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Back to the barn - the custom of the alpine cattle drive

The alpine cattle drive in the Kitzbüheler Alpen is a very special festival. The cows are adorned with colourful decorations and walk from the alpine pastures back home to their barns. This is also the time to sample some delicious, mature alpine cheese.
Cows – and often sheep, goats and horses too – have spent the summer on the alpine pastures in the Kitzbüheler Alpen with the alpine herdsmen and dairymen. The alpine cattle drive is a festival of thanks to welcome the healthy cattle back to their barns. Only when all the animals return fit and healthy from their summer on the pastures are they decorated for their return to the valley. The cattle are then decked out in garlands made from fir sprigs, colourful ribbons, bells, mirrors and alpine flowers. However, should there be an accident on the pasture or a death in the ‘Hoamathaus’ in the valley, then the cattle are not decorated and instead wear a ‘Trauerflor’. This is made from black ribbons.
Kuhglocken beim Almabtrieb

Depending on the number of animals which have been looked after by an alpine herdsman in the summer, this prettifying session can take up to five hours. Individual cattle dreives take place at different times and these are heavily dependent upon the weather. By way of an additional adornment, the cows are decorated with a bell around their neck. Cows are given bells with different tones, according to their status. During the cattle drive, the so-called "Kranzkuh" proceeds at the front, with a very special head-dress. The other cows and yearlings follow and the calves scramble at the end of the procession.

Almabtriebe Brixental

The alpine cattle drive was first mentioned in writing in a Pustertal inventory from 1746. However, decorating the animals during the cattle drive is said to actually date back to earlier times. The pealing of their bells was said to drive away evil spirits. Many people enjoy the sight of the alpine cattle drive of garlanded cows from the alpine pastures down into the valley. People say that cows are silly creatures, but they know exactly what’s going on when the bells are hung around their necks – it’s time to head back into the valley, and no-one needs to show them the way.

Almabtriebe in den Kitzbüheler Alpen

Having arrived in the valley, the cows and their chaperones receive a huge welcome, with music and a programme of supporting events along with tasty treats from the region to celebrate; local farmers provide an insight into the busy life in the mountains.

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