1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alp

ALP. To the Swiss dwellers in the plains the term “the Alps” (q.v.) signifies the high snowy mountains which they see on the horizon, but to the dwellers in the valleys which nature has carved in the sides of those high mountains, the word alp means exclusively the summer pastures situated on the slopes above the valley, though below the snow-line. In fact such pastures are essential to the inhabitants of pastoral alpine districts, for the fodder to be obtained in the valley itself would not suffice to support the number of cattle which are required to afford sustenance to the inhabitants. Such mountain pastures, made use of only during the summer months, are of almost immemorial antiquity, cases occurring in 739, 868 and 999, while they are found in all parts of the Alpine chain. In France and Italy the system is badly managed, as also in Tirol (where the local name is Almen), where, too, these pastures have in the course of years been largely alienated by the valley inhabitants, and belong to large villages or small towns almost in the plains. But in Switzerland, and especially in the German-speaking mountain districts, the alps are the centre round which the entire pastoral life of the inhabitants turns. It is reckoned that in that country there are now about 4778 alps in all, the capital value of which is put at rather over £3,000,000. Of these alps about 45% are owned by the communes (exclusively or jointly) and 54% by individuals, the remaining 1% being the property of the state or a few great monasteries. In the case of the alps belonging to the Swiss communes, it must be borne in mind that “commune” here does not signify either Einwohnergemeinden or Bürgergemeinden, but a special class called Alpgemeinden (for instance in the well-known valley of Grindelwald there is one Einwohnergemeinde, but seven Alpgemeinden). These Alpgemeinden are composed of the persons who have a right to send cattle up to any particular alp in summer, this right being attached (in different places) either to certain plots of ground in the valley or certain houses in the village, or to certain persons. In any case the owners of an alp fix the greatest number of cows which it can support during the summer without being permanently damaged. The plot of ground which can support a single cow (or 2 heifers, 3 calves or sheep, 4 pigs or 8 goats) is called a Kuhstoss (of which there are 270,389 in Switzerland), and it is in these terms that the productiveness of the alp is reckoned. Sometimes a particular alp, or a portion of it, is reserved exclusively to heifers and calves, or to goats (in this case it is the loftier portion). On each alp there are several sets of huts wherein live the cow-herds and cheese-makers (the latter are called Sennen or Fruitiers), the cattle being generally left in the open. The cattle, with their attendants, shift from one to the other of these sets of huts, between the end of June and the end of September, making but one sojourn at the highest huts, but two at the lower. The proper name for these huts is Sennhütten or chalets, but the latter term is incorrectly applied also to houses in the village below. The milk given each day by each cow is entered in a book, and then made into butter and cheese, the cow-herds and cheese-makers having the right to a certain proportion of milk, butter and cheese for their own sustenance, and receiving a small sum per head of cattle for looking after them. At the end of the season the net amount of cheese produced by milk from each cow is handed over to the owner of that particular cow, and is carried down by him to his home in the valley from the hut (a small building on four stone legs to secure the contents from mice) wherein the cheeses have been stored since they were made—this hut is called a Speicher. As the owners of Kuhstössen may exchange them provisionally for others on another alp, or may hire them out (they can only sell them with the plot or house to which they are attached), the persons who in any given summer actually send cows up to an alp (these form the Besetzerschaft) need not necessarily be absolutely identical with the true owners of these rights or Besitzerschaft. Hay is never mown on the true alps save in spots which are not easily accessible to cattle (in very high spots it belongs to the mower, and is then called Wildheu), but hay-crops are made on the Mayens or Voralpen, the lowest pastures, situated between the homesteads and the true alps; these Voralpen are individual (not communal) property, though probably in olden days cut out of the true Alpen. In the winter the cattle consume the hay mown on these Voralpen (which, to a certain extent, are grazed in late spring and early autumn, that is, before and after the summer sojourn on the alps), either living in the huts on the Voralpen while they consume it, or in the stable attached to the dwelling-houses in the village; in the barn is stored the hay mown on the homestead and on the meadows near the village, which may belong to the owner of the cattle. The whole system is well organized and is well understood by the natives, though not always by strangers who visit the Alps in summer.

See John Ball, Hints and Notes for Travellers in the Alps (article x., especially pp. lvii.-lxv.); new edition, London, 1899; Felix Anderegg, Illustriertes Lehrbuch für die gesamte schweiz. Alpwirtschaft (Bern, 1897–1898); the Schweiz-Alpstatistik (each volume devoted to the alps of a single Swiss canton); and A. v. Miaskowski’s two books, Die schweiz. Allmend (Leipzig, 1879), and Die Verfassung der Land-, Alpen- und Forstwirtschaft der Schweiz (Basel, 1878).  (W. A. B. C.)