Sheep farmer Van der Poel: ‘The barking of the mills deters the wolves’

© Mariska Bloemberg-van der Hulst

What if flock protection dogs are a solution for sheep breeders? Heidi van der Poel, a dairy and sheep farmer in Altweerterheide, Limburg, doesn’t have to think twice about it. “It is definitely an opportunity for farmers who want to protect their sheep from the wolf.”

Van der Poel walks through the tall grass of Kempin Brook Nature Reserve, just a few minutes from her farm. The piece is surrounded by flexible nets with a height of 1.20. Inside are her sheep and two large dogs.

The farmer removes the current from the wolf-proof fence and tramples over it. The two dogs, the Spaniards, greet her enthusiastically. Joey and Charlie are their names, mother and son. They are the size of a large sheep and the same colour. Animals run around Van der Poel, and they obviously love being petted. They are also friendly with strangers.

It is definitely an opportunity for farmers who want to protect their sheep

Heidi van der Poel, a dairy and sheep farmer in Tuerterhead

You might expect herd protection dogs to be very vigilant and fierce, after all, they have to keep the wolf away. But these animals look modest. What’s wrong with that?

Harmless working dogs

Van der Poel explains that these are originally working dogs. It is harmless. They come from the Spanish mountains where they guard goats from wild dogs. This impulse to protect is present in them. “Suppose I let a Rottweiler separate between the sheep, he will start tending them immediately. He focuses on the sheep, but the Spanish Sarris do not have that. They constantly live with the sheep and leave them alone.

If the wolf approaches, it will bark. Van der Paul: ‘They are not afraid and encouraged that the wolf must leave. Their protective instinct is great. In most cases, the bark is sufficient. After all, the wolf avoids conflict.

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Jenny Dorgelo is a consultant for herd dogs, and she runs Canine Efficiency with her husband Ray. She explains why large dogs are a good fit: “Protection is in their DNA. These types of dogs have been used for the same purpose for centuries: protecting flocks of sheep from large predators.

Suitable dogs, for example, Romanian, Caucasian Carpathians and Yugoslav shepherd dogs.

Nature as a revenue model

Together with her partner Paul Schramm, van der Paul has a farm with 175 dairy cows. After twenty years working as a financial advisor, I left the business four years ago and started working entirely at home. She wanted to build something for herself, preferably a goat farming venture. But she did not get a permit from the municipality, so she chose the sheep. She now has sixty speeds.

A livestock farmer uses her sheep in small grazing projects for natural organizations. As a sheep farmer you earn minimal from meat production, these types of herding projects are a small supplement to your income. I am happy with that. She predicts that this will provide opportunities for ranchers with sheep in the future. Agricultural land is transformed into nature and farmers can play a role in managing it.

flat fee

Van der Pol herself receives a fixed amount for the hours she works to move the flexible networks. Now, of course, I’m a small sheep farmer. If you want to do a good job and take on bigger projects, you need at least two hundred sheep.

Van der Poel’s herd is located exactly between two wolves, one 30 kilometers north and the other across the Belgian border. One of them is often spotted 15 kilometers away.

A sheep farmer has been involved in a pilot wolf prevention program through a natural organization. Using herd dogs is one of the measures I put into action. She is not a fan of the wolf, but she does not want to participate in the discussion of the wolf. This does not make sense, I do not want to polarize. The wolf is a protected animal, so we have to do something to guard the sheep.

Van der Poel says prevention is very important. Because once the wolf takes a sheep, it will continue to do so.

When a sheep owner first allowed two dogs in her flock, it took a while to get used to both. But it went well soon. Dogs are not specially trained to guard the herd, but rather the farmer has to learn how to work with them. This person must learn about the breed, and must learn to read and understand the dog.

protective function

“Dogs have a protective function, they mark the area and the environment, so that the wolf notices the presence of other dogs in the area,” explains Chancellor Dorgelo. “This makes the wolf think twice before even getting close.”

According to Van der Paul, dogs are easy to handle. They find their food on the pricey side. The animals eat a total of 40 to 50 euros of fresh meat (from the freezer) per week. Veterinary costs a maximum of 200 euros per year. But she talks about it. “Spanish dogs give me a sense of reassurance.”

Jenny Dorgelo accompanies sheep farmer Paul Albers with his two new dogs.
Jenny Dorgelo accompanies sheep farmer Paul Albers with his two new dogs. © Martin Sprang Photography

Johnny Reed protecting the sheep from the wolf

Paul Aalbers has a flock of sheep in Veluwe. Recently he has two dogs to protect the herd: Johnny Reed. These animals are part of a two-year pilot to protect the sheep from the wolf.

“A pilot is successful if the dogs are free to run in the herd and can do their job independently,” Albers explains. “The habituation period requires some knowledge, persistence, and the ability to read a dog’s behavior.”

Sheep farms had to undergo training beforehand. There he learned to read dogs’ behavior and how to correct it. For example, herd keepers are not allowed to have any contact with dogs leading the herd. They should focus only on their mission: monitoring the environment.

Dogs of the Mastin Español de Trabajo breed. This type of dog costs between 2,500 and 3,500 euros. They have a protective function. Aalbers: ‘Suppose a dog is approaching, they will be alert. The head rises and they hear or smell where the danger is coming from. In between they bark to signal their presence and that it is best to stay away from danger. Whether you are with or against the wolf, why not protect your flock?

The Gelderland County Wolf Committee supports the pilot. Moreover, it is about the cooperation between the landowners Natuurmonumenten, Staatsb Glosbeheer, the municipality of Nonspeter and the herd owners for landscape management and the Elspeter Heide sheep flock.

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