A wide cloud cover lies over the Zurich when I took the train from the main station towards Bern in the early morning. With my coffee in my hand, I went over my notes again. "What actually is an "Alpabzug" and how did it come about?"
The term "Alpabzug" is used in the Alpine region to describe the transfer of livestock from the mountains down to the valley where they spend the winter in the stables of the farms. The period of time during which they move to the valley is determined by the absence of grass growth or cold spells and varies regionally between mid-September and mid-October.
In many areas, the herds for the downhill grazing are artistically decorated and the downhill grazing is combined with music and dance events. These festivities used to be the end of living on the alp in September or October. Today, these "parades" are well-known and popular tourist attractions. One of the most famous alpine parades in Switzerland is, for example, the "Prättigauer Alp Spektakel".
In 2020, they will celebrate 15 years of "Prätigauer Alp Spektakel". Up to 100 decorated animals are expected. The event is linked to many attractions, such as: Swiss Cheese tasting, Alpine and speciality market, animal exhibitions, petting zoo, tent festival, international Alpine beard meeting or a cattle spectacle.
"Next stop Spiez!", the announcement interrupted my thoughts and I noticed that the sun was back and a wonderful winter day was looming. In Spiez, I took the bus up the mountain until I reached a small village called Aeschi. After some initial orientation difficulties, I approached my actual destination: the Lama & Alpaca Farm of Arnold and Toni Luginbühl.
When I arrived, I was welcomed by Arnold, who was preparing fresh firewood. Our first conversation took place in the middle of the Lama and Alpaca herd, which currently has a size of 300 animals. I soon realized that I definitely had to defend my notebook from the curious lama called Lisa and her buddies. Arnold dispelled my concerns that maybe one of the lamas could spit at me. This is only a myth and only happens when they want to defend their young or when they have been raised the wrong way and consider humans as competition. After these reassuring words, Arnold started explaining how the connection between alpacas and an "Alpabzug" came about:
"It was on my trip around the world in 1991 when I came to Canada and saw my first large herd of lamas. From that moment on, the idea that this should also be possible in Switzerland never left me.
In 1994, I bought 10 lama females and then learned about the keeping and requirements of the animals in Canada and the USA. In 1996 Uli Lippl joined me and together we expanded the herd. In 2000, we imported a herd of 200 alpacas from North America for a breeder in England. In Switzerland, we took care of these animals for 22 months before they left for their final destination in England. After this first successful attempt, my brother Toni also decided to become involved in alpaca farming. To create a new herd, we were able to import animals from Chile and Peru in 2004 and 2005. From this our own herd was formed, whose animal population currently amounts to 150 lamas and 150 alpacas.
Over the years, a number of farmers became interested in keeping lamas and alpacas so that I developed a network in Switzerland. For this purpose, I offer a course with the potential keepers to teach them the necessary knowledge about the animals. I am conducting this course because the well-being of the animals is important to me. Furthermore, such a course is mandatory for keeping lamas and alpacas. Besides the courses, I also sell the wool of the animals, from which warm clothes can be produced. In addition, about 30 to 40 animals from the herd are brought to a local butcher each year. The meat can then be bought on our farm or is sold to regional restaurants.
After this impressive retrospective history about the origin, we were warming up in the cosy log cabin with a cup of coffee.
With a wonderful view of the Swiss Alps, Arnold explained to me how the alpine retreat with the alpacas and lamas came about:
"When we could rent our first alp (hut in the mountains), we brought our animals to there over the summer. Meanwhile. almost all of our animals spend their summer time up in the Kiental at 1450 metres. The possibility to manage another alp at 2000 meters, which is not possible with other animals such as cows, allows us to bring 70 additional lamas and alpacas to the alp. So in autumn, a parade with the whole herd can be celebrated. This herd is one of the largest on the European Mainland. Only in Great Britain are there even bigger ones."
And so, it became a tradition in Aeschi that every year in early summer the alpacas and llamas leave for the Alps and return together in autumn for a festive Alp departure.
I would like to thank Arnold for the guided tour and the opportunity to visit the farm.
Do you want to visit the farm as well? Follow the Link: