True Locals: Farmer Thomas Nairz and the Almabtrieb
Every year the Almabtrieb is a special event for the region’s cowherds and farmers. The cows return to the valley after a summer spent up in the mountains. Traditionally this is celebrated by the Almabtrieb. Farmer Thomas Nairz from the Lippenhof in Leutasch is always a part of it and tells us about the centuries-old farming tradition and his life on the family farm.
Up into the mountains
Every year in spring, about 260 fortunate cows – and some horses – from the Leutasch valley hear the call of the mountain pastures! There they experience what we all secretly dream of: spending the summer in the mountains. Way up there, on lush alpine meadows, with a wonderful view and fresh mountain air. Once the snow has melted in June, the animals are taken up to the mountain pastures. It’s a long hike for them: the route up to their summer residence, the Gaistalalm, is a good six kilometres. A little later in the season they climb a little further up to the Rotmoosalm. There they spend the summer at 2030m. Thomas and the farmers hand over the care of their cattle to the cowherds. Every day they look after the animals and check that all are healthy and alert.
Towards the end of the season, the cows return to the lower Gaistalalm. “In 2018 it was a bit earlier because we already had snow in August,” says Thomas. The mountain summer lasts three to four months. The cows have to return to their stables before the snow comes and the feed runs out. In 2018 the cattle had to head down to the valley a little earlier than usual: this year’s summer was dry, and the feed was coming to an end. And so, at the beginning of September, the cowherds and the farmers looked forward to a very special event: the Almabtrieb!
The time creeps around each year when the days get shorter and the temperatures start to fall. Autumn is slowly coming in. For the cows and horses, this means a return to the valley and so the first sign that summer is ending is the cattle drive down from the mountain pastures in the Tyrol.
An Almabtrieb needs certain preparations: “The day before the “Almabtrieb”, the farmers and cowherds all meet up. The cows are then herded together in a meadow below the Gaistalm,” says Thomas. The journey really begins in the following morning: 120 cows start to move towards the valley. Think of 120 animals, including many calves – anyone who knows cows knows that they sometimes have their own ideas! An Almabtrieb requires the greatest effort and fullest concentration from everyone. The fact that it always runs smoothly and without problems is due to the good teamwork. Together the cowherds, farmers, young farmers and dogs help to ensure that the cattle arrive in Leutasch healthy and lively.
An old farming tradition: the cows are decorated
Everyone puts on their best gear for the Almabtrieb – even the cows get to wear traditional decoration. But the festive decorations with plenty of flowers and large headdresses are only really used when all the animals return from the mountain pasture in good health. “Unfortunately, two cows had fatal accidents this year,” Thomas regrets. Still there was a little bit of traditional decoration: some wore decorated facemasks while others were traditionally decorated with sprigs of mountain pine.
After the six kilometres through the Gaistal the route is nearly finished. This year the first stop was at the Ganghofermuseum in Kirchplatzl. You could hear the group from quite a distance: the loud ringing of the bells, the clopping of the hooves and the calls of the cowherds announced their arrival.
The cows are always first driven to a pasture above Leutasch. Some farmers already sort their own cattle out here. The rest of the herd can rest for a while before the journey continues further down the valley. The farmers and cowherds can also take a well-deserved break and enjoy the fact that everything has so far gone well.
In the evening, after all the cows have found their way back to their stables and pastures, the group of cowherds and farmers meets again for dinner in a local guesthouse. It is the final part of the alpine summer: the descent is celebrated, stories from the summer season are recounted again and you realise that autumn is here!
A life on the farm: Thomas Nairz from the Lippenhof Leutasch
It was the tenth Almabtrieb for Thomas that year. He grew up on the Lippenhof in Leutasch. The farm has been in the family for 277 years – Thomas is part of the next generation, who will run it in the future.
It was clear to Thomas early on that he would one day take over the farm. “Well, when I was very young, I wanted to become a carpenter – or even a priest,” he laughs. But from his youth he knew: “Basically there was never any other serious option, that is what I always wanted to do. “
Thomas now looks after the 12 cows, young animals and calves that belong to the farm. The young cattle spend the summer up on the alpine meadows. The six dairy cows stay in the fields in summer. They have to be milked twice a day. “Up until a few years ago, my father used to do this by hand in summer,” says Thomas. But that’s a lot of work. “I set up a milking machine in the field that can be operated with a tractor.”
Nothing better than fresh milk from the farm!
There is hardly anything better than a fresh glass of milk straight from the farm! This is exactly why there is a milk vending machine at the Lippenhof. Every day at any hour you can buy milk here – an offer that is gratefully taken up by both locals and guests.
The cows and the woods
In addition to the stable work, Thomas also cultivates the fields, makes hay, sets up the fences on the alpine pastures in the spring and does a lot of other work. But most of the work is with timber – and it is also the costliest. “But thanks to the machines, it’s no longer as time-consuming as it used to be,” says Thomas. Still Thomas began a labour-intensive project this spring: setting proper boundaries between the woods and the pastures in the Gaistal valley. The farmers have grazing rights up here, but much of the area is covered with trees and the cows get into the forest and damage it. For this reason, efforts are being made to keep them out. The farmers have been given pasture land, some of which still has to be cleared, to protect the forest and offer the cows better grazing. So Thomas will also be working next summer to create lush, green meadows on which the cows can spend their idyllic summer.
Summer & winter
Thomas’ day starts at five o’clock in the morning in both summer and winter and runs through until half past seven in the evening. The days are long and often depend on weather and season. The hay must be collected quickly or the potatoes have to be harvested if rain is on the way. In the winter, when metres of snow often covers the fields and mountains, the field and timber work fall away. That’s why Thomas worked as a ski instructor in Seefeld until the end of the winter. “It’s a completely different job than working on the farm,” says Thomas. Dealing with the guests was fun for him. “It was a great experience and I wouldn’t want to have missed it! But the year as a whole was very labour-intensive. Now he can go on a ski tour in winter and take time for himself. But Thomas says: “I prefer the spring when everything turns green – and when the cattle are up on the mountain pastures. They definitely have the best time of the year!” And so all the 260 cows in Leutasch are probably already counting down the days until the mountain calls again!
For all those who would like to spend their holiday at the Lippenhof Leuatsch, find more infomation here: Lippenhof Leutasch
Fotos: Fabrice Dall’Anese, Iris Krug, Stefan Wolf