Tuesday 29 November 2016

Part 4: Portugal and the cows

I have mentioned before that the system with the cows is similar to the sheep and goats.
The cows are let out in the morning, and are brought to the mountains where they spend the day grazing. In the evening the cows either head home on their own or are gathered by the owner.

We had supper with José Ferreira, the owner of these cows, , and the next morning we could follow him and his cows to the mountain.

The cows spend the days mostly alone in the mountains. All the cows have bells, and each cow has a different sounding bell/s. The owner can recognize each cow by the sound of the bell.
The bells helps the owner locate the cows in the mountains and can hear if one wonders off. In some areas the cows are shepherded. There are some jokes about whether the bells are like a dinner bell to the wolves

Wolves certainly target new born calves, the traditional breeds of Portuguese cows are smaller type and the calves and younger cattle are  vulnerable. These cattle are also super docile. The do have horns and they can use them to protect themselves, but these cows are not like some of our wild rangy cows we have here.

Some of the Portuguese ranchers have found that the imported breeds have more issues with wolf predation, as they are not as suited to the environment as local breeds.

We spent the morning following the cows through the village to the mountains, talking about the issues they are facing.
It was quite the walk between the houses, past the terraces, climbing narrow stairways and getting the odd wayward cow back on track.

Good mornings:

Leaving the yard.

Once through the village the cows head into the mountains to graze for the day.

This man has lost a few dogs due to poisoning, right now he has a new younger dogs, who is staying cak in the village to "bond" more to the calves at home, before being allowed into the mountains with the cow herd.
This is the new young estrela dog, still in the bonding stage with the cows.
This dog was part of the Medwolf project dogs.

Due to the poising issues, both dogs are still staying in the cattle yard.

In the local coffee shop, on the notice board was a poster hanging up for an event in town.
 a good opportunity to educate people about the use of LGD with cattle.

Once the cows were away, we headed back to yard. It was a wonderful opportunity to talks to José  about his cows, his dogs and the situation with wolves in Portugal.

As fellow cattle people I was also interested to learn about the business side to his operation.
His primary business is to sell veal calves from this Portuguese breed. So, the cows calve and stay indoors for a few weeks. After about 3 weeks, the cows join the herd to go and graze and the calf stays behind.
Initially, the cow wants to return back to her calf but they bring her back to the mountain. If she is very persistent in coming back, they will let her return home, but she will not be allowed to go to her calf until the time the herd returns, within a few days she has the system figured and will stay and graze. She is reunited with the calf for the night. By keeping these calves home, they are less vulnerable to depredation.

The calves are small, and when old enough to go for meat production they might weigh 250-300 Kgs live weight. They are fed when the cows are away at night and allowed to drink milk at night.
The calves are sold for meat production and some heifers are returned as replacement heifers and others sold as breeding stock. The longevity of these cows is long, so they do not have to replace the heifers very often.
These farmers get various European Union subsidies, for maintaining the landscape, as well as  keeping these local Portuguese breeds. The subsidies that many of these farmers receive are the financial backbone of their operations.

José, is enthusiastic about utilizing the guardian dogs, but the problems with lost dogs is a big issue. He is willing and motivated to find solutions for living with the wolves.
He was also one of the speakers at the meeting for livestock keepers.

A few short  clips when the cows start heading out in the morning.

Monday 21 November 2016

Pups 9 weeks old

The pups are growing faster than what I can keep up with!
I cannot believe that they are 9 weeks old already.

I went out with Roy and took some new pictures today, and then realized too late that I did deleted a bunch of the photo's. so, I do not have all the pups this time around.

I will share what I have...

To tally confuse things, the pup that now has the red and yellow collar is not the same pup as before.
The red and yellow collar fell off and I placed it on the wrong pup.
So, red/yellow collar is the white paws pup.

This is the white paws pup, as this pup has white toes tips.

Male 1

Male 2

I hope to be able to get the rest tomorrow.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Portugal Part 3: Birthing stones and cows

Who would have known that certain types of rock, can actually give birth to small baby stones?

I certainly did not know this until I visited the Freita Mountain, Arouca, Aveiro District in Portugal.
It is a geological phenomena; whereby the granite mother rock, gets a darker spot and out pops a baby stone.

A baby stone getting borm...

Before the baby stone pops out, the rock gets a  darker spot from which the little stone appears.

We then headed over to visit the ladies living in the village close to these birthing stones.
The mountains around the village and the village itself experienced a large fire decimating parts of the village, killing some cows and causing a disruption in the grazing for the animals.

We visited with the one of three sisters. This chatty lady has 2 cows,
who follow the same routine as the shepherds.
The cows are released from the stone sheds and go to the mountains to graze and then in the evening they come back down the mountain.

The cows know which shed is theirs and then slowly trickle back into the village in the evening going into their stall. They are bedded on some fern branches.

The first of her two cows head into the village making its way to its stall.

Fresh water for the cows.

A little encouragement by the lady ensures the cow heads into its stall promptly.

The history on these buildings is fascinating. Something I love about Europe, the rich and long architectural history.

The lady was given a Estrela for protection of her cows. Losing one or both, of the cows is economically a big blow to these people, The dog is being bonded to the cows, and will accompany the cows to the mountains everyday and provide protection to them.

The dog sleeps in with one of the cows at night. 

In the yard is the traditional hunting dog. Where you see shepherds and herders, you will also find the hunting dog.

These ladies live a simple life, and understanding the value of their livestock is crucial. It is perhaps more economically devastating to lose 1 of 2 cows,
 than it would  from a bigger operation.

The dog is as important to the ladies, as it is for someone with  a 300 goat herd.

Monday 14 November 2016

Portugal Part 2, A sweet Estrela and his goats

Planning to see the shepherds is really an early morning,
or late evening endeavor.
Once the shepherds leave for the mountains for the day, it is hard to find them.
The best time to meet them is when they are leaving the village to go grazing or returning back in the evening.

The scenery on the drive to our first visit was incredible, and I am in awe of how beautiful and rugged this part of Portugal is.

The beautiful mountains, the quaint villages and the terraced gardens appealed to me. The stunning  variety of plants made me realize how limited and somewhat bland, our cold climate really is.  

The drive to our first goat herd was a treat in itself.
Stopping on the road, the goats were barely visible between the rocks, ferns and other plants.

The slightly nervous bark of a young guardian dog echoed against the rocks.

The dog stayed at a distance, overseeing us climbing our way towards the shepherd. From his demeanor and the sound of the bark, I could make out that this was a young dog.
A bit unsure of us and sticking tight with his goats.

He climbed up on a rock to better watch what we were doing, he settled down and moved a small distance away.

The expression of the dog softened when the shepherd spoke to him, a slow wag of his tail indicated that this young dog was happier now,
 a little less concerned about our presence.

This dog is a short coated Estrela, given to the young owner through the Medwolf project.
 He was tightly bonded to the goats and did not approach us.
 His owner hiked further up the mountain to go and collect the dog so that we could meet him.
Coaxing him down to us, the owner assuring us that he was friendly.
The dog was not aggressive, just unsure.
He was happy to head back to the goats once the owner let go of his collar.

The owner mentioned to Silvia, that this young dog has been seen chasing off wolves and that he felt it would be good to get another dog to help this one. The only catch was,  he really insisted that a another male would be preferable.

During my visits, I would hear that this more often, the shepherds only want males and really could not be bothered with a female dog.

Every shepherd we visited,and around every village, one could see the small knee high hunting dogs. The Podengo is a traditional Portuguese hunting dog.
 In the years when wolves were almost extirpated, the shepherds only took the little hunting dogs with them while grazing. There was no need to protect the livestock, as wolves were not a threat. The little hunting dogs were companions to the shepherds and provided perhaps, a meal or two.

With the protection of the wolf and it expanding further into Portugal,  more and more conflicts arose between the livestock and the predators. These hunting dogs were no match for the wolves, they did not stay with the herds and were often off hunting on their own.
The use of the traditional LGD was almost lost, and the culture of working with these dogs was forgotten.
It was a challenge to even find good working dogs.

The Medwolf project has been giving LGD to shepherds for over 20 years in an attempt to help mitigate these conflicts. The project would donate the dog, and provide food and veterinary care for the dog for its first year. The Project monitors the dogs and do regular checks on these dogs, providing help and advise to the shepherds where needed.

Many of the shepherds are somewhat skeptical to use these dogs, fearing that the big dogs would be unable to work in the mountains, or even, if they would succeed in keeping the wolves at bay. It is often the younger generation farmers who are now looking for, and embracing solutions, and are willing to work with these projects to utilize LGD.

It  is perhaps, the rise of the wolf that has saved many of the traditional livestock guardian dog breeds from extinction. Without the wolf, there would be no need for the sheepdog, and the tradition and culture of the shepherd and his dog would perhaps be lost forever.
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