Traditional goat herding in the ‘land of the wolves’
Location: Sabugal – Portugal,
Story by: Albano Alavedra
The shepherd Albano Alavedra owns 200 goats in an area where wolves settled recently. With traditional herding, the help of his family and trained guarding dogs he keeps up his pastoral business and is even expanding. Nowadays farm guests can walk the sheep with him if they like to.
Albano Alavedra is a goat herder and has lived in the Sabugal area for over 30 years now. His farm ‘Quinta do Rebolais’ is vast and home to his family and over 200 goats. Although the Spanish border is very close and wolves always used to live there, they did not seem to settle in southern part of the Douro river. But more recently the area has become known for the presence of wolves.
Mr. Alavedra often heard about damages on the farms close to his land. In his eyes the the protection measures are often (not always) not good enough to keep the wolf away:
Letting a cow give birth in the open landscape without at least some dogs protecting the herd, seems to tease every wolf who is wandering around and looking for food.
he tells us.
On the other side of the border Spanish shepherds developed very good protection measures over the years so Mr. Albano decided to use this traditional knowledge and adapted existing solutions for his farm. The goats are not left in the open without protection and they have stables adapted to their needs. When the herds are grazing they are accompanied by trained livestock protection dogs (a Serra da Estrela, Portuguese breed). Also the whole family is involved in the natural dynamics of shepherding and focuses on the animals and their welfare.
We feel and witness the presence of wolves, but the truth is that they know we have dogs and so they are not even approaching. The only time one of our dogs, had to fight to defend the goats, was against a pack of angry dogs.
Tourism is an activity that an bring society closer to large carnivores and increase the real knowledge on the species among citizens. When the participants observe these animals in the wild, a bond is created and the awareness of the needs and the lifestyle of the animals is rising. For some, this experience is a dream come true. There are a lot of different activities that can be offered: photo tourism, talks, field trips with biological materials (skulls and skins), tracking courses or observation trips. Also a visit to a shepherd and other people who have historically shared the territory can be arranged to let the public know.
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.
SUCCESS AND OUTLOOK
Mr. Alavedra and his family never lost an animal to wolves and he strongly believes that large carnivores that live in the Iberian corridor or pass through are as vital for the ecosystem as his goats. In the last years ‘Quinta dos Rebolais’ also began to accommodate groups of visitors to spend some days in contact with nature and the farm activities. They join herding the goats (usually three times a day) and learn to take milk or even goat cheese.
Mr. Alavedra hopes that the next generation of shepherds will be trained in an environmentally responsible manner and thus can ensure the continuity of local species and pastoral activity at the same time. This is why he is very happy that all of his three children are planning to study in fields that are somehow linked to activities on the farm like biology or tourism.