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Mayens and Alpine pastures

The mayens

The term “mayen” (1417: from the latin maius, “mai”) is typically used in Switzerland to define a mid-altitude alpine pasture with a farmhouse or another type of building, where the cattle grazes during spring and autumn.

The mayens were formerly used for the seasonal migration of cattle. It began with the “spring mayen”. Around mid-Mai, owners and their families guided their cows, goats, sheep and other animals to these mid-altitude pastures in order for them to graze in the nearby meadows. Later, in June, the animals moved to higher alpine pastures. From June until August, the farmers moved to the “summer mayen” to build the haystacks, which they stored on site.

Around mid-September, when the cattle started their descent to the lower pastures, the villagers remained in the “autumn mayen” until the children had to go back to school, generally on November 1st. The first snowfall guided the cattle back to the “winter mayen” to feed on the gathered haystacks. Everyone returned to the valley around Christmas time.

Nowadays, most mayens have been transformed and renovated. They are used as secondary residences for summer holidays. 

The alpine pastures

An alpine pasture (alpage) is defined as follows:

1. High mountain pasture

2. Grazing season spent by livestock in high pastures