It’s all systems go for the Haym Family at the Untersulzberghof in Radstadt – for weeks now the preparations for driving down the cattle on the 8th September have been underway – and there’s lots to do: the senior farmer’s wife Maria is busy baking the tasty farmer’s bread, whilst the junior farmer’s wife (also called Maria) is in charge of the decorations for the cattle and is being helped by the rest of the family. Three years ago she and her husband Andreas took over the farm and they run it as traditionally as possible. Their farm is a so-called “ancestral farm“. This description indicates that the farm has been run for at least 200 years by one family in direct succession. So their farm has been able to use this description in its title since 2015.
The Tauernkarleitenalm – a jewel in the heart of the Pongau mountain world
Alpine meadow farming has been an important concern for farming families since time immemorial and has been of great significance in alpine regions. Cultivating the alpine meadows prevents the pastureland becoming overgrown and thus plays an important role in the preservation of the mountain landscape. An added bonus becomes clear when processing the milk, as the lush herbs of the alpine pasture give the alpine butter and cheese its unique taste. The “Tauernkarleitenalm“ which belongs to the farm is situated between Zauchensee and the Gnadenalm near Untertauern. For more than eleven years now Uncle Michael Haym and his wife Veronika have been running the alpine hut at an altitude 1,653 m from mid-June to the beginning of September. The alpine hut is a rustic gem and oozes unbeatable charm and cosiness. On entering the hut you feel transported back to days gone by and when Veronika serves her bread with butter and cheese and a glass of butter milk – all produced at the at the hut – then you really appreciate the value of home-made produce.
Heading home soon
Around 75 cows spend the summer months up on the alpine pasture. When the approaching autumn paints the landscape is picturesque colours and the nights become cooler, it’s time to say goodbye. Now’s the time to prepare for herding the cattle down back down to the valley and there’s lots of hard work involved. In olden days decorating the cattle was work for the dairywoman up on the alpine hut, nowadays the farming family in the valley help out too. Small hand-made works of art are created. Just the greenery for the decorations, such as alpine roses or silver thistles is bound shortly before, so that it doesn’t wilt. The preparations take four weeks in total.
Decorating the cattle also has its own rules: if a member of the farming family has died during the summer months the decorations are black and the festive herding down of the cattle only takes place if there have been no fatalities up on the alpine pasture.
The size of the decorations vary too, according whether the cows are adults or calves (with regard to cow bells, female cows have the advantage over bulls as they are only allowed wear bells made of straw!). The form of the decorations also varies from region to region.
So the finishing touches are done to the head decorations and the splendid cowbells and the accompanying belts are cleaned to shining. Meanwhile friends, relatives and neighbouring farming families help out with the preparations for the farm festival, which takes place after the animals return safely to the farm. Everyone’s busy cooking and baking and the aroma of “Hoamfoahrkrapfen“, a tasty doughnut made from yeast dough with raisins fills the whole house.
“Coming home“ – the day of herding the cattle down
At 5.00 am around 25 herders meet up for breakfast together on the farm to fortify themselves for the long hike. After all it’s around 20 km from the Tauernkarleitenalm to the Untersulzberghof, which means a march of around four hours for man and beast. The cows and calves are decorated and then it’s off back down to the valley. The route leads via Untertauern to Radstadt, where around lunchtime a number of spectators are standing in the town centre and along the route. Lead by the town’s whipcracker group, the procession passes through the town square and the herders hand out the so-called “Schnuraus“, a special gingerbread biscuit, which is specially baked for the occasion and handed out to spectators along the way. After a further kilometre the procession finally reaches the Untersulzberghof and the celebrations can begin. At the farm festival guests and locals can enjoy folk music, handicrafts plus food and drink from the farmhouse kitchen until early evening. At the Tauernkarleitenalm on the other hand peace and quiet reign – until next summer.
Photo credits: TVB Radstadt, Thomas Sendlhofer; Norbert Winter; Lorenz Masser; Maria Haym