The imperative introduction of protective means has strong implications in relation to the necessary flexibility of pastoral breeding. Very numerous pastoral diagnoses have been carried out since wolves arrived. They show that the protective means the presence of wolves made necessary rigidify the pastoral system. The nocturnal gathering affects the state of animals and the good condition of the mountain. The guard dogs are a source of tension with the other users of the place. Finally, the reinforcement of herding affects either the private life of the breeders or their economic results, even if it can contribute to a better management of the pastoral resource.
The protection of the herds, crucial though it may be, is often in contradiction with the basics of the pastoral practice and breeders are forced to make compromises that always remain imperfect:
to protect the herd or to let the ewes be eaten: the use of nocturnal confinement pens no longer allows ewes to eat at night and compels to use more interventional guarding practices by day, which disturbs the grazing activity of animals. The extension of the trips imposed on the animals to join the night paddocking in the evening or to leave it in the morning also tends to increase their energy expenditure and diminishes the time allotted to grazing;
to protect the herd or to ensure the good condition of the mountain: the disuse of risky areas destabilizes the management of some grazed territories, leading to the shutting of abandoned places and a deterioration linked to the transfer of pastures on other areas. Besides, the journeys that are necessary to join the night paddocking are a cause of erosion. Finally, the concentration of evacuations in the night paddocking raises more environmental and sanitary problems than their distribution on many free sleeping places, for which animals always chose a dry, draining and airy ground;
to protect the herd or to control the extra work and keep up a quality of life: carrying out the grouping of animals in night paddocking leads to a sharp increase of the working hours, especially on territories where the herd is led with the "guided let go" method, which corresponds to a daily part-time herding. Moreover, the extra work is concentrated in the hot period, during hours encroaching on family life (very late homecoming in the evening because of the paddocking; very early leaving in the morning for the departure from parks).
Henceforth, breeders and shepherds implement various strategies to handle these problems:
giving priority to the protection and concentrating it next to the existing cabins, even if it increases erosion;
multiplying the night paddocking, so as to enable to ensure the protection while refining the pastoral management, even if it costs an increased amount of work and a human absence at night, as long as new cabins are not built;
giving priority to the good condition of animals and of the mountain, by keeping free places for sheep to sleep in at the increased risk of depredations.
Breeders permanently contrive and adjust these strategies depending on the perception of risks they have, on the necessary and available means (work, facilities), of their own situation (the organization of their productive system, the layout of the territories, the pressure of predation). For example, night paddocking is easy to mobilize at the beginning of the season (short journeys, abundant grass) but highly restrictive for the state of animals in the middle of the summer. The shepherds can then give up the night paddocking if the number of attacks diminishes, while keeping always ready to re-establish it at the first alert.
This type of compromise explains why the predation is restrained to a more acceptable level but cannot be eradicated, that an additional erosion cannot be avoided but still remains limited and finally that the deterioration of the ration of animals is not stronger. The implementation of a rigid and unique pattern of protection of the herds that would aim at "zero predation" is not conceivable in the existing pastoral systems.
The consequences of these rigidified pastoral practices in the protected herds was studied precisely by the CERPAM and the Institut de l’Élevage in seven high mountain pastures chosen because of the existence of a pastoral diagnosis preliminary to the arrival of wolves.
The most important impact is linked to the obligation of nocturnal gathering, which leads to overloads or to the excessive frequenting of some areas. Altogether, 9% of the areas are concerned. The other reason of degradation is, on the contrary, a sharp decrease of the load on areas seen as dangerous or too off-centre in relation to the night paddocking. This impact involves 11% of the areas. So altogether 20% of the areas of the seven studied high mountain pastures suffer from a noticeable impact, from an overload to a partial or utter disuse.
The provisions of nitrogen by the herd in the night paddocking represents 130 units a year on 20 ha of high mountain pastures for a herd made up of 1,600 sheep and for a mountain summer pasture period of 100 days. The impact on landscape and ecology is certain. It can come along with a pollution of waters as the cabins are necessarily next to a watering point.
- Minutes of the seminar "Wolf-breeding: open up to complexity" (p.64 to 76): Sensitivity of pastoral ovine livestock giving meat to the arrival of wolves, an approach at the scale of the system (in French)