Back home now after a fantastic trip to Europe!  I learned so many things about housing, energy and sustainability at the conference and during my travels through France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.  Over the next several months I will continue to share with you the innovative and interesting things I saw and learned during my time in Europe.

And now for a side note, not necessarily a sustainable idea, but something I pondered on my journey through Switzerland……

Switzerland is a beautiful country, and as we drove through the countryside I couldn’t help but notice that the cattle grazing on the hillsides all seemed to have a bell hanging around their necks. When we crossed the borders into Austria and Germany I didn’t see any cows with bells.   I found myself wondering why the cattle in Switzerland have bells, but the cattle grazing freely on the hillsides of Germany and Austria do not.   It is easy to deduce that a cowbell is a way to keep track of freely roaming livestock, but why didn’t I see them on other animals or in other countries?

Cows grazing in Switzerland

Further research and inquiries revealed that most of the cows in the alps (Germany and Austria included) were probably already on their “Alps holiday,” while the ones left behind were the milk cows.  At the beginning of the summer cattle are sent to the Alps where they roam about during the summer.  At the end of the summer they come down from the Alps and are adorned with fancy necklaces and hats made of flowers. This is called  Alpabzug and you will find similar festivals in Germany and Austria.   What a fun time to visit!  You can learn more about Swiss cows in this interesting article – “Why Swiss cows wear bells” – by novascotiamiss.

Look for more notes from my European adventures and time at the European Network for Housing Research Conference (ENHR 2013).

ADDENDUM: I had the opportunity to experience Almabtrieb in Austria, Viehscheid in the Allgäu region, and Alpabzug in Switzerland. Very cool! Read about it.

Swiss Farm

7 responses to “Why do Swiss Cows wear bells?”

  1. Kabir Khan Avatar

    Hi Pamela , I never knew there is so much history behind a simple cow bell, Wonderful blog, On my visit to Zurich I bought some swiss cowbells for my family, All the family friends started asking for them as these bells are very popular in our country as it was featured in a ShahRukh Khan movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, (DDLJ), These are also called as DDLJ bells in India and are very popular as a Love gift / valentines gift, When there was no way of getting them from Switzerland, I started to look online, Could not find many options at Ebay but I found a US based store called Erakart {} , I have browsed around but could not find many online stores offering this beautiful souvenir. My family treasures the cowbell, Its good to know the actual logic & history of these swiss cowbells , but on my country people still know them as DDLJ bell or the Shahrukh Kajol cowbell.

    1. Pamela Turner Avatar

      Thank you for sharing. The bells are beautiful and it is interesting how bells have been used in countries around the world.

  2. Trudi Avatar

    My sister and a Cousin still live on their family farms in Switzerland. Friends were visiting this past September and came home filled with wonderful Swiss memories.
    One farmer told my friend the reason why they wear cowbells is to find them when it is foggy.I am not quite sure that it was the right answer.One thing I know for sure the big expensive bells are kept indoors and only used for the Alpabzug. The women create the beautiful flower arrangements which are placed on the milking stools that are strapped on to the cow’s head. That is the time when the farmers /owners take out their heirloom bells. The cows get to wear them only on the way down from the meadows/ they are too heavy on the way up. Most cows get driven up and driven down from the Alps.They get their flowers put on their heads shortly before they enter the villages.
    I am Swiss living on the beautiful West Coast of B.C. Canada

    1. Pamela Turner Avatar

      Thank you so much for sharing this. Very interesting. I look forward to going over for the Alpabzug.

  3. Haniff Mohamoodally Avatar
    Haniff Mohamoodally

    very informative articles about the origin and usage ofcow bells . than you

  4. Peter Avatar

    I read somewhere in France magazine that they one way to use cowbell for prevent the snakes? Since the noise will make snakes swerving away? Can that be?

    1. Pamela Turner Avatar

      I am not sure, but snakes don’t like noise, so it could help. The large bells are usually just for show when the cattle are brought down from the alps.

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