“Everything about this work is beautiful,” says Rudy Canonica. “Sometimes there are difficult days, but I love being able to work in nature, work with the animals and be independent.”
For 31 years now it’s a ritual every November: Swiss farmers from all across the country bring Rudy their sheep for winter grazing. From November to the end of March. It’s still more cost effective than keeping the animals in the stable and the meat is of high quality. Rudy collects the herd outside the village of Belp. Then, with the permission of the cantonal veterinary office and the help of four donkeys, three dogs and another shepherd, he moves his flock from pasture to pasture all across the Bernese Highlands. Sometimes right up to the outskirts of the capital city of Berne. The farmers all know Rudy well and give permission for the grazing on their land. They know the shepherd makes is a point to never over-graze.
Exposed to the elements, it can be cold to the point of the shoes becoming solidly frozen. First priority is food for the sheep and there are no off days for the shepherd. The job requires determination and endurance, knowledge of topographical conditions, plants, weather, the animals and requires the permission of the landowners. The animals move and graze all day into the evening when Rudy puts a protective pen around them for the night. His work ends around 9 o’clock when he starts to cook his dinner. One of the toughest jobs is to collect the frozen pens in the morning and load them up on the donkeys when the sheep are restless and hungry and want to move on. Until a few years ago, Rudy slept in a tent. Now he enjoys the simple comforts of a heated one-room cabin, built on top of a military truck.