What we did last summer: Our beautiful Alp

Just a lot of photos from last summer. Enjoy them, it’s a beautiful place…





What we did last summer: Kali – the Nepali Cattle Dog

Kali’s first evening on the alp: sharing some leftovers with co-worker dog Tosca. The beautiful Swiss Alps, on one of the few sunny days we had. During our rare, but well deserved afternoon naps, Kali keeps watch. Always need to keep an eye on tourists… Kali’s first time helping to drive the cows. I had her on a leash the first few times, because she was never around cattle like this before.


But she learned quickly… … could soon be sent after single cows. This one is Helen, the nastiest of all our cows.     She was fine with cows pretty soon, but goats are a whole different matter. Amanda is a beautiful Bündner Strahlenziege who belongs to the neighbour alp and came for a walk with us. She definitively did not want to play with Kali… Kali also joined me in counting and checkin on the heifers, who spent the summer free-ranging higher up in the mountains, over the pastures for the dairy cows. Sometimes also co-worker dog Tosca would come along. But checking on heifers is rather complicated with two dogs who’d rather hunt marmots. The heifers’ pasture grounds… Everything you can see on this side of the valley is theirs.

What we did last summer: Samira – the Unicorn

Samira – Sämi for short – was one of our dairy cows for the last summer. She’s a young Simmentaler cow.

Samira, in the centre, with some of our other Simmentaler and Rhaetian Grey cows


One day, Samira decided to climb the steep ridge on the side of the main plateau of the pasture. And as it turned out, that wasn’t a very good idea. She must’ve slipped and hit her head on the rocks. We saw her blood-smeared head when we were driving the cows back to the barn in the afternoon for the evening milking. She lost the dead horn and broke the bone core. Back at the barn we tied her up in her usual place, making sure the cows next to her couldn’t bother her, and called her owner and the vet. The vet decided it would be the best to take that horn off completely, so they sawed it off. And this is what the bone of a broken cow horn looks like:     Samira did recover fast. We kept her in the barn over-night to keep an eye on her and the next day she was already back out with the other cows. She’s a unicorn now.

What we did last summer: Rocky

Yes, this is a going to be a series of very belated posts, try not to mind the delay…

Last summer Kali and me spent 3 months working on a Swiss alp, taking care of 39 dairy cows and three calves. It was a lot of hard work, bad weather, long days, bad weather, stubborn cows and more bad weather. Seriously, we went weeks without a single day of nice weather.

It’s hard to live and work so close with strangers, without breaks or a day off to just get away from it all. So, not only did I learn how to milk a cow this summer (by machine and by hand) but I guess it also helped my social skills. At least a bit…

We’ll start this off with what surely was one of the most exiting days this summer: the day Rocky was born.

Let me introduce Nebraska, a Swiss Brown cow in the prime of her life and, as you can see here, super pregnant. Actually this was the morning before she gave birth to her calf.

She was artificially inseminated using SILIAN. SILIAN is a mix of semen from three bulls (a Simmental, a Limousin and an Angus) and is supposed to be more successful with cows who have fertility problems, because you get a 3-in-1 chance that at least one of the bulls will manage to fertilize her.


Picture from Swiss Genetics, http://www.swissgenetics.com

We were not sure what to expect of this calf, and we sure did not expect it to be this huge! While we tried to let her go about her business on her own and give her the time and space she needed, I was there the whole time, cleaning out the barn and having an eye on her.

At some point, however, it became clear that she would not be able to give birth without help. So we started to pull him out, using ropes around his legs.

There was a moment of panic when we had him halfways out. He got stuck right after we had his chest out, which can be quite dangerous, because the inner organs, unprotected by ribs int this area, can be damaged if the calf stays too long in this position. He also started to open his eyes at that point. It took all three of us pulling as hard as we could, and of course Nebraska, to get the calf out.

And here he is: Little Big Rocky.

With midwife Tosca…


Obviously, the Simmentaler bull is the father…

After an hour, we separated the two. Nebraska was allowed back out on her pasture to the other cows and Rocky was moved to the calves’ barn, where he got his own box.


This is Rocky (note the fancy ear tags!) on his last day with us, about two weeks old, before he moved to another alp, where they specialize on raising bull calves like him.