The genesis and history of the Alpine pastures

Alpine pastures in the St. Johann in Tirol region over the course of time!

Huberalm in Erpfendorf
Flat areas are a scarce commodity in our wonderful mountain landscape. In earlier times these easily managed meadows in the valley were even rarer, since farmers at that time had to cultivate so much themselves. Purchasing foodstuffs and even feed for animals was not possible. There was a lack of the requisite infrastructure in the guise of cars and railways and the relevant cash. Which was why large sections of these valley areas were used as arable farmland and tilled with wheat, maize, flax, cereals, potatoes, cabbage, kale etc., so all the requisite foodstuffs were available.

Ground was of course also needed for hay making so cattle could winter well. For this reason, the animals grazed in the summer on higher lying areas, which had a decent ‘passage’ (this is how differences in levels are defined in an Alpine pasture area). This meant that in the valley, the terrain could be exclusively used for arable farming. Before an Alpine inn was built, weather influences and the surroundings at the planned site were observed across the year. Dangers, including avalanches, lightening, wind, and other such adverse effects were to be excluded as much as possible. Only when this was clarified would construction of a building begin.

Countless hours of work were invested in the setting up of this functional Alpine inn. The requirements for this inn were indeed great – it had to be cost-effective, stable (so it would not require repairs every year after the winter) and in many places there had to be a suitable cheese cellar with a constant temperature and an attached ‘Esse’ (open fireplace) was built, so cheese could be made too. There are still a great deal of these old Alpine inns in our region. The walls could tell countless stories about these venerable buildings - about all the people who come and go, good and bad times, bad weather, technological progress, alterations to the building and much more. The inns that are still in existence are witnesses to ‘Bauernschläue’, as rural housing stock is so wonderfully described. These walls have lasted for centuries, even though at the time of their construction there were no technological aids. What will the buildings of today look like in 200 years?

do you know how people used to check that a specific site would not be hit by lightning?
They looked for where the ‘Heppinen’ (toads) stayed. Wherever a toad stopped off during a storm would not be hit by lightning.

Ranggenalm in Kirchdorf in Tirol

Alpine inns over the course of time

These walls have lasted for centuries!

Mühlbachalm in St. Johann in Tirol
Upkeep of these buildings has been in part cost-intensive and laborious. With the construction of forest roads and electricity connections, some of the Alpine inns could be spared falling into disrepair and therefore a piece of cultural heritage saved. Access by car, looking after animals and Alpine areas was therefore made easier. Without these improvements, many Alpine inns and Alpine areas would no longer exist, since Alpine pasture management has lost importance due to the specialisation in the agricultural sector.

The reason for this is the fact that in our latitudes, the majority of the farmers concentrated on milk production, giving arable farming little attention. The areas which were gained, thanks to the pushing back of arable farming, are now used for grazing and hay harvesting. The feed on an Alpine pastures is high quality, but not so rich in energy, which means the animals are fed in the valley over the summer months. Here, the cows can be easily and efficiently looked after in contemporary pens, with state-of-the-art milking facilities. Animals that need to be ‘taken to the mountain pastures to graze’ require additional energy since they are constantly moving. So the cow automatically produces less milk since it needs the food it is consuming to give it energy.

Recently the Alpine has presented a new look on its ‘old’ guise. The recreational space of an Alpine pasture is increasingly gaining in importance. Even in earlier times, children and adults were sent to the Alpine pastures to relax over the summer. Now all ages are once again searching for this relaxation, tranquillity and simplicity in the middle of the mountainous natural landscape, leaving the hectic pace of daily life back in the valley for a few hours.