What do sheep say to each other

SCHÄFER: Out and about with 1000 sheep and the shepherd Ernst Vogel

SCHÄFER: Out and about with 1000 sheep and the shepherd Ernst Vogel

Sheep are considered to be the oldest farm animals of man. And every Christmas crib is missing. Ernst Vogel, who knows a lot about good lambs and good shepherds, takes care of 1,000 of these animals.

Interview: Susanne Holz

Finding the wandering shepherd Ernst Vogel with his sheep is not that easy. On the way to the interview, the electronics in the bus go on strike, then later you trudge across a huge field, covered with crunching snow, which immediately gives way and makes way for muddy farmland. You quickly have wet feet in the impregnated winter shoes and an idea of ​​why it is healthier for the sheep to hike instead of remaining on the spot. If sheep stand in the mud for a long time, it is not very good for their feet. You find out when you sit with the shepherd in the warm - while his woolly protégés are penned up for once and the dogs are waiting outside.

Ernst Vogel, on your homepage it says that the romantic sight of the shepherd with a hat stick has become rare. Are you a wandering shepherd but don't have a staff with you?

I always had a staff with me for the first year, but then I put it aside.

How so?

Because I got back problems - I always stood crooked because I leaned too one-sided on the staff.

What is the shepherd's staff good for anyway?

There is a hook on it to catch lame sheep. The staff is therefore always ready in the car.

In the Bible, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and at Christmas time, shepherds bring the good news of the birth of Jesus. As a shepherd, what comes to mind at Christmas?

(ponders) That the migrant herd system has not changed since the birth of Jesus. The shepherds tend the sheep, in summer on the alp, in winter down in the plains. It would be nice if this system could be maintained without unnecessary regulations jeopardizing it.

What do you mean specifically?

Well, today, for example, you are no longer allowed to spend the night with your herd in the forest - because that could result in over-fertilization of the forest. I don't see a problem there, though. It would be dry in the forest and the sheep would not have to stand in the dirt overnight when it was raining. But unfortunately we have had to pen in the animals in the evening for several years, which by the way, no farmer is enthusiastic about either.

What does your everyday life look like as a shepherd?

Accompanied by dog ​​and donkey, I move with my herd through the Lucerne Central Plateau from November to March. I get up with the sun and walk through the fields throughout the day. Seven days a week. I feed the sheep, raise young animals and care for sick animals. And I take care of my pigs in the morning and in the evening - together with my wife.

What are the donkeys good for?

The two donkeys carry the luggage. So the sheep net, my rain clothes and other clothes as well as food and drink for the dogs and me.

And the sheep are happy about their fresh grass all day long?

Each should gain around 250 grams per day. That would be ideal.

Do you control the weight?

By eye. (smiles)

Your sheep are used purely for meat production?

That's right, they are so-called meat sheep. Their purely grassland-based meat is marketed as “Central Switzerland lamb”.

How many migrating herds are there still in Switzerland?

In the canton of Lucerne there are three, in Switzerland between 15 and 20. Some cantons no longer have any migrating herds, in Lucerne we have a small cluster.

Where do the sheep spend the summer?

From June to September you are on the Unteralp in Andermatt. In autumn you can buy the so-called Alplamm in the shops.

And the sheep shearing ...

... is in March. A sheep carries ten centimeters of wool in spring. That makes two tons of wool for 1000 sheep. The cost of shearing is between 5,000 and 6,000 francs. I only get 1,300 francs for the wool. The wool is consequently a losing business - I only earn from the meat of the sheep.

How long have you been traveling as a shepherd?

Now in the 18th year. Before that, I was a dairy farmer and farmer. At that time I took over the wandering herd from the neighbor. The income is better than that of a dairy farmer.

How important are shepherds today?

Very important. Shepherds are needed for large flocks. Because you can't just let the sheep go, you have to tend them.

And why do you hike with the animals?

Hiking is ideal for the sheep to gain weight. And the worming of the animals is low on the winter pasture. Because then the sheep will not graze where their manure lies. And once the feet are sick, they heal faster when hiking than in the stable.

Speaking of the stable. As a shepherd with donkey and sheep, do you experience Christmas more vividly than others?

There is definitely the possibility to do so. I notice this in the people who come to me over Christmas and want to see the sheep. In general, sheep and donkeys attract people. In winter, both school classes and private individuals come to visit me. Bankers, surgeons, herb and chabis. They help out and sometimes take over the herd for an hour under my guidance. The goddess project - sheep sponsorship - is also very popular. For 120 francs you can be the goddess of a sheep for two years. They support me with the costs for alpine pastures, transport, medication and deworming. In return, you can always visit the sheep and receive a certificate and a photo.

How do you relate to your sheep yourself?

A very good one - I make a living from my sheep and they are my hobby. I know each and every one of them, I can distinguish them all. Once, when three sheep were suddenly missing from a herd of 1,000, I instinctively noticed it.

Do you give them names?

No, but numbers. When I count them.

Are sheep really stupid?

No. But they are extreme herd animals. One runs after the other. And that's a good thing: They look to each other. This is herd protection - the sheep form a circle. In large herds, the outer animals protect the inner ones by jumping in circles. So a wolf can only kill the outer animals.

Otherwise, what kind of character do sheep have?

It is different. And depends on the breed. The Dutch Texel sheep, for example, which are often found in Scotland, are not herd animals, but lone fighters. They graze scattered in the meadow without a shepherd. Engadine sheep, on the other hand, are extremely calm. There are good-natured and wild sheep, which is also influenced by how you treat them.

Are there also individuals among the sheep?

Yes, think of the herd leaders. Ewes and bucks have their hierarchy among themselves and fight for rank. Somebody has to be the boss.

You spoke to Scotland beforehand - there you can see almost only single sheep that are widely scattered grazing.

In the highlands the sheep are free. One does not know migrating herds there. The owners also have huge areas of their own available. There is no need for a shepherd who walks with them from private property to private property.

Can you compare sheep and humans?

You can already do that: we are also herd animals. Are together, parting, looking for a new herd. On the other hand, sheep love the cold - unlike us. An air temperature of 15 degrees is already warm for a sheep, which is why you take them to the Alps in summer. A sheep, on the other hand, does not mind 20 degrees below zero.

What is it like when a lamb is born?

I am rarely there. The sheep give birth without help - preferably in a familiar environment and within the group. When the lamb is born, mother and lamb are separated for a day so that they can get to know each other. Then both of them spend four weeks in the stable with other mothers and lambs.

How many lambs does a sheep give birth to on average?

Ewes live to be around six years old. On average, they give birth to ten to fifteen lambs. They are five months pregnant and certain breeds lamb twice a year. The time for this is from March to May and from September to December.

Are sheep as innocent as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"?

Not always. If they break out or go through, no. If it's wet, sheep get nervous, they don't like to sink into the mud.

But can a sheep also be really mean?

When it comes to eating, only this is important to the ewe, and no longer the lamb. But mother and lamb always find each other. A ewe suckles its lamb for three to six months. A foreign lamb will not be accepted by the ewe.

Do you also have black sheep in your herd?

Lots. Up to 70 percent are black sheep. They are more fertile and give birth to more lambs. They are also quieter and lighter to handle - and also easier to shear. The white sheep, on the other hand, are heavier and bred for meat production.

What is there to say about meat?

Central Switzerland lamb is a niche product from the region that is doing very well. Free from antibiotics, meat conveyors and soy. The sheep only eat grass and hay. You can tell from the meat. It is important to store it for three to four weeks. Before preparing or freezing it, it should be vacuum-sealed in the refrigerator at a maximum of five degrees for three weeks.

Do you like lamb fillet too?

I love lamb. In the past, people only ate meat from older animals - the taste of which is more intense. Sausage and dried meat from the ewe, on the other hand, are very fine.

What is important to you in life?

Health - it is the most important thing. I have been healthier and more hardened since I became a shepherd. I'm never cold again in winter. In the evenings in the warm house, it almost kills me. Good shoes and several layers of clothing are important for a shepherd. And rain protection.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

At home around the Christmas tree. But it doesn't mean that much to me anymore - commerce and Gschenkli play too big a role. For me, Christmas takes place mainly on Christmas Eve - as a shepherd, I don't know any holidays because I always look after the flock. Also on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I can't leave my sheep alone.