Bidding on Bessie: Cash Cows at Alp Gumm's Annual Auction
Photo: Andrea Clarkson
By: Alexis Munier
Lerissa is a real beauty: medium height and build, good muscle tone, creamy white udders and eyes that could melt the heart of any farmer in the Saanenland. Add her excellent milk output and sweet-as-pie demeanour, and it’s no wonder she outsold all the other heifers at auction. With a selling price of 8000 francs, Lerissa took top honours at Alp Gumm’s annual cow sale Saturday, August 3.
But Lerissa was just one of approximately 50 young cows that were sold at the auction, held each year by Ueli Bach of Feutersoey.
The Bach’s auction traditionally marks the opening of the cow auction series in the Saanenland and the Simmental. A farmer with a head for business, Bach buys up heifers (young cows who have yet to give birth) in the winter and early spring for his dairy farm high up at Alp Gumm.
The 130 cows and some three dozen heifers spend the summer months grazing on sweet grass and herbs on Gumm’s meadows, producing vast amounts of milk. The cheese produced from this milk, known as Alpkäse, is typically aged three years to produce the region’s famous Hobelkäse.
Alp Gumm is indeed one of the largest producers of cheese in the Saanenland, with 8 – 10 tonnes produced and sold to the Molkerei Gstaad at the end of each summer season. This year, due to a later summer season – snow until June – only about 6 tonnes were produced.
“It’s a tradition that started very small with my grandfather,” says Ueli Bach. “Over time, I’ve expanded the business to produce more cheese than any other local Alp.
As the summer comes to a close, the cows are sold at auction to eager farmers. Some of the cows will remain on Alp Gumm until the ‘Ausfahrt’ at the end of August, while others will be immediately transported to their new homes. Cows that don’t sell at the auction will generally find buyers in the autumn.
If the 3000-franc average price tag seems steep, there’s a bonus – nearly all the cows are pregnant, making it a ‘two-for-one’ special of sorts. Bach spends much of the spring before the cows are taken to the Alp purchasing the best local bull sperm to insure Alp Gumm carries on producing fine lines of dairy cows.
As for the Bach family line, will his three grown daughters who all work in other fields follow in his footsteps?
“I’d like to think at least one of them will,” laughs Bach, “but maybe one of them will find a man with a little cowboy in him!”