A gathering pen is a slightly electrified fence aiming at preventing the contact between the predator and the herd and to make the sheeping of the flock easier. It is one of the first measures that can be applied in case of emergency.
Technical characteristics and use:
The choice of the equipment and of its location requires a prior reflexion of the breeder or of the shepherd concerning its integration in the pastoral system: the restraints of the environment (relief, state of the vegetation...), the development and the management of the high mountain pasture as well as the herding of the herd must be taken into account.
These pens are mobile or semi-mobile, made up of nets or strings, on plastic stakes or fibreglass, supplied by one or several solar electric fencers. A specific attention must be given to the electrification. The main characteristic of this equipment is its practicality: lightness, ease of use and capacity of adaptation to the restraints and the needs.
Whereas the tendency until 2001 was the use of nets, the fence with 4 or 5 strings is more and more used. This can be explained by the many advantages the fence presents: it removes the risk of asphyxiation of the animals, it is better adapted to the uneven relief and shows a better resistance over time. In case of frequent rotations of the gathering pen, the net remains the most appropriate equipment.
These pens can be reinforced thanks to a doubling of the fence, creating a space between the predator and the herd. However, it seems that the efficiency of the protection is not significantly increased : in both cases, almost all of the predations take place outside the pen, either during the day or at night on animals remained outside.
These pens can be closed or semi-open. The latter, called half-moon, contain the herd in a limited area, while allowing the ewes to start freely in the morning and limiting the risks of asphyxiation in case of a wave of panic of the herd.
The nocturnal gathering pen must be large enough to allow the animals to move inside without breaking through the pen in case of stress linked to the presence of a predator. An extent of 2 m² per animal is often accepted.
The pens have several assets:
they create an obstacle that diminishes the risks of meeting the predator (disturbance of the conditions of predation);
they avoid the scattering of the herd;
7- they make the work of protection dogs easier;
they allow a quick intervention of the shepherd in case of an alert when they are next to the cabin;
they reduce the risks of rocks falling.
The gathering pens constitute a good nocturnal protection. Their efficiency is still reinforced when they are combined to the presence of protection dogs and/or of a shepherd.
Restraints of use, limits and perspectives of evolution:
Beyond the extra work induced by their installation and their use, the nocturnal pens present some limits:
environmental: overgrazing, over fertilization and erosion of the implantation area of the pen and its surroundings because of the repeated passing of the animals, under-grazing or even disuse of zones too far from the pen by a modification of the grazing itineraries;
sanitary: problems of foot rot, respiratory problems (faeces or "migon" (a sheep disease) very volatile in dry weather) and decrease of the well-being of ewes;
in terms of protection: when the herds are protected at night, a certain report of the predation by day can be observed;
in terms of production: diminution of the grazing time at the beginning and the end of the day and increase of the journeys of the herds contributing to the diminution of the return of production; this is notably the case for the ovine livestock in the South of the alpine arc with strong climatic restraints, which traditionally use nocturnal grazing and the lambs certified "high mountain pasture", the fattening of which is longer.
Other types of protection still remain to be developed such as the pens for the end of the afternoon, the pens for rough weather, the idle areas and fences against the falling of rocks.
- LIFE Report: Protection pens (Lapeyronie): Analysis of the negative consequences of the penning of herds on the natural environment and the suggestions of solutions (diminution of the numbers, penning on environments without particular interest, collecting of the evacuations to the maximum) (in French)
- Minutes of the seminar of the LIFE programme of restitution - p.95: Presentation of the "nocturnal gathering pens" measure (in French)
- Minutes of the seminar "Wolves-breeding: open up to diversity" (p.202 to 210): Protection of the herds and environmental impacts (in French)