© Montafon Tourismus GmbH Schruns

Pasture drive

The end of the summer retreat

Cattle in the Montafon have spent their summers in the high Alpine pastures for centuries. Well-fed, the cattle return to the valley in September. The pasture drive has been celebrated since time immemorial and the healthy cattle are gratefully received by the farmers.

The parade of decorated animals - which also include sheep, goats and donkeys, the so-called “Piefl” - are met with food and drink and even music in some locations. The “Milchstöfleri” – the cow that has given the most milk over the summer – is given an especially warm welcome. She is easy to pick out by the most beautiful and largest “Maien”, the decorative flowers. The exact start date of the pasture drive depends on the weather. If there is an early snowfall, it can be brought forward at the last minute.

© Montafon Tourismus GmbH Schruns

“There has been a spirit of optimism on Alpine pastures in recent days. The cattle senses when the summer is coming to an end. It does not need to be forced, instead it happily heads towards the valley.”

Three-step agriculture practice

The three-step agriculture practice is still upheld and preserved in the Montafon. This fact is one of the reasons why the pasture drives have remained almost unchanged for a long time. The farmer follows the feed with his cattle for the entire year. From the first level, the stable in the valley, he brings the cattle to the Maisäß around the start of June. This is about two walking hours above the permanent settlement at 1,200 to 1,400 meters above sea level. If the feed stocks also run out there, the animals will be handed over to the Alpine master. He leads the cattle to the high Alpine pastures where succulent herbs and meadows await.

Patron saints and symbols of luck

Difficult terrain, sudden changes in weather, accidents and illnesses are just a few hazards which humans and animals are both exposed to. In the past, the largely religious farming population promised protection and help from the patron saints of cattle Gallus, Martin and Leonhard. Horseshoes and milk thistle on the building and stable walls are expected to keep misfortune at bay. Even today, an Alpine pasture without a cross is unthinkable.

Gracious nature as a reward

If the prayers worked and the Alpine pasture did not have to suffer any losses over the summer, the climax of the farming year – the pasture drive – was celebrated. Cattle are adorned with wreaths and colourful flowers for the return to the valley. Crowns are elaborately hand crafted for the animals from Alpine roses, mountain pines and silver thistles. The cows wear large bells around their necks, of which the powerful ringing is said to ward off evil spirits.

The decorated animals come down from the Alpine pastures into the valley

The festive culmination of the farm working year in Tschagguns

High spirits at the reception

The weather conditions and grass growth determine the exact date of the pasture drive. Humans and cattle alike set out on their way home into the valley around mid to late September. In their baggage, they have the last stick of butter, Alpine cheese and Sura Kees which is produced directly on the Alpine pasture from fresh milk. When the procession reaches the last few metres through the village roads, they are joyfully welcomed under the admiring eyes of spectators. “It is an incredibly good feeling when so many people welcome you. As an Alpine master, it makes me very proud of my work,” says Markus, describing his impressions during the return.

A folk festival in honour of the cattle
In the past, farmers presented the Alpine masters and shepherds returning home with must and schnapps. They did this to show their gratitude that their animals returned from the Alpine pasture to the stable in good health. The Alpine summer was then celebrated with plenty of liquid at a cosy get-together. It is now celebrated in a bigger way, but with less charm. Village fairs and farmers’ markets, live music and cheese tastings frame the arrival of returnees. Markus and his colleagues will be setting off again next spring in order to send their cattle into the lush mountain meadows of the Montafon Alpine pastures.

Preparations for the pasture drive to the Vergalda Alpine pasture in Gargellen

Erna and Ellen prepare the jewellery for the animals. Shepherd Michael accompanies the cattle.

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