I was inspired to write this article after a walk up Firstalm with friends last Saturday. Due to the beautiful weather, large groups of people were wandering up the to Firstalm for lunch. As locals call it, the “alpine lunch rush”. From the animals perspective the volume of noise and people increased by ten fold compared to the weekly 5 days of virtual isolation. Monday through Friday in most of the year tourism is very light so the 2 days of weekend can be rather a shock.
Every effort by the farmer is made to keep his animals protected. Where it is possible, a portable electric fence is installed but even that is not deterrent enough to keep people at a safe distance and not entering the animal’s “personal space”.
On our short hike I was shocked when I witnessed a man leave the path and approach a sleeping cow. The cow, not knowing what this human wanted, quickly stood up. Then the well meaning man called to his wife and young child to come join him for a photo. Another shocking sight was a family with a young child who were walking through a remote pasture area on Spitzingsee. I am not sure what they did to awaken the cow herd but they had not one but the entire herd racing behind them. In their defense they did keep their cool and did not scream or run. It was a scary thing to watch. There are more than enough safe paths that this cross country excursion was not necessary.
I too have made this same mistake when I first moved to Schliersee. My husband and my dog decided to take a walk in Valepp before we realized not every walk we did in winter is safe to take when the cows are free in the pastures. At one point I watched while my husband and dog were chased out of the pasture by 15 young bulls. My dog was so terrified he managed to defecate and run all at the same time. It is funny now but neither of them would trust me to lead a walk for a few years.
So let me lay out a few suggestions and opinions. We have to remember that our farms are not petting zoos. Also remember with the volume of visitors in tourist season heightens the fear and stress level of our animal residents.
Here are a few of my observations and lessons I have learned.
- We say we love animals but each time we approach them inappropriately, we put them in danger. They do not enjoy our affection as much as we enjoy giving them affection. We have to check our motivation. It is more about our needs than theirs.
- We want to protect the rights of animals to live freely during the Alm season and your “Selfie” is not worth them loosing their rights. Learn how to zoom with your camera phone to keep at a safe distance.
- Cows are not 600-800 kilo Teddy Bears. These are living, breathing, giant animals not stuffed animals waiting to be snuggled. They haven’t been raised to cuddle.
- We come to the country to experience farm life, we say we have a passion for all living things but we must respect our local farmers and protect their delicate way of living.
- Some advice from this Recovering Well Meaning Animal Lover, we all love the critters but in our excitement to have a close personal connection with the 4 legged residents, we endanger them.
- Another false belief I see expressed by the actions of visitors to our bucolic land is that when the people are on vacation so are the dogs.That dogs are safe to be off leash here because it is the country. This is very wrong for many reasons but I will give you just two. Your visiting dog may feel the need to chase or hunt one of our many free range 4 legged residents thus endangering both farm animal and dog. And another good reason to respect the leash law is that you are more aware when your dog decides to defecate. So you will know that you must pick up after your dog. I know for many dog owners, the idea that if cows can relieved themselves here then it must be ok for their canine side kick to also leave a little something behind. Just remember, your dog feces is much more dangerous than a cows waste. Dog droppings cause an illness in cows which causes miscarriages.
- Mama horses, Mama sheep and Mama cows, there is little difference from mama bears when there are young animals in the pastures. The protection instinct is strong in all animals and that includes our beautiful local Miesbacher Fleckvieh breed. Remember to give them their space so they never feel threatened.
- Now place yourself in a free range animals perspective. You are alone with your little family and community on a wild mountain top. Your senses are on full force to be aware of anything that proposes a threat to your group. Most of the week things go with the flow. It is peaceful and quiet but on those two days of the week, everything changes. Imagine this feeling of threat or danger with loud noises and laughter. Imagine the possible negative affect it can have on the milk and cheese products when the cows are unnerved and upset. The weather can be danger enough, lets not in our ignorance be added worries to our local farmer and his livestock.
So the key is RESPECT. Stay a safe distance and arrive to the Alms for your local cheese laden lunches and be thankful to our famers and their animals who make all this possible.
American artist, photographer and professional wanderer who, after 20 years of roaming, put down roots in a 100 year old Bavarian farmhouse and fell in love with the Alpine village and its residents (both 2-legged and 4-legged).