Why Swiss cows wear bells
Cowbells: Myths and facts
Switzerland is a hilly country and grazing cattle can easily get lost. This is especially true in the alps where some cows spend their summer holidays – but we will talk about this later. City slickers moving to the country often find the continuous noise disturbing and want it banned. Yes, these are the times we live in. In their eyes, a modern cash-cow certainly doesn’t need an old-fashioned, noisy search tool. They don’t realize that cowbells have got a long and rich tradition that makes them one of the trademarks of Switzerland. And yes, size does matter! In the olden days cowbells reflected the wealth of a farmer. A bit like diamonds, the bigger the size of a cows clunkers the richer the owner. But it doesn’t stop here, bells can also have a decorative purpose for special occasions. Some are so fancy and full of intricate details that they may even exceed the value of their wearer. Further to their ornamental value, bells are believed to have magic power – like keeping the evil spirits away from the pasture. My sister in law got the living proof, when she parked her car near a herd of grazing cattle. Coming back from a 4 hour hike her automobile was somewhat altered. There was slobber and poop splattered all over, not to mention the dents which strange enough reminded her of the shape of, you know what. Probably another reason why townspeople don’t like the horned beasts and their bulky necklaces.
Cows are like humans
If a cow had several lifes it would probably want to be reborn in Switzerland. Yes, Swiss cows have many luxuries which their foreign cousins can only dream of. Their owners get government subsidies which are invested in impressive barns. Here size matters once again, after all we are talking of the farmer's number 1 status symbol. It doesn’t matter if a farmer has 10 cows or 100, the bigger the better. Modern barns are bright, spacious, cozy and quite often heated. A good investment for the future, the relatively luxurious building can easily be converted into a function hall for big parties once the cattle moves out.
Like their human counterparts cows like a bit of entertainment. According to scientific research cows produce more milk with the right kind of music. A study by two British psychologists produced a list of the following tops and flops. Surprisingly country music doesn't seem to be featured in a modern day cow's life.
Songs with a moo factor:
· REM: "Everybody Hurts"
· Aretha Franklin: "What A Difference A Day Makes"
· Simon & Garfunkel: "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
· Danny Williams: "Moon River"
· Lou Reed: "Perfect Day"
· Ludwig van Beethoven: Sinfonie No. 6 "Pastorale"
Songs with a boo factor:
· Jamiroquai: “Space Cowboy”
· Supergrass: “Pumping On Your Stereo”
· Wonderstuff: “Size of A Cow”
· Mud: “Tigerfeet”
· Mousse T vs. Hot N Juicy: “Horny”
Musical Swiss cows
Popular cow names
Names are an important part of the Swiss “cowture”. 2006 must have been the year of beautiful calves as most newborn cows were named after Miss Switzerland, Fiona Hefti. No wonder, Swiss cows are vain, living in fancy barns and wearing expensive necklaces. Makes me wonder if the beauty queen was flattered or not. Other popular cow names are Bella, Diana, Tina, Nina, Bianca, Petra, Nora, Pia and Tamara.
Where do cows go on vacation?
It’s no joke, each summer, after the snow melt approx. 500’000 Swiss cows go on vacation. Milk cows and heifers are loaded into trucks and railway cars and transported into the mountains. Once the road ends they will walk to their remote alpine summer pastures with their guardians, until they reach the assigned cabin (called an "Alp"). Co-ops run by valley farmers hire seasonal staff called ”Älpler” (herdsmen and cheese makers) who will look after the cattle until the end of September. Their job is hard and lonely and pay is small. The herdsmen consist of people from all nationalities and walks of life who are after a simpler life close to nature. For some it is a rewarding experience and for others it is hell. At altitudes of between 1600 – 2200 meters the weather can be rough even in the peak of summer.
Most Alps have no power, running water or refrigeration and the milk is made daily into cheese called “Alpkäse”. Of course this is done the old-fashioned way, on a wood fire. Up here the cows can roam freely and they seem to enjoy the fresh air, the tender grass, the many mountain herbs and the ice cold river water.
In the meantime the valley farmers are using their lower lying pastures for winter hay production. Unfortunately not all cows can go on holidays, the prime milk cattle stay at home. In fall their relatives will come down to the valley again.
The end of the season is usually celebrated with the “Alpabzug”. For this the farmers get dressed up in their traditional working garbs and the cows are turned into beauty queens with fancy necklaces and floral hats. Quite a sight, but don’t park your car too close to the road where they come down unless you want scratches and dings.
And now you probably wonder how Swiss cows spend Winter. Of course in a cozy, heated barn, happily chomping on hay. Once in a while, when the sun comes out they will venture outside and frolic in the snow while dreaming of greener pastures and their upcoming Summer holiday in the Swiss Alps.
In my next life I definitely want to be born as a cow in Switzerland called Fiona.
Experience a Swiss Alpabzug
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