Bringing home the cattle
Stylishly dressed cows, schnapps and local delicacies
I grew up in a small village, which probably had more cows than people (and I mean this is a positive sense, as the world is in order there), so I have naturally always been aware of the tradition of bringing home the cattle. And for me, this tradition doesn’t stop in Kufsteinerland. Though here it’s more than just bringing home the cattle. And there’s also a version of it that I hadn’t seen before.
But first we’ll talk about the term “Almabtrieb” (bringing home the cattle). From Wikipedia: “In the Alps, “Almabtrieb” refers to a cattle drive from the alpine pastures (alms) into the valleys, where they spend the winter in the farm barns.”
This is because food naturally becomes scarce on the alm in the colder season, so the cows are brought back to their stables. The farmers and their animals are welcomed back to the village with a lively festival.
Though it might not sound all that exciting to see a herd of cows walking through a village, it’s a totally unique experience that you have to see at least once! That's because the “Kia” (no, not the car brand, but rather the plural of cow in the Tyrolean dialect) are decorated with elaborate, sometimes giant flower wreaths.
A cow makeover.
That’s exactly how it looks. However the animals are only dressed up if the summer passed without a fatal accident for people and animals. I was once at a welcome where that (unfortunately) wasn’t the case – the cows were taken to their stables without decoration. And you wouldn’t believe the emotions it created. After all, everyone knew why the cows weren’t decorated. And somehow you also feel that the animals are sad – it sounds strange but it’s true.
The reverse is also true: When the cows walk past with colourful flowers on their heads it looks very impressive. You can feel their happiness, and it’s a pleasure to see. The cows are also glad that the summer went well and they can now stay warm in their stables.
The flower decorations and their meaning
The magnificent wreaths are created from natural treasures. Twigs, flowers and buds are bound into a head ornament with colourful ribbons, often in the shape of a cross. There are often pictures of saints in the wreaths. With these, the farmers are asking for heavenly protection. Small mirrors and the well-known cow bells aim to drive away evil spirits. By the way: The size of the bell shows the age of the animal. The older the animal, the larger the bell. The same applies to the size of the head ornament – the matriarch (the oldest in the herd) parades into the stable with the largest and most elaborate head ornament.
Now to the important points 😉
All joking aside, the supporting programme, delicious food and high percentage drinks are as much a part of the festivities for bringing home the cattle, as the fortress is of Kufstein. From delicacies such as Tyrolean “kiachl” (fried pastry), cheese from the alpine dairy and bacon from the butcher, to the homemade schnapps and liqueurs in all sorts of types and flavours. There’s something for every hunger or thirst, and a shot of schnapps is simply a must. Non-alcoholic drinks are naturally also available. 😃
And another absolute must-see are the traditional costume associations and heritage groups who dance the “Schuhplattler” and traditional folk dances. It goes without saying that there is musical entertainment.
A little tip: There are plenty of excellent small gifts for your loved ones at the festivities. Lots of craftspeople are there presenting their works. Special gifts for special people – assuming you can bring yourself to give them away ;)
These cows look a bit strange
As I mentioned at the start, there is a type of “almabtrieb” in Kufsteinerland that I’d never heard of or seen before. The difference from the “almabtrieb” that I knew is in the animals – it’s not cows that are coming back from the alms but instead horses! At the Haflinger stallion “almabtrieb”.
If you’re thinking of the Stud Farm Ebbs then you’re on the right track. They’re naturally behind this cool event. You can see for yourself:
As well as a bringing home the Haflinger stallions festival in Ebbs there is also a bringing home the cattle festival in Kufstein – directly in the city. City and countryside become one. Natural and culture meet. The nature-bound fortress city is all about Tyrolean tradition. And there is also a (or rather two) bringing home the cattle festival in Landl (Thiersee). Here the cows are brought back to the valley split into two groups, so there are two celebrations. That’s another way of doing it.
Oh, I almost forgot something important!
It’s about eating, so it’s really important. Because the walk from the alm back to the valley tends to be long and need a lot of energy, the farmers need a snack for the road. And so they make a deliciously sweet pastry: Alm nuts. The name sounds strange doesn’t it? It comes from their size, which is about the size of a hazelnut on average. The delicacy is prepared the day before the cattle are brought home, by the farm women and their daughter(s). Because they are full of fat and sugar, they are perfect energy sources.
If you’re curious, and want to try the alm nuts, the recipe is here in the right-hand column.
So, put on your dirndl or lederhosen! It’s time to bring home the cattle!