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Zau Zoura /SD Ayer - Post n°8 : Transhumance

Anniviers farmers continue to pursue the practice of transhumance with their cattle.

Anniviers farmers continue to pursue the practice of transhumance with their cattle.

In Anniviers, a few farmers continue to practice transhumance with their predominantly Herens cattle: Robust, intelligent looking, proud and combative, the Herens breed can also be gentle and grows easily attached to its farmer. Their fur is dark brown or black and the animals are very muscular. The cattle migrate between 3 different places throughout the year.

  • The farm near the village (1,200m-1,600m)
  • The “mayen” (upland pasture) in Spring and Autumn, for instance in Les Moyes (1,700m-1,900m)
  • High mountain pastures in Summer (2,000m-2,800m)

In the last days of May, depending on the weather, the cattle are taken to the “mayen” to graze steep meadows. The sheds there are equipped with a milking machine but the manure is removed manually. The milk obtained from the evening and morning milkings is delivered by the farmer to the Anniviers cheese dairy where it is used to make the delicious Anniviers cheese that boasts an AOP seal of approval (protected designation of origin).

Around June 20th, the herd leaves the upland and makes its way to Nava high mountain pastures. The journey up to the high mountain pastures is referred to as the “inalpe”. Possessing a naturally aggressive temperament the cows will fight with cows from other herds. The winning “queen” becomes leader of the herd for the summer. For the farmer who has carefully prepared a select number of cows for the cow fighting, this is a stressful moment. Only at the end of the summer will another competition determine the final ranking. This time of year is not a holiday, it is hay making season. Hay must be mowed around the village, and on the upland gentle slopes. Then comes the time of the “regains” (second cut).

After three months in the high mountain pastures the cattle will come down. This is referrred to as the “désalpe”. A traditional fair is organized around this event, with a parade of all the fighting queens and milk queens as well as the rest of the herd. The farmer reunites with his animals and spends 2 to 3 weeks with them on the upland.

In mid-October, the animals finally come back down to the farm and graze the last of the grass complemented with some hay. Autumn is generally when animals are taken to the slaughter house, either because there is not enough room in the stalls, or because they are too old or they’re not pregnant. Winter is the calving season. In January and February they will be served by the bull or inseminated. The farmer will choose the bull depending on his preference for a fighting or a milking cow.

Spring is once more upon us and the cattle is dispersed in the meadow around the village. The cows lock horns, sometimes quite brutally, in competition for the place as leader of the herd.

At the end of May the cycle is complete: it is time to go back to the upland pastures. A new transhumance cycle is beginning.

Texte : Mireille Melly, agricultrice




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