Swiss cattle procession bids for UNESCO heritage status

Alpine cattle processions are enthusiastically celebrated in many villages each year. Keystone/eddy Risch

The Swiss tradition of taking cattle up to alpine pasture has been put forward for inclusion on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

This content was published on April 1, 2022

From the beginning of May to mid-June, farmers herd more than a quarter of a million cows from their valley farms to mountain meadows – and then back them down again in early autumn. 

This is because alpine pastures offer perfect grazing for cows to produce the milk for a variety of famous Swiss cheeses.

On average cattle climb about 590 metres (1,936 ft), covering 16.3 kilometres (10.1 miles) as the crow flies – a figure that mounts higher on the often steep, serpentine trails.

Switzerland wants the tradition, which dates to the 14th Century, to be recognised globally as an integral part of the country’s culture. UNESCO is expected to announce its verdict by the end of 2023.

Seven and counting

The Intangible Cultural Heritage list already contains seven Swiss traditionsExternal link, including the annual Basel carnival, the craft of watchmaking, the Vevey winegrowers festival and the art of scaling mountains (alpinism).

In submitting its proposal to include cow herding, the Federal Office of Culture pointed to the handing down of traditions such as cheese making and songs.

In addition, the alpine cattle procession, particularly the autumn descent, has turned into a social event in many communities that often attracts tourists.

They are treated to the sight of cows wearing floral crowns being led through town by yodelling farmers, who are also dressed up in traditional attire. 

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