Günter Schnaitt, Head of GSS Austria, explains the relevance of cattle returning from their mountain pastures every autumn
When I started to write this article about the annual Almabtrieb, the first challenge was to find an English translation. Obviously there is none, as this is a very local ceremonial habit. However, it takes place in every Alpine valley and it is worth watching.
Every September, farmers drive their livestock down from their high Alps, where the animals have spent the summer season grazing the aromatic herbage. Right before the first snowfalls, the herds walk down to the valleys, where they winter in their stables.
These impressive processions of cows, sheep, goats, horses, dogs and herdsmen are called Almabtrieb. According to the tradition, which started back in the 1800s, cows come aufgebüscht, i.e. decorated, to express gratitude for a summer up on the Alm (an alpine meadow) without major incidents. The colorful decoration is made from mountainous flowers mainly alpine rose, mountain pine and the carline thistle.
A special role is for the Leitkuh, the leading cow of the herd who wears the largest bell of all around her neck. Guiding the whole pack down to the valley, she carries the mightiest flower bouquet on her head.
In recent years, the Almabtrieb has become more and more of a touristic attraction, surrounded by festivals with thousands of spectators. Car drivers are well advised to plan their trips according to the Almabtrieb schedule, in order not to be stuck behind (or in the middle!) of such an Alpine caravan.
Cows in the Alps are lucky enough to spend their summers in freedom on vast pieces of land, breathing clean mountain air.
Dairymen and -maids take care of the cattle and milk them every day. Often, they produce butter and cheese right on the spot. (Sounds like a great job for a couple of months!)
Our recommendation: Hike up one of the beautiful Austrian mountains and take a rest at a mountain hut (Almhütte) to taste the organic and genuine products fresh from the Alm!