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Alp master of the Alpe Wöster in Lech (Vorarlberg)

A Senn (or Senner ; female form: Sennerin ) and holder (bairisch) Älpler (Swiss) in Carinthia also Brentler called, is a shepherd , the most on a Alm (Alpweide), also Senne called the cattle from other Farmers (mostly only during the summer) tend and turn their milk into cheese and often butter .

Field of work

The corresponding dairy hut or dairy is also called an alpine hut or simply the alpine pasture for short in the high mountains . The alpine pasture in the high mountains ( Alps ) is only possible during the summer months, mostly only in the months of July to September. The lower-lying alpine dairies and mountain pastures are called Maiensäss in Switzerland because they can often be used as early as May, before the cattle can be driven to the higher regions in the alpine lift .

In the real sense, only milk-processing shepherds are referred to as dairy farmers. If there is only young cattle or gold cattle (i.e. cows carrying cows) on the alpine pasture, as is common today in the German and Austrian Alps, one speaks of a shepherd or shepherd , more specifically of the keeper or oxner. The female form holder is also quite common, in the Upper Bavarian language area one also speaks of the Almerer . The dairy farmer as an all-rounder can be found on smaller alpine pastures - on larger alpine pastures there is a division of labor, the milk is processed there by the cheese maker.

The dairyman are mostly employees of the cooperative that owns, manages and uses the mountain pastures. Your wages are partly dependent on the yield and are also paid in kind: the dairy farmer can keep some of the mountain cheese produced on the alpine pasture , consume or sell it himself.

Gender relations and employment

Dairy girl at Viehscheid in Kleinwalsertal

Whether women or men were employed on the alpine pastures as dairymaid varied greatly according to region and time. According to the Austrian Alpine Survey of 1950, twice as many men as women were employed on the Alpine pastures, a total of 18,411. In the Hohe Tauern , East Tyrol , Pongau and Lungau , however, the dairy was largely done by women.

In the Prince Archbishopric of Salzburg , the Catholic Church strictly forbade the employment of women on the alpine pastures in 1734 and 1756. Since this could not be enforced, it was decreed in 1767 that young and unmarried women are no longer allowed to the alpine pastures. Before the procession, the farmers had to introduce the girls and women who wanted to the alpine pastures to the clergy and obtain their permission, which was known as dairymaid wrapping .

In Switzerland , dairy was a traditional male profession. For a long time, the stay of women on the alp was considered unfortunate. Many legends, stories, fears and prejudices arose from the long womenless summer times of previous generations on the alpine pastures, including about the Sennentuntschi , a woman's doll made of straw, which was made by a group of herdsmen to amuse the pure male company and them after they came to life was awakened, instead of the desired love and body joys only brought suffering and devastation.

After the Second World War, the employment of dairy farmers fell sharply, for example by two thirds in the Mallnitz Valley between 1950 and 1990. Many alpine pastures were abandoned.


Since the Neolithic , milk processing has been part of the female workforce, and even on the alpine pastures, milk was still processed exclusively by women in the Middle Ages . That changed in the early modern times in the so-called Swiss Shepherd's Land, a landscape on the northern edge of the Alps that stretched from the Gruyère district to the Bernese Oberland to central Switzerland around Lake Lucerne . This area, which was sparsely populated at the time and was populated late, was characterized by high rainfall and large alpine pastures. It offered ideal conditions for livestock farming. At the same time, the demand for long- life hard cheese increased; for it was the main provisions for the sailors. This long- life cheese can only be made in the rennet dairy , not in the sour cheese dairy . While sour cheese can only be kept for a good six months, even if stored in a cool place, the shelf life of rennet cheese is significantly longer. No special knowledge is required for the sour cheese making, the rennet dairy for personal use had to be learned. But the rennet dairy for export became a decidedly specialist activity and the dairy farmer a highly paid and much sought-after specialist.

In addition, the rennet dairy could only be operated profitably with a herd size of at least four cows. In the Middle Ages, however, most farmers in the Alps had only one or at most two cows. This minimum size was only reached when the farms specialized in dairy farming and largely gave up arable farming.

This made the dairy in the Swiss shepherd's country exclusively a male domain. Insults like “Milchbengel”, “Kuesbueben” and “Kueswenze” show how unheard of that was back then. In addition, the dairymen were seen as effeminate . But this example also showed that in Central European farming societies, economically particularly important work ended up in the hands of men.

In other Alpine regions, smallholder agriculture dominated as a subsistence economy for centuries . In the Eastern Alps , the dairy initially remained a women's domain. It was only with the fierce resistance of the Catholic Church against the employment of dairy women in the 18th century that the proportion of men on the mountain pastures increased. In addition, in the wake of industrialization in the 19th century, many companies in the Eastern Alps also specialized in dairy farming, so that processes similar to those in Swiss shepherds took place and women were increasingly displaced from the alpine pastures. However, never as much as in Switzerland.

A special form in the western foothills of Switzerland from the 16th to the 19th century were the nomadic cows , who were tenants of herds of cows and who worked on their own account.

Perception in the 19th century

In the 19th century the dairymaid stood for originality, freedom and free love in romantic literature and painting . This is not entirely wrong, as the dairymen and women on the lonely mountain pastures could escape the strict social controls exercised by the church .


The indispensable shepherd dog or herding dog of the herdsman has been declared an independent dog breed as the Bernese Mountain Dog or the Appenzeller Mountain Dog .

Senn is also a common family name .


See also


  • Armin Kratzert : The dairyman. Journey in 7 days from the Alm to Passau. A song. Viechtach 1998

Web links

Wiktionary: Senn  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Senner  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Prentler, Brentler: Senner, Almhalter, Schwaiger. In: ostarrichi.org. Retrieved November 20, 2016 .
  2. a b c Michael Jungmeier and Judith Drapela: Almen, Hohe Tauern National Park, Wissenschaftliche Schriften, Matrei in Osttirol 2004, pp. 60–64
  3. Michael Jungmeier and Judith Drapela: Almen, Hohe Tauern National Park, Wissenschaftliche Schriften, Matrei in Osttirol 2004, p. 66
  4. Werner Bätzing : Die Alpen, Munich 2015, CH Beck, pp. 71–75.