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Stories to marvel

Animals on the alpine meadows

Show us your cows

Not all cattle are alike. The breeds are as different as people are. You just have to look and listen carefully. Three farmers share their stories.

High, high above Zillertal at 1,600 metres on the Bruckerberg, there’s Josef Dengg’s Heinzletalm. Anyone who wants to go up here must have an off-road vehicle. However, it is best to be an all-terrain four legged creature in an alpine environment like this. Farmer Josef has 14 of them and is in the process of feeding his Tyrol Grey cattle outdoors before nightfall. During the day, the animals stay in the barn to protect themselves against the annoying horseflies. But when dusk falls, the “Grey” hour strikes. Before that, Josef has a lot to do: feeding, milking, cleaning the barn. He scrapes along the ground with a shovel. No sooner has he reached the last cow than everything starts all over again. As the Austrian saying goes: “One cow makes moo, many cows make a lot of work.” The description of the animals’
character would look good in a personal ad: Lively, good-natured, longlived and so undemanding that it does not even need concentrated feed. Added to this are resilience, lightness of foot and, not to be forgotten, surefootedness – an essential advantage for life in this extreme terrain. Tyrol Grey are one of the rare livestock breeds with 15,000 head in Austria, 50 of which live in Zillertal and 14 in Josef Dengg’s barn. He not only keeps the cattle, but also breeds them. It has even produced a “Miss Gauder”, crowned at one of the famous Gauder festivals held annually in the valley on the first weekend in May. The jury attested Sendrin, as she is called, a good appearance, secure footing, and a respectable milk yield. This is also what sets this breed apart, in addition to the excellent meat: “My cows produce 30 litres a day,” says Josef, putting his shovel in the corner and driving the Greys out into the soon to be black night.

Trieler Sepp at the Hinterberg is fond of an even rarer species. He breeds Tux-Zillertal, arguably the oldest cattle breed in Tyrol. That they still exist today is also thanks to Sepp. In the mid-19th century, light coloured types of cattle were fashionable at the Paris breeding shows, because darker ones, such as the Tux-Zillertal, were considered less productive. This decimated the breed enormously until the 1970s and only changed with the foundation of the Association of Tux-Zillertal Breeders in Tyrol in 1986. In 2001, the Tux-Zillertal was even voted “Breed of the Year” in Austria. “We are idealists and are determined to live with these special cattle. It is our wish that once we old ones are gone, the young ones will make sure that the breed does not die out.”

You bet!

And now off to Hochfügen, to the Schellenbergalm, to pay a visit to the herd. Sepp covers the last stretch on foot and keeps looking around the area for his animals. “There they are,” he laughs, shouting: “Kitty, Kathi, Paula, Priska, Weindl!” Some cows raise their heads and leisurely approach Sepp. “Well, there you are, my little cattle.” The little cattle are not too big, have a rather wide mouth or muzzle, and a short head. “You can blindfold me. When I touch my animals on the head, I immediately know which one it is.” It’s a pity that the TV show “You bet!” no longer exists, unlike the Tux-Zillertals. "When we started breeding again in the mid-80s, pure blood was no longer available. We searched the whole country and gathered the last 15 that had residual blood.” Sepp himself now owns 14 of them, and there are 2,700 animals in the whole of Austria. At least that. This is how the Tux-Zillertal came back to life in its Holy Land.

In contrast to the Tux-Zillertals, the breed that Friedl Geisler breeds is the most widespread in Austria. There are 1.5 million of them all over the country. Farmer Friedl’s ladies are peacefully grazing on a pasture of the Schliffsteinalm in Ginzling. As he approaches, countless “moos” resound through the warm late afternoon air – as if trying to win competition for the farmer’s heart. The cows let their long, rough tongues slide over Friedl’s arm. Caresses? “They like me for sure, but it was hot today and they like the salty skin.” There are 13 cow ladies, a lucky number in Friedl’s case. “I used to be a fanatical Brown Swiss breeder, but then the progress in Fleckvieh was so great that I switched.” However, he cites the calm nature of the animals as the main reason. “They are so relaxed that they help me unwind, too.”

Wash, rinse, dry

For Friedl, the welfare of his cows comes first. Including beauty p rogramme. “I don’t like it when the cows have dirty tails.” That’s why he fills a bucket with water, adds some shampoo and dips the back ends in like brushes. Then press a little, rinse, and the glacier white is restored. But for Friedl, it’s also about performance, progress and looks. His standards are not exactly low. He wants a clean foot, nice udders, a medium-framed body, and the ladies must not be too big either. “That would be the ideal scene,” says the breeder, who has even sold his cattle to Azerbaijan. “Fleckvieh is the Rubens type. But I also have a cow that is half Holstein Friesian. She’s skinnier, my Kate Moss, you could say.” At dinner, however, Kate also grabs a good bite of the hay, while the milking machine – Friedl’s “lucky 13” give an average of 9,000 litres per year – rhythmically performs its work. Siri, type Rubens, stands nearby and perhaps sometimes wonders why Moss is so thin, even though she eats as much as she does. But that’s another story.

Image: Bernhard Huber and text: Barbara Reiter
Zillertal magazine Sommer 2022/23


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