Cows under the hammer

Fri, 04. Sep. 2020

In early August, Ueli Bach hosted the 44th Viehversteigerung (cattle auction) at Gummalp. A popular family tradition, GstaadLife went along to see what it was all about.

In early August, Ueli Bach hosted the 44th Viehversteigerung (cattle auction) at Gummalp. A popular family tradition, GstaadLife went along to see what it was all about.

Back in 1976, Ueli Bach’s father decided it made no sense to move a herd from its mountain pastures into the valley just to get auctioned. So he decided to bring the sale to the cows.

Today it is a popular event, attended by farmers from across the cantons of Valais, Fribourg and Bern. Unsurprisingly it is a crowd-pleaser with tourists, too.

Gummalp
The drive to Gummalp – eight kilometres of steep, winding roads up into the mountains – is not for the faint-hearted, but was worth the effort.

The auction was held in a broad clearing a few metres up the hill from the improvised car park. The focal point of the set-up was the auctioneer’s podium. Shaded from the blazing sun by a large umbrella, it stood in the centre of a hay-strewn ring. Around the clearing were rows of benches, two barns, refreshment stalls, a large marquee seating area and a stall selling farming paraphernalia.

Going once, going twice…
At twelve the spectacle began.

First, Ueli Bach introduced each animal. There were 70 cows (mostly Simmental) listed in the catalogue. Speaking with pride and calling each cow by name – Irina, Angelina, Geraldine, Lara – he listed their history, parentage and other vital statistics such as their milk capacity!

Then came the turn of Alois Wyss, a charismatic auctioneer who has worked at the Gummalp auction for years. Like a conductor leading an orchestra, he used flattery, humour and boundless energy to encourage the “world class” crowd to place their bids. As Wyss spoke, each cow was led into the ring on a rope halter by one of two (clearly very strong) handlers who wore traditional Swiss clothing teamed with cool sunglasses. There appeared to be three personality types among the cows as they approached their turn in the spotlight: those that moved at speed, accomplishing three or more circuits during the bidding; those that were more docile, strolling calmly behind the handler; and finally the curmudgeons (or prima donnas?) of the herd, who dug their hooves in and required extensive coaxing to so much as step into the ring.

Home time
As with any auction, not every cow was sold. Achieving the right price for the livestock is considered more important than making a sale. On average cows fetched between CHF 3,000 – 5,000, while a very good cow can reach CHF 5,000 – 7,000.

Most cows remain in the Alps until the end of August, when they are led back into the valley and transported to their new homes.

ANNA CHARLES

 

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