Alpine cattle drive in Prad am Stilfserjoch
Once you've seen it, you won't want to miss it again: the cattle drive in Prad am Stilfserjoch. Every year, this tradition blossoms anew and brings young and old together to give thanks for an accident-free time on the mountain.
High above Trafoi, in the Stilfserjoch National Park in Vinschgau, on the border with Switzerland and with a breathtaking view of the Engadine Dolomites and King Ortler, lies the Prader alp at 2,273 metres above sea level. Here, just above the tree line, cattle and shepherds spent the warm summer days. From July to September, cows of the Simmental, Alpine Gray Cattle and Pinzgauer breeds graze on the Prader alp meadow before returning to the valley and their home stables.
Start from the Prader alp
The start is at 8.30 am from the Prader alp. By then, herdsmen and farmers must have brushed the 81 cattle and prepared them for the cattle drive. They set off on time. The three lead cows march ahead with the herdsmen. They make their way relatively quickly down the forest road, past a small pond, mown meadows and a small church, towards Stilfs. The constant ringing of cowbells can be heard from afar and everyone knows that summer will soon be over. The young farmers and herdsmen have dressed up for this special occasion: Almost all of them are wearing nice red or blue checked shirts, traditional pants made of leather called Lederhosen and colourfully decorated loden hats. They swing their sticks excitedly and shout loudly to drive the herd.
Cowbells and wreaths of flowers
The first stop is at the Stilfser Bridge. Here the cows are adorned with magnificent flower wreaths, artistically forged bells and beautifully decorated bell straps. The wreaths are woven by the herdsmen and farmers from various grasses, twigs and mountain flowers. They use alpine roses, mountain pines and silver thistles, to name just a few of the typical plants. Ribbons or small wooden plaques with motifs from alpine life or funny sayings are also attached. The three leading cows, also known as wreath cows, lead the herd. They receive the largest decoration: a magnificent cross of flowers to thank god for their protection on the mountain, and a large bell to ward off evil spirits.
Forces of nature on the mountain
The cattle drive has always been a special event. After all, there were many dangers lurking up on the mountain, and you never knew whether herdsmen and cattle would survive the summer. Steep and exposed terrain or unpredictable changes in the weather with hail, snow and wind are just some of the dangerous forces of nature. Villagers were waiting anxiously to see if everyone would return to the valley. However, if a serious accident had occurred or there were a particularly large number of casualties, the cattle were brought down without a wreath.
The Goaslschnöller and their whips
The cattle drive between Trafoi and Prad am Stilfserjoch continues on the main road. The road has been closed especially for the event. Many cyclists and hikers stop to admire the cows. Before arriving in the village, some herdsmen and farmers, the so-called "Goaslschnöller", walk in front of the herd and start swinging their "Goaßln", long whips with a nylon end, over their heads and making loud cracking noises. In the past, these whips were used to communicate with other herdsmen over long distances, to drive the herd and to awaken spring at the end of winter. Nowadays, the Goaselschnöller are mainly used on special occasions. Attracted by the loud bangs of the Goaßln, more and more villagers come out into the street to watch the colourful goings-on.
The festivities in Prad am Stilfserjoch
Tired, the cattle and herdsmen finally reach the festival site after a 3.5-hour hike and the festivities can begin. The herd is led to a fenced-in meadow. In which they can be viewed during the village festival before they are returned to the farmers. Traditional food, music and dancing ensure a good atmosphere and so as every year the summer on the mountain comes to an end.