Autumn is the season of Alpine cattle drives

Photo by  Manfred Thuerig
Photo by Manfred Thuerig

Autumn is the season of Alpine cattle drives

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Just as fresh air and natural food products are good for human health, so too do these things benefit the livestock we depend on for our sustenance. Farmers in the Alpine region know this too, and to take advantage of the lush and ecologically clean grasses found high upon the mountain slopes, their flocks of cattle, goats and sheep up are led to the high mountain pastures to feed over the summer months. The process of driving livestock up the slopes in spring and back down to their winter homes is known as transhumance.

A second linguistic term it’s handy to know is “Almabtrieb,” the German word for the autumnal descent of the herd. In many farming communities, the safe return of the animals is cause for celebration. To make it a proper fete, particular care is taken with the animals’ appearances. Cows are decked out in elaborate headdresses embellished with pine boughs, flowers, ribbons or bells. Village dwellers dressed in traditional clothing turn out to celebrate the occasion with music, markets and other forms of rural revelry. While it’s not unheard of for outsiders to join in the celebrations, these are authentic events and not staged as tourist attractions.

Those planning on dropping in on an Almabtrieb celebration should be aware that festivities don’t take place every year. Should a death of one of the members of the flock occur over the summer, the animals are returned to their winter quarters without all the fanfare.

An Alpine community with a unique Almabtrieb tradition is that of Schönau, Germany, which lies next to the beautiful lake known as the Königssee. Here, following the cattle’s descent from their mountain lodgings, they are transported across the waters by means of motorized cargo boats. This particular Almabtrieb traditionally takes place on the first or second weekend of October.

For dates of other cattle drives by region, see:



Germany, Austria and Switzerland:

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