A - Z 2020 Switzerland - Kuhfladen (Cow Pie)

Welcome back to Switzerland's A - Z; today's topic is Kuhfladen, German for cow pie.

Make no mistake, I won't be talking about baked goods here. A cow pie is simply a nice word for droppings. Or poop. So apologies in advance if this is a shitty post ;-)

I'll try to still keep it appetizing though by mainly talking about our cows and related customs. 

If Switzerland had to pick a national animal, the cow would be a strong contender - marmots, ibex and the St Bernard dog being competitors.

In 2019 Switzerland had 1.5 million cows (remember the human population is only 8.5 million, so that's a lot a cows!), however, with increasing productivity, the number of cows - especially of dairy cows - has been dropping significantly. Milk production per cow has doubled from the 1970s.

Yes, sadly, with milk being a commodity, cows have to be more efficient. So much so that farmers observe that the bigger the cows grow, the more food and nutritional supplements they need, and the less healthy and energetic they are. The alpine ascent in spring alone may become a strenuous endeavor. 

Alpine ascent?

In spring the farmers and their helpers dress in ancient costumes, gather their cows, strap gigantic bells on them and take them up to their "summer camp". This procedure - while always been a tradition - has become a colourful tourist attraction, accompanied by a festival offering food stands and musical performance, think yodelling and alphorn!

During spring and summer, cows eat fresh grass and plants such as gold clover, milk kraut, daisies and bell flowers, which increases the beta-carotene level in the cows' milk. Beta-carotene is the natural pigment that gives carrots their orange color. As a result the milk produces cheese with a deeper yellow color and a richer flavor, whereas in winter the cows' diet consists mostly in hay, and beta-carotene levels drop, so cheese made from this milk will be paler.

The cows stay at the alps - located above the tree line - for about 100 days. Each morning the workers get up at 5am to milk the cows, take them to the pasture and make the cheese. When they come home in the evening, they milk the cows again.

In summer all the milk is turned into cheese because it's too costly to take it down to the market every day.

While the cows are up at the high meadows, the farmers back home make hay from surrounded fields. They store the hay in huts, so when the cows come home (again with an elaborate ceremony, the alpine descent) everything is ready for them to have something to munch on in winter.

My fabulous blogging friend Kate over at Mom in Zurich (check out her blog, there are so many travel ideas and other fun stuff) documented an alpine descent, aka Alpabfahrt. She kindly allowed me to use her pictures:

Photo Credit: Mom in Zurich

Every now and then unpredictable weather forces the farmers to bring their cows down early. If snow is threatening (or happening), they are known to take the cable car to get them down safely. I wish I could see that, it must be quite spectacular!

Speaking of spectacular... Meet Lovely:

"Lovely" is the name of our iconic cow that has been used for commercials for over 25 years. She plays soccer, excels at step dance or ski jumping and even experienced a moon landing - all because milk makes you and your bones so strong!

What does the guy say on the phone? "Mom, I'm stuck in the fridge" Good thing he carried a phone in his boxers ;-)

Now all kidding aside, the dairy (and meat) industry is a controversial topic. Let's talk about it for a minute. 

Let me ask you: do you like a juice steak or a tasty burger every now and then? Do you think twice about where that meat comes from? I try not to.

Have you ever seen calves and cattle running around or grazing on the field? They were being taken away from their Mom right after birth, because Mom's job is to produce milk that can be sold to us, the humans. 

If you're a mother yourself, you know how you felt emotionally and physically right after having your baby, and how you would feel if they took your newborn from you. 

So the heifers (female calves) lead a happy life until the day they are old enough to become pregnant and give birth back to back themselves. They start doing so before they are two years old!

And then there are the bobby calves. The babies that are less than 30 days old that represent a surplus to the dairy industry because they are bull calves. Rearing them would be too costly, so they are being taken away and slaughtered for low-grade products like hot dogs and frozen dinners.

The rest of the boys need to reach a weight of about 1,300 pounds (600kg), which takes 14 to 20 months. Their job is to produce meat that can be sold to us, the humans. 

The live animal transportation vehicle and the slaughterhouse are no happy places. 

Stress hormones cause a degradation of glycogen in the muscles, which affects the quality, mainly taste, color and shelf life of the meat. If your meat loses water as you brown it in your roasting pan, the animal probably died feeling stressed and frightened.

I am not an activist of any kind, I just think we should at least find out what farms our meat comes from, how the animals were raised and fed, what kind of life they were able to enjoy, and if they were slaughtered "at home" or had to travel across the country.

If you don't want to reduce your meat consumption, try to choose chicken over beef. Why? It's a question of farting and the greenhouse effect ;-) 1 kg (about two pounds) of beef produces 16 kg (35 pounds) of CO2; chicken only 4.4 kg (less than 10 pounds).

Thank you for bearing with me. Let me know how you feel about our lovely cows and please come back tomorrow. I'll take you on a trip across Switzerland, and we'll stop at some of our beautiful lakes!


  1. Oh, ok, I'm disapointed, I throught you were sharing a great recipe ;) Great post about your beautiful cows, love their black and white robe.
    K is for Kaleidoscope

  2. We have a lot of sustainable, organic farms in Maine so there are some great local places to get more humanely grown beef. I remember when I was in my undergraduate program back in the 80s, I read Diet for a Small Planet which I think was written in 1971. Even back then they knew if we could all stop eating meat the planet would be better off but that's unlikely to happen. I like the concept of going meatless at least a few days a week. I think that can have can have positive impact. Weekends In Maine

  3. I've always felt sad for the bobby calves. Seems such a shame to slaughter them.

  4. Ha! Am very familiar with kuhfladen - our neighbors keep cows behind our property, although their beef cattle, not dairy. Here in the States, I've heard that commercial dairy farmers have had to dump out thousands of gallons of milk since restaurants and schools have closed down due to Covid-19. That seems like a terrible waste - so many kids are homeless and could use it! But as always, money is king. Sigh.

    I do love meat, but I also don't believe in factory farms where the animals are kept tightly packed in, especially true of chicken farms. The issue is demand and most people not raising their own meat or only buying from grocery chains and not local farms. I get almost 99% of my meat from local small family farmers. Some even butcher their own meat, so the cows and chickens are happy and cared for and loved right to the end.

  5. Great post on Swiss cows! Now, I understand why their cheese is so good :p I did know what a cow pie was since I grew up on farms, but didn't know the German word for them. Thank you for sharing! Sending love. Jaime


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