Cow adorned with flowers

When Cows
Go on Vacation!


DID you know that thousands of cows in Switzerland go on vacation every year? You should see how much they enjoy it!

During Switzerland’s cold and snowy winter months, dairy cows are sheltered in stables. What a welcome relief when spring arrives and the cows can go outdoors and graze in green meadows dotted with bright-yellow dandelions. Their occasional leaps in the air seem to express their sheer joy at the change of scene and season.

By May or early June, additional pasture grounds become available when melting snow exposes the meadows at higher altitudes. It is time for summering the cattle in the mountains.

A Land of Well-Watered Pastures

In Switzerland there are about 10,000 pasture grounds at higher altitudes, covering some 4,000 square miles [10,000 km2]. This amounts to one quarter of the country’s total land area. Thus, great care is taken to protect this valuable resource.

Man and beast work together to keep the high meadows clear of brushwood and thickets. To this end, farmers entrust about 500,000 cattle to the care of professional herdsmen. Milk cows, along with heifers, are transported by truck or train for a summer vacation of grazing in the mountains.

Since the roads and railways do not reach high enough, the last leg of the journey has to be completed on foot. The herds keep moving upward as summer advances. There, sometimes in pastures between 6,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level [2,000 and 2,200 meters], the cattle find sweet alpine grass and beautiful multicolored flowers. Mountain springs are plentiful, so there is no shortage of drinking water.

The fine milk produced by the cows is sometimes transported down the mountain for consumption or processing. But in most instances it is made into butter or cheese right there in mountainside cabins. As the summer days shorten, the herds are guided to lower stations. The day finally arrives—depending on the weather, it is usually toward the end of September—for the herds to return to their winter quarters. Yes, their summer vacation is nearing its end! But first a special parade is held.

The Big Day!

Production records have been kept, and the best cows are decorated according to the amount of milk they gave. The top milk producer gets to lead the herd on the march home. The cows’ heads are adorned with colorful paper flowers, ribbons, and branches of small fir trees. Many carry a metal bell around the neck, announcing their approach from afar.

The herdsmen mark this special occasion by dressing up in white shirts and embroidered black velvet jackets. Meanwhile, down in the valleys, the farm population gathers along the roadside to receive the procession with a standing ovation.

Upon reaching the lowlands, the cattle are redirected to their respective owners for another winter. It won’t be long, however, before it is time for another vacation in the mountains! What a life!

Cow and mountains