Appenzell in eastern Switzerland is cashing in on its cows as a way of attracting visitors.This content was published on September 24, 2003 - 19:11
For the first time, tourism chiefs are promoting bovine beauty shows where prize specimens can walk off with awards for udder beauty or lifetime achievement.
The most important seasons in rural Appenzell are not Christmas or Easter, but the times when the cows are moved up to mountain pastures or brought home, and when they are the main attraction at cattle shows.
The latter are colourful affairs, with grown men dressing up as outrageously as peacocks to parade their cattle through town, yodelling as they go.
It is this spectacle that the Appenzell tourist board has now decided to market.
“Age-old customs still mean a lot to the people of Appenzell and we want to promote the traditional side of the canton,” said Judith Koller of Appenzell tourism.
The office is selling package holidays, which include accommodation and guided tours of the shows as well as an introduction to the curious custom (see “in brief”).
Whatever the custom, if it has to do with cows, Appenzell men rise at dawn to put on their fanciest dress: red embroidered jackets, fancy braces decorated with embossed silver plates, felt hats ringed with ribbons and flowers, spoon-shaped ear rings, yellow trousers, knee high white stockings and black buckled shoes.
The cows come next. They are cleaned and groomed for the cattle show, and the prize animals are given the honour of wearing the largest cowbells hung from embroidered leather collars.
When it finally gets underway, the loud procession along the roads stops traffic. People watch out their windows, with a few even coming out to greet the men with offerings of wine.
Nowhere do the clichés about Swiss rural life ring truer than in Appenzell.
“Agriculture is still important for Herisau and this part of Appenzell,” Peter Witschi, head of Herisau’s historical association, says during the cattle show in that town.
“While the number of people working in agriculture has decreased, farming still accounts for ten per cent of the workforce,” he adds. “And many others still feel bound to their farming roots.”
It is hard for Witschi, or anybody else for that matter, to be heard over the yodelling and cacophonous chorus of the few hundred mooing cows jostling for a spot in the town square.
A panel of judges, experienced farmers all, move among them, sizing the animals up for their milk producing potential and breeding qualities.
Sepp Fuster says well-shaped udders are key indicators. “It’s not impossible for a cow with an ugly udder to give milk,” he confides, “but a nicely shaped one will always deliver the goods.”
Prizes are awarded to the cow with the nicest udder, the cow considered the most beautiful, and even for lifetime achievement.
A lifetime achievement award was presented in Herisau this year to Nadia and her proud owner, Willi Preisig.
Preisig has milked her for all she is worth. She has given more than 100,000 litres of milk over her 12-year career.
Preisig says the cattle show is a chance for dairy farmers to compare notes on breeding.
“If you only see your own cows, you’ll never know how good they really are,” he says.
And indeed, more than a few farmers are keen to learn the secret of Nadia’s success.
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Herisau
Cattle shows are taking place across Appenzell until the middle of October.
The cattle processions, accompanied by men and children in traditional costume, usually begin about 8 or 9am, followed by judging in the town or village squares.
Many of the events are accompanied by farmers’ markets, children’s events and folklore shows.
The package offered by the Appenzell tourist board (see link under “related sites”) costs SFr98 ($72) per night per person and includes accommodation in a three-star hotel, and guided tour of the cattle show.
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