High mountain farming and transhumance
During summer hundreds of Alpine farms become a temporary home for humans and their animals.
Alpine farming is at its most work-intensive during the summer months. In order to save the hay mown in the valley for the winter, farmers drove their livestock - cattle, sheep and horses - up to the high pastures. Depending on the area the Alpine pastures belong either to individual farming families or to farming co-operatives. Some farmers send only calves, heifers and pregnant cows up to their own pastures with a boy herdsman, leaving the milk cows in the cowshed.
Most co-operative Alpine farmland is located in Val Venosta/Vinschgau and there the milk cows also spend the summer on the high pastures. Herdsmen, cheesemakers and milkers are skilled in obtaining and processing milk. The Alpine cheese they produce is distributed among the mountain farmers at the end of the summer. Many Alpine farmsteads open their doors to hikers and offer their homemade products to taste. Many serve simple traditional dishes such as “Kaiserschmarren” (scrambled pancake), “Knödel” dumplings and “milker’s mash” as well as their own “Graukäse” (cheese made from skimmed milk), “Speck” and “Schüttelbrot”. Sheep spend the entire summer in the mountains. They graze in flocks often without a shepherd and even venture well beyond the timberline. Use of the high pastures is subject to centuries-old, often millenniums-old grazing rights.
Certain traditions such as transhumance, that is, droving animals up to their summer pastures in May or June and back down again in September or early October, go back thousands of years. One spectacular example is the droving of sheep in the Val Senales/Schnalstal valley across the border to their summer grazing grounds in the Venter Valley in Austria. Some 3,500 sheep make the arduous two-day journey across glaciers, then back again in mid September. The droving of livestock from the high pastures back down to their winter quarters in the valley in September and early October is called the Almabtrieb. It is often celebrated in combination with a thanksgiving festival for the safe return of man and animal.