Sistemas Importantes del Patrimonio Agrícola Mundial (SIPAM)

Ganadería tradicional de leche de heno en el arco alpino austriaco, Austria

SIPAM desde 2023


Información detallada



Food and livelihood security

Small, family-run farms have always shaped the image of the region as they play an important role in terms of revitalising rural territories. Milk production is the main source of income for hay-milk farmers. However, many farmers also engage in other economic activities and diversify their farms with activities such as forestry, tourism, direct sales, renewable energy markets and education.

All the raw hay milk material is processed into high-quality food in the region, creating jobs in the plants and contributing to the local infrastructure. In this way, not only do the hay milk farmers benefit from the added value of hay farming, but also the entire region as a result. A wide range of products is made out of the milk such as hard cheese, semi-hard cheese, soft cheese, cream cheese and curd, sour milk cheese, drinking milk, yoghurt, butter and, byproducts of cheese production.


Preserving biodiversity, different types of meadows and pastures as well as important wildlife habitats is an essential part of hay farming. To promote biodiversity, hay milk farmers allow their meadows and pastures to mature, mowing many areas only when a variety of grasses and herbs are at full seed maturity and biodiversity is at its greatest. This is an important criterion when it comes to pollination and the continued existence of a wide variety of plants; one to two cuts less per summer are even accepted for this purpose. Almost 1,000 different grasses and herbs grow in hay milk meadows.

Mowing is done spaced out at different times. In this way, all green areas are never mowed at once and important food sources and retreats are preserved for bees, butterflies or small game. Old breeds of cattle whose milk yield would be too low for intensive agriculture are also preserved through hay farming. After all, for hay milk farmers, it is not only milk yield and meat quality that count, but also a certain cross-country capability, which is important when the animals are taken to Alpine pastures for grazing. As a result, smaller breeds are also systematically bred, which would be of little importance for industrialised agriculture.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The specific knowledge of hay milk farmers includes the different cuttings and their respective importance for the basic ration. Hay farming is characterised by a high proportion of manual labour in haymaking due to the mountainous locations and often steeply sloping land. Most of the feeding is done with grass in summer and hay in winter. The roughage portion of the dry feed annual ration must be at least 75%, and 85% for organic hay milk. The grain ration must originate from Europe and must not be genetically modified in accordance with current legislation.

In the mountainous regions, the dairy animals are taken to Alpine pastures for grazing in the summer, while they are put out to pasture on the meadow in the flat regions such as the lakeland regions of the Alpine foothills. Permanent grassland is land that is naturally used for forage production through self-propagation for at least 5 years without being converted to cropland. To produce high-quality basic ration for dairy animals from permanent grassland, haymaking techniques with modern drying equipment are essential, in addition to good plant stock and optimal harvest periods. Various drying systems are available for under-roof drying, which are now operated with renewable energy systems (photovoltaics, wood chips).

In order to be able to use the alpine pastures optimally, so-called three-stage farming is practised in some areas: Here, the families first move with their animals from the farm to a low-lying alpine pasture - the so-called Vorsäß or Niederleger at about 1,200 to 1,600 metres. In July, they move on to the Alpe or Hochleger, which is between 1,600 and 2,000 metres. There they spend the summer, before returning to the Vorsäß and then to the valley in September. This mobility between three altitudes allows the animals to be fed with fresh grass and hay all year round. In the Bregenzerwald, traditional three-stage farming is even considered an intangible UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cultures, value systems and social organisations

On the one hand, the value system of hay milk includes traditional values such as customs, traditional costumes and old recipes. On the other, UNESCO World Heritage Three-Step Alpine Transhumance and the tradition of the return from Alpine pasture are also part of this. Some elements of agriculture and Alpine farming have found their way into the regions’ customs and are reflected through the local cuisine, bells, customs and festivals in Austria.

To preserve this farming method, family-run farms and private as well as cooperative processors have joined together to form the ARGE Heumilch Österreich community: an association that brings together all 6500 hay milk farmers and the renowned 60 hay milk processors in Austria. The organisation's mission is to preserve hay farming and communicate the benefits of this sustainable farming method so that a fair milk producer price can be obtained in the marketplace.

Landscapes features

The region is located in the mountainous area along the main ridge of the Alps, as well as in the lakeland region with a small structure at its foothills. Dairy farming, which has been cultivated and developed over centuries in the Austrian Alpine arc as hay farming, has created a characteristic cultural landscape. The characteristic picture of the mountain region is characterised by more or less narrow valleys in which the settlement areas are densely populated. Around the settlement areas, in the colline stage , are the grassland areas where the dairy animals graze or the grass is harvested as fodder.

The forest is also inextricably linked to this cultural landscape. The areas that are used for haymaking today were originally mostly forests and were cleared by the ancestors to make them suitable for agriculture. This applies both to the areas in the valley, where there were originally riparian forests, and to the areas in the alpine region. How closely the forest is linked to the way of farming becomes visible wherever areas are no longer cultivated. Within a few years, these areas become overgrown, only to revert to forest within a few decades. Haymaking keeps open precisely those areas that are too unprofitable for other farming methods (especially alpine pastures).