ABOVE SEA LEVEL
ABOVE SEA LEVEL
Every year, when the weather turns cold in the Ziller Valley in Austria and the first snow covers the jagged Alpine peaks, Gerald and his son Hans-Jörg get their cabin ready for winter on the Stackerlalm. Then they herd their cattle back down to the valley from the 1850m Alm and leave it to the chamois. But as soon as the snow melts again, they go back up. That’s how it is, says Gerald Hotter, it’s what we do every year.
THE TRADITIONAL WAY
The family has owned the pasture and cabin for centuries. It’s a tradition here that when fodder is made in summer, the Hotters are up on the Alm with their cattle. The milk here is the richest of the whole year, says Gerald. It has the most ingredients and the most fat because the cows only eat good grass. And the 120 hectare pasture has plenty of that for the Hotters’ thirteen dairy cows and nine calves.
Life used to be hard up on the Alm. There were no trails or roads, and people’s backs did all the work, as Hans-Jörg remembers his grandfather saying. The dung was taken away in baskets, the pastures were cut with a scythe, and the hay was tied into bales that you carried to the shed on your head. Today you muck out with a machine, and you drive the hay away with a machine too. That’s made life much easier.
IN THE OLD DAYS THERE WAS NO ROAD, NOTHING. YOU CARRIED EVERYTHING ON YOUR BACK AND YOU WALKED. IT WAS VERY HARD WORK PHYSICALLY.
THE ROAD CHANGES EVERYTHING
The road up the Alm was built twelve years ago and has transformed farming as much as machinery. Before, everything had to be taken up on a primitive cable car and the cattle were herded up on foot along a difficult trail. Now everything is far more accessible. If an animal has an accident and breaks a leg, says Hans-Jörg, you can take it down to the valley at any time. You don’t have to slaughter it on site for want of a better alternative.
BACON FOR WEARY HIKERS
These days, the only people who come up from the valley on foot are hikers. It takes them about two-and-a-half hours. At the Stackerlalm, they enjoy a break over a platter of home made bacon, cheese, bread and butter, served by their alpine host Gerald. The Hotters keep four pigs each year for bacon and pork, and Gerald’s wife even makes the Zirbenschnaps, a resinous local speciality, herself. Gerald says more and more people are rediscovering authentic natural produce and visit the Alm for that reason alone.
AS HIGH AS HE CAN
The family enjoys living at one with nature. Hans-Jörg finds cities interesting but says he couldn’t imagine living in one himself. He says that when he drinks his morning coffee, he needs the mountains and the views you get up here. On November mornings, when nature is ’dying’, he often drives up as high as he can and looks at the landscape through his binoculars. That’s how Hans-Jörg relaxes.
Soon it will be time to go back down to the valley. Gerald says you’re glad to go back down when autumn comes. But when spring comes around, the Hotters will return to their pastures. When the snow slowly recedes in May, they will herd their cattle back up the road. First to the Aste, their alpine pasture at 1400 m, then right up to 1850 metres above sea level, back home to the Stackerlalm.