The “Ice Saints” (a recurrent weather phenomenon) and night frosts are over and our “four-legged friends” need fresh grass. Everywhere in the Alps time is due for hut repairs and walkers like hikers and of course shepherds get ready for the cattle drive/ drift.
“One cow does muh, many cows make trouble”. Anyway, who works a lot should also find enough time-out to regenerate and celebrate. In the Alpine region this is usually the case when drifting the animals up to or down from the mountains to the valley in the beginning/ end of summer. In particular, when everything went well respectively no animal was harmed. Then all animals of a flock or at least the matriarch cow is decorated with flowers and branches.
Does this mean all shepherds or dairy women are dropouts or even nerds? By no means, the jobs are not well paid, but sometimes much demanded. Getting some distance from the “hyper-civilization”, clearing one’s head or being your own master, nowadays is very popular even among young people.
I wanted to persue this feeling, but not an entire season, only for a week. I was lucky with the Suisse weather in early June (near Zweisimmen), because in the height (here 1,800 m) despite the sunshine during the day, can still be quite cold. Why is that important?
Well, the “toilette-hut” is outside the cottage and without electricity and flowing water it means – in addition to many other work such as haymaking, stable cleaning and possibly cheese making – wood chopping, chopping and chopping (after 3 minutes of wood splitting I had a bubble on my finger already). Otherwise it will stay cold and not only the morning coffee will take its time. Much more than elsewhere planning is important.
There is running water, but it does not come from the tap. It flows from a creak as a trickle into/ through the tree trunk basin. Brr, the fresh water is so cold that brushing the teeth hurts the gums and creates a shiver on all bodyparts.
As long as you only spend a few days doing this work, every sunset is truly romantic and candlelight shining is cozy. Unexpectedly fast, the haze of the wood stove creeps into all rooms and even the closet of the sleeping room next door. In consequence everything smells smoked.
Meantime two calves have made themselves comfortable in front of the cottage. Within a herd, as with humans, there are the affectionate, curious or unruly types. Some like each other and stand together (mostly sisters), others are not and are loners. I personally like the regular tinkling of their bells. Experienced shepherds say that they can distinguish the animals from far and hear if everything is okay.
Such a ruminant (no matter if dairy cow or young bull) has four stomachs. Since a cow can feed up to 15 kg of hay (corn or silage) or 90 kg of meadow grass every day, it means eating and chewing 20 hours a day … and therefore means constant ringing.
Resi, Mari and Tolle, the full-grown dairy cows, have to be milked twice a day. Depending on the breed, they have a daily milk quote of about 20 liters (at 4% fat and 3.5% protein). According to statistics, the annual milk production in Germany is about 30 billion liters.
The four milk udders feel strong and can withstand an inexperienced grip from time to time. After some days of routine, the milking „strip-strap-strull” works quite well. Of course larger farms use milking machines for the lactation. The lukewarm, full-fat milk tastes simply delicious.
Sheep and goats are also brought up to the mountain heights to enjoy fresh herbs. Knowing the path, they walk very quickly and often it’s difficult to follow them.
In New Zealand, 12 sheep per inhabitant were born in 2001, which results into a total of 48 million sheep. No wonder that shearing in this part of the world is a kind of sport-event. Also, the world champion in sheep shearing often comes from New Zealand and accomplishes up to 150 animals per hour. Depending on whether you work by hand or with electric scissors, it takes between 20 seconds and two minutes per sheep. But not only speed, also technique is rated at the “Golden Shear” competition.
I tried it once, but I could not even start with the “shave”, because it takes strength and experience to keep a sheep with one hand and knee grip firm and calm. However, if you touch into the woolen fur, you immediately feel the body temperature and the moisturing effect of the hair, called wool wax or lanoline. However, the Merino-wool is not a major business anymore. Meat, landscaping and dairy /cheese production is much more in focus.
By the way, ice cream made from sheep’s milk is not only a hit for those suffering from allergy; due to its creamy texture it’s delicious and worth a try.
Today not all mountain farms are located offside and have to be climbed on foot. Many are already accessible by car/ bicycles on gravel roads. Driving on these routes usually requires a permit or special allowance.
Anyone who would like to gain experience as a shepherd or assistant cowboy or would like to work in the mountain -gastronomy, can find further information by clicking on one of the following links:
In the first year mountain farming is rated to be stressful, from the third period on a pleasure. Let’s go up! Is Alpining an idyll? Far from it, because according to the location various dangers such as rockfalls, ticks, storms or slippy cow dung can lurk.
Whether such a stay is rated a nightmare or daydream, everyone likes to decide for her-/himself.
Whether as a hiking guest for a day or longer: I love the tinkling of the bells, the fresh buttermilk, walking over flowering meadows and the rough originality of tabels and benches. Where else can you still see a blossoming gentian?
Often also special “food-goodies” are offered, such as fried elderflowers, filled dumplings or Schux’n, a kind of fried yeast bun. For the RECIPE you need the following ingredients:
250 g of wheat flour, 250 g of rye flour (type 610), 15 g of salt, 50 g of butter, 50 g of yeast, 300 ml of buttermilk and 1 tablespoon of fine cottage cheese and fat to bake/ for frying. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk, then mix it with all other ingredients to make a dough (let it rest for approx. 15 min.). Then separate small portions of about 60 – 70 grams and form/roll-out flat round/oval piece (about 3-5 mm). Let them rest again to allow for a maximal smooth inflation of the yeast dough. Then bake/ fry each bun on both sides in floating fat (180 °). A perfect Schux’n finally becomes hollow inside. Don’t worry: it much easier done, than prescribed.
Just enjoy it and forget the calories. And if you are rewarded with a beautiful view in addition… heart, what else do you want?