Cattle Homecoming from the Almenwelt Lofer
Maria and Martin Wimmer from the Götschen farm in St. Martin take us along on their traditional homecoming from the Almenwelt Lofer.
“Actually I used to sell shoes,” laughs Maria Wimmer, while the light rain outside patters on the window, “but a few years ago I came to Pinzgau for a season as a dairymaid. I very quickly fell in love, not just with the landscape, but also with my now husband, Martin.” High up on the mountain in her rustic and cosy hut, the 30-year old farmer’s wife from the Götschen farm in St. Martin is making use of the rainy day for preparations for the yearly cattle homecoming and explains what brought her to the Salzburger Saalachtal from Garmisch in Bavaria. “I always wanted to work in nature and with animals – so I’ve achieved my childhood dream of a life like Heidi. And I love goats. I already had my own little herd which came with me to the Götschen farm when I married Martin.”
Every day during the alm summer, Maria drives with her mother-in-law Anni first thing in the morning and in the evenings from the farm in the valley to the dairy hut below Schönbühel in the Almenwelt Lofer. Sometimes they have a couple of goats with them who fancy a little trip into the mountains. “They jump onto the back of the pick-up and want a taste of the air on the alm. In the evening they drive back down with us. We milk our 12 dairy cows, all of them pure Pinzgau cows and we carry up to eight heavy churns with organic hay milk to the car and deliver them to the valley for onward transport to the Pinzgau dairy. Now, at the end of the alm summer, our cows are beginning to sense that the time to bid farewell to the Loferer Alm is drawing near. For me, then, it’s high time to prepare everything for the traditional homecoming parade. So today I’m repairing the headdresses,” she says and holds up the very colourful structure.
“Furkeln“ is the name given to the elaborately designed headdresses of the cows which they wear as a decoration on their way home to the valley. This ornamental bush made from bent spruce branches is decorated with all kinds of paper flowers, crepe ribbons, mountain pine and fir branches and colourful wooden stars and is placed between the horns of the cow. “I work on the headdresses all summer long – mostly on rainy days when there isn’t much to do outside. In a week, it’s time to go home. That’s why today I will try the headdresses on each cow for a couple of minutes so that they can get used to the unfamiliar ornaments. I will also put the cow bells on all of them now because normally up here on the alm only our lead cow Ricki wears a bell.”
Time to set off
It is very quiet in the stable. Only Maria’s gentle voice and quiet, approving mooing can be heard. Today is the day. Outside the herders and helpers, dressed traditionally in lederhosen and dirndl, are already waiting to set off and are enjoying a snack while the cows finish having their headdresses put on. “We are always happy when we can decorate the cows for the walk home because it is only in an accident-free summer – on the mountain or farm, animal or human – that we decorate them. Today my goats are also here because they go along on the homecoming parade as well of course,” explains Maria, while she positions the headdresses calmly on each cow in turn. All of the cows are happy to be dressed – the older cows in particular already know the procedure. Milka, a young dairy cow, rocks her head a little sceptically at first and Maria laughs, “Milka has a special personality. She always likes to do her own thing.”
But soon the 4-year old cow has also got used to it and now there is almost no stopping her. All of the herders quickly move into position – nearly every cow has a herder because family and friends all help out here. Every helper takes their own decorated herding stick and Maria quickly fastens the festive flower arrangements to the hats. Then at Martin’s command they set off on their homecoming parade.
Nearly 12 kilometres lie ahead of the procession which becomes larger and larger the nearer it comes to the valley. Numerous hikers and onlookers join the parade and accompany Maria, Martin and the herders home with the cows. Marching in front of everyone, Ricki the lead cow, already knows the way after many alm summers. At the Gasthof Loderbichl the homecoming festival is already in full swing. The decorated cows are greeted with joy, people take photos and wave. Maria beams, “Everyone is delighted when we come. It’s simply wonderful when our work on the alm receives such recognition.”
The highlight for everyone is the Farmers’ Harvest Festival in St. Martin. Here the cows walk right through the middle and the festively decorated Pinzgau cattle are a wonderful sight especially for the tourists. After two and a half hours, the homecoming parade eventually reaches the Götschen farm in St. Martin. The cows come into the field next to the farm straight away and are freed from their headdresses. At the farm, all of the helpers are invited to a little farm festival with a snack, coffee and cakes. A toast is raised to a successful alm summer and a good homecoming parade. Maria, Martin and the helpers happily move on to the Farmers’ Harvest Festival in St. Martin while the cows contentedly graze on their home pasture.
By the way, did you know …
- that the cows themselves know the time to leave is approaching as soon as the autumn nights become cooler.
- that the wearing of headdresses for the homecoming parade only takes place if the summer on the farm and on the alm was free from accidents.
- that the work on the alm does not end for the farmers after the homecoming – afterwards the alm pasture has to be cleared of overgrowth.
- that you can taste the fresh alm herbs in the milk.
- that the lead cow proudly leads the homecoming parade.
- that the headdresses, bells and bell decorations are prepared over countless hours throughout the entire summer.