Friday 20th July
So back up the road to Gridalweld, and meet up with Franziska and her mother who are taking us up the hill this morning, her father was already up their working.
So a bit of background first on this grazing,
These dairy farmers mostly have small blocks of land owned around their homes in the valleys (Franziska’s family have about 15ha around their house and barn/milking shed and I think another couple of small blocks as well close by), the cows spend about 250days of the year around here obviously included being housed in winter, about ½ mtr of snow around all winter, they calve etc here, bull calves are sold at about 75kg and heifers kept at home for the first summer.
However the farmers need all the grass grown during the summer period to make as hay, baleage or silage to feed during the winter.
Loose hay is made off the steeper areas and is stored in lofts above the cowshed, baleage made off the easy areas and silage into silos made at the end of summer.
This year is a bit of a lack of rain and grass growth is down, the area done for hay yesterday would normally have 2 ½ buggies of hay, this year 1.
They also make hay in late summer off some of the alpine pastures, and this is all done by hand, using the walk behind mowers, raking it downhill and then collecting into nets (800kg) and flying it off the mountain by helicopter.
Anyway because of this need to use all this easy land for hay, they graze their cattle on the Alpine pastures for about 100 days during the summer.
Franziska I’m sorry if I get this a bit wrong but this grazing system works along these lines.
The farms are organised into a cooperative basis. The Alpine pastures do not belong to individuals but essentially to a community group of farmers who pay for its use through a set amount of hours of maintenance work on the pastures and infrastructure per cow grazed ( ie 10hrs/cow/year).
Within each “Alp” which is a community grazing area the individually owned cows are grazed in groups combined with other farmers, essentially big enough groups to fit the size of the Alpine barns.
Each group then employs a dairyman/woman to look after these cows including the twice a day milking. Milk is collected every couple of days and delivered to the community owned factory.
As well as whole milk delivered off the mountain the traditional alpine cheese is made during the season, and towards the end of the season this cheese making takes precedence over whole milk.
Franziska’s family cows are stunning cows, big framed Simmintal type, annoyingly friendly and in amazing condition. And they win prizes at the local stock shows.
My understanding and I apologize if I am wrong Franziska they have 15 Mixed Age cows in milk, about 8 youngsters and then 4 weaner heifers.
Franziska’s father spends the winter working on the skilifts as well, so very long busy winters for them all.
If we were to look at the pasture as a New Zealand dairy pasture I think we would pull our hair out, it is an amazing collection of grasses clovers flowers weeds etc but these cows were full of milk and in incredible body condition and happy.
As summer rolls on the cows are mover higher and higher up the mountain into new pastures, with the young stock (rising 2 year olds) moving into the very top blocks.
The cows are milked twice a day, 5.30 am, then let out to graze, at about 2.00pm they come back themselves to the barn ( the flies bought them back down on our day) and are tied up in the barn, (they all go to their own place and lie down, tails are tied up to keep them from splashing the cowshit everywhere), milked again at 5.00pm and let back out for the night.
Any weather change and they come back into the barn themselves.
We were able to walk up through the cows then after lunch of bread and cheese (nicest cheese we have had yet) went for another walk up onto the bluffs overlooking the Grindalweld valley and the home farm.
This area as well as summer grazing is a sledding area in winter (hence little barns that are turned into bars in the winter) and walking tracks during the summer. People either walk up (dumb) or take the cable cars up to the top or a bus 1/2way and then walk back down. Incredible scenery with views directly into the Face of the Eiger, the Monch and Jungfrau, plus a whole heap of “little ones”.
All in all a stunning day, a very special experience for us that I don’t think many people would get the opportunity to have.
A huge thankyou to Franziska, your Mum & Dad and Rosemary for going out of your way to host us. And that crazy cow.