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At home in the sheds - the custom of the alpine cattle drive in the Kitzbüheler Alpen

The alpine cattle drive in the Kitzbüheler Alpen is a very special festival. The cows are colourfully decked out as they trek home from the alpine pastures. Delicious alpine cheese is now mature enough to sample.
The cows – and often the sheep, goats and horses too – together with the alpine herdsmen and shepherds, have spent the summer on the alpine pastures in the Kitzbüheler Alpen. The alpine cattle drive is a thanksgiving festival when the cattle return fit and healthy from the alpine pasture to their sheds.

It is only when all the animals on the alpine pasture return, in full health, that they are then decorated for their return to the valley. The cows are then decorated in garlands of fir sprigs, colourful ribbons, bells, mirrors and alpine flowers. However, should there be an accident up on the alpine pasture, or a death in the ‘Hoamathaus’ in the valley, the cows are not decorated, but instead wear a ‘Trauerflor’. This is made from black ribbons. Depending on the number of the animals which have been tended over the summer by the alpine herdsmen, this wonderful celebration has last up to five hours.

Individual cattle drives take place at different times and are heavily weather-dependent. As an additional decoration, bells are put around most of the cows’ necks. Depending on their rank, the cows wear bells which have different sounds. At the alpine cattle drive, the "Kranzkuh" treks at the front, decked out in especially resplendent, decorative items. Cows and yearlings follow, and the calves jostle at the back of the pack. Placing adornments on alpine cattle was first documented in a Pustertal inventory dating from 1746. However, the decoration of animals for an alpine cattle drive does actually go back to much earlier times. The ringing of their bells was to drive out evil demons on the journey down from the mountains.

The alpine cattle drive of garlanded cows down from the pastures into the valley was an event which many sightseers and tourists follow with delight. Even if some people consider the cow to be a stupid animal, they do know exactly what it means when the big bell is positioned around their necks – it’s time to return to the valley and nobody needs to show them the way. Having reached the valley, the cows and their escorts in particular are very much celebrated – the home-coming of the animals is celebrated with music and a programme of supporting events, as well as delicious foods from the region. Insight into the busy life in the mountains.

Hopfgarten alpine cattle drive -

Alpine cattle drive in Hopfgarten, Hohe-Salve holiday region.

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