Wild haymaking in Central Switzerland


Category:
Knowledge concerning nature
  • Traditional craftsmanship
Canton:

Description

Each summer for centuries, men in Central Switzerland have climbed from the mountain valleys to the high slopes in order to cut the grass for hay production. Due to their topographic features, these meadows cannot be used for grazing animals, treated with fertiliser or cultivated in any significant way, and as a result the plants they produce are completely natural. The process of harvesting these grasses and herbs is known as 'wild haymaking'. The grass on these high alpine meadows can usually be reaped only with scythes. If possible, it is then transported to the valley using hay ropes that the farmers install themselves. The bales – which are known as 'Burdenen' or 'Pinggel' and often weigh over 50 kg – hurtle to the valley floor at speeds of up to 100 km/h, making an unusual whooshing noise that can be heard for miles around. In the 17th century, poor farmers actively promoted the intensive use of the wild hay areas for economic reasons, but in recent times, this traditional alpine farming practice has taken on a more environmentally friendly note. Wild haymaking is practised mainly in the mountainous regions of Central Switzerland. Almost of third of all wild haymaking meadows in Switzerland are to be found in the canton of Uri, which has been actively promoting the practice for a number of years.

Image gallery

  • Rophaien near Flüelen, Uri: Augustin Gisler reaping the hay with a scythe in steep terrain, 2008 © Michael Dipner, Basel
  • Rophaien near Flüelen, Uri: a wild haymaker shoulders a bale, 2010 © Michael Dipner, Basel
  • Silenen, Uri: the Bauer family building two 'Tristen' (stacks of hay constructed around a pole) for storage, 2010 © Edy Epp
  • Haldigrat (NW): a wild haymaker in a farmer's shirt carrying a bale of hay on his back, 2009 © Kurt Mathis
  • Transporting the hay on a chairlift from Haldigrat down to the Alpboden station, Nidwalden, 2009 © Kurt Mathis
  • A Muotathal wild haymaker with rucksack, scythe and rake about to set off into the alpine meadows. © Xaver Föhn-Gasser, Ibach (SZ)
  • A depiction of a wild haymaker in a guide to Engelberg, 1889
  • Wild haymakers inspecting the steep grassy meadows, Heubrig above Muotathal, around 1952. © Xaver Föhn-Gasser, Ibach (SZ)
  • A hay rope with loading station, Heubrig above Muotathal, around 1952. © Xaver Föhn-Gasser, Ibach (SZ)
  • Rophaien near Flüelen, Uri: Augustin Gisler reaping the hay with a scythe in steep terrain, 2008 © Michael Dipner, Basel
  • Rophaien near Flüelen, Uri: a wild haymaker shoulders a bale, 2010 © Michael Dipner, Basel
  • Silenen, Uri: the Bauer family building two 'Tristen' (stacks of hay constructed around a pole) for storage, 2010 © Edy Epp
  • Haldigrat (NW): a wild haymaker in a farmer's shirt carrying a bale of hay on his back, 2009 © Kurt Mathis
  • Transporting the hay on a chairlift from Haldigrat down to the Alpboden station, Nidwalden, 2009 © Kurt Mathis
  • A Muotathal wild haymaker with rucksack, scythe and rake about to set off into the alpine meadows. © Xaver Föhn-Gasser, Ibach (SZ)
  • A depiction of a wild haymaker in a guide to Engelberg, 1889
  • Wild haymakers inspecting the steep grassy meadows, Heubrig above Muotathal, around 1952. © Xaver Föhn-Gasser, Ibach (SZ)
  • A hay rope with loading station, Heubrig above Muotathal, around 1952. © Xaver Föhn-Gasser, Ibach (SZ)

References and documentation

Publications
  • Michael Blatter: Die Veränderung der alpinen Landwirtschaft zwischen dem 14. und 18. Jahrhundert – am Beispiel des «Wildheuen» in Engelberg. In: Der Geschichtsfreund 163. Stans, 2010, p. 169-188

  • Alois Blättler: Alpwirtschaft und Wildheuen im Erstfeldertal. In: Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde 42. Basel, 1945, p. 129-163

  • Michael Dipner: Wildheuen: Alpine Tradition vor dem Comeback? Am Beispiel Uri. In: Die Alpen no. 10, vol. 82. Bern, 2006, p. 56-58

  • Sepp Hess: Wenn dr Schiäs öifgaad... Über das Bergheuen in Engelberg (Engelberger Dokumente 22). Engelberg, 2002

  • Erich Langjahr: Das Erbe der Bergler. Ein Wildheuerfilm. Root, 2006

  • Anni Waldmeier-Brockmann: Sammelwirtschaft in den Schweizer Alpen. Eine ethnographische Studie. Wildheu. In: Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde 38/39. Basel, 1940/1941-1942, p. 219-269 und 1-39

  • Beat Bieri: Der Wildheuer - Senkrecht über dem Urnersee. SRF-Dokumentarfim. Zürich, 2018

Multimedia
  • Walker, Georg; Walker Othmar: Wildheuen mit s'Butzäkaris. DVD, 60 Minuten. Gurtnellen 2009.

Documentation