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Stories of the Zillertal tradition

Festive cattle drive

An attractive homecoming

When the nights start to get longer and the days shorter, it’s the end of the summer for the cattle on the remote pastures. The return of the cattle to their home stables is marked with an impressive celebration in Zillertal. And there is a good reason for this: the animals are of great importance for alpine farming.

It’s a very special moment for Stefan Wildauer when he leaves the Holzalm pasture, at 1,900 meters above sea level, for the last time this summer, inhales the warm air and looks down towards the valley. A moment which marks the beginning of the end of a summer idyll. It’s the end of September and his herd of more than 45 dairy cows is just about to begin the return journey down from its summer grazing paradise to the safety of the stables. Winter is on its way!

Contented cows make farmers smile with satisfaction

This summer was straight out of a picture book. “The wonderful weather did the animals lot of good”, says the 41-year-old cattle farmer. This in turn made life sweet on the Hochalm pasture for himself, his father Johann and the whole family. “If the animals are contented, the farmers are contented too”, comments Stefan Wildauer. Hence, the milk tanker from the Heumilch-Sennerei Fügen could leave the alpine farm every two days with a big load of fresh milk. “Pure haymilk. It’s used to make the high-quality mountain cheese“, he says proudly. As he explains: the milk has to be purely natural, otherwise it can’t be used to make a high-quality cheese. “If the cows were fed on silage, we couldn’t use their milk to make a mountain cheese. There would be problems with fermentation!”

“In the valley, in the Sennerei
Fügen alpine dairy, our hay
milk is used to make fine
mountain cheese. A cheese
which wouldn’t exist if the
cows were fed on silage.”

Stefan Wildauer, farmer

Accordingly, Wildauer’s cattle are extremely important for milk and cheese production. And for the preservation of the alpine pastures. “The fact that the pastures are cultivated by cattle is also important for the mountains themselves.” It’s true to say that the animals are natural landscape gardeners and that their grazing prevents erosion by wind and weather. Today, there are many reasons for paying heartfelt thanks to the animals, the alpine farmers and everybody else who takes part in alpine farming. By celebrating the return of the cattle in what is mainly a happy and traditional festival. Music, fine delicacies and plenty of good cheese, of course. 

Finest hand craftsmanship as a gesture of thankfulness. A festival which marks the highlight of the year at the family farmhouse, the Oberhuben-Hof, belonging to the Wildauer family. “This is our pride and joy”, affirms Stefan’s wife Barbara. With the help of her four daughters, the rest of the family and members of the local farming community in Pankrazberg, Barbara was able to make all the preparations for the festival during the last few days. Above all, they hand made the magnificent decorative crowns for the cattle. “We only use twigs and flowers from the alpine pasture or from our own farm”, she tells us proudly. By this, she means twigs of mountain pine, alpine roses and whatever else they can find in the way of beautiful natural objects. These elements are then woven together step by step into what are called “crowns”, which are worn by all the leading animals in the festive procession.

The valley calls, leaving longing in its wake. Barbara and all the other helpers have only just finished this work. The animals are magnificently decorated; the men take a sturdier grip of their long sticks. They’re off. Down to the valley. Stefan takes a deep breath and heaves a final sigh, meaning: “There’s nothing better than summer on an alpine meadow. May the next one be just as good”. Then he gives a command and begins to walk with a firm tread. Into the valley. Into winter.

Image: Thomas Straub and text: Johannes Stühlinger
Zillertal magazine Summer 2019

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