wolf, bear and lynx are recorded the basics to allow the coexistence of agriculture and carnivores:
Compliance with the federal law on hunting and protection of wildlife
Avoidance of unreasonable restrictions in livestock farming,
Creation of framework conditions to reduce conflicts between hunting, tourism, recreation, agriculture.
Area-wide herd protection plays a central role in the implementation of the objectives. Prevention measures for livestock herds are financially supported by the state. Damage caused by large predators in agriculture is to be prevented as far as possible. If damage nevertheless occurs, the animals proven to have been killed are compensated in accordance with the guideline values of the national breeding associations.


AGRIDEA is responsible for training and knowledge transfer between science, consulting and administration:
Education and training of herd protection officers, herd protection dog breeders and keepers, alpine managers and herders.
Development of leaflets, flyers and information material
Support for the uniform implementation and remuneration of herd protection measures, as well as the emergency measures.

The recipe for success is to always be as close and local as possible to the farmers and the reality of their lives, and the regional advisors on the ground are essential. In the meantime, about 120 small livestock herds have been equipped with guard dogs, 100 are permanently herded and another 100 work with fences. This means that about 50,000 sheep have been provided with herd protection measures. The combination of herding, use of dogs and fences is still successful and necessary. 

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.

Electric Fences

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.


In the meantime, herd protection has become established in Switzerland and will remain an important part of living together with large predators in the future. However, it cannot be assumed that all livestock owners will implement the necessary measures, such as herding, fencing and guard dogs, across the country. 
In particular, the additional work involved in herd protection may mean that keeping animals on a small scale will no longer be worthwhile. There also the national, financial support helps only conditionally. It is uncertain whether the motivation to continue animal husbandry will continue in the future.
Presumably, there will be a development towards the professionalization of animal husbandry in the future.

This means that private or part-time livestock farmers in mountain areas will tend to abandon small-scale livestock farming and switch to other sectors such as tourism. The return of large predators is one factor among others but can sometimes tip the scales. The current generational change will show in which direction livestock farming in Switzerland and especially in the mountain area will develop.