Agriculture is changing, the structure is also changing in Oberallgäu. Our author thinks it’s all a matter of attitude.
Green land with grazing cows in front of mountain peaks. This picture of Oberallgäus is what is not only well received in brochures. Meadows are the basis of food for the almost 40,000 dairy cows in the Oberallgäu. Against the background of structural change and more and more vegans who rely exclusively on plant-based food, the question is, will it stay like this?
Without dairy farming, our landscape would certainly be different: how exactly is difficult to estimate. There was already talk of “Black Forestization” 25 years ago when there was concern that alpine farming might no longer be profitable. This concern proved to be unfounded: Even today – as then – there is in Allgaeu 700 Alps. The Alpwirtschaftsverein im Allgäu is currently not complaining about a lack of young people among shepherds and alpine farmers. On the contrary. The activity is required. Likewise the part-time training at the Alpwirtschaftsakademie in Immenstadt. There are still enough cattle: summer after summer, 30,000 mostly young cattle graze on the mountain pastures. This creates a species-rich region, even biologists praise it.
Oberallgäu farms with dairy cattle are declining sharply
However: Structural change is underway – also in Oberallgäu. According to Rainer Hoffmann from the Agricultural Office in 2010 Kempten 1,796 farms with dairy cattle farming, so there were only 1,217 in Oberallgäu in 2022. Relying on arable farming is not an alternative in the Oberallgäu. “There is a ban on making up,” says Hoffmann. Grassland has to remain grassland – and that’s a good thing. But scandals like the one in Bad Grönenbach recently, when farmers tortured their animals and were sentenced, cast a bad light on dairy farming in general.
This is of course not fair, but it means that dairy farmers today have to fight for their good reputation. And that’s not all: a few years ago it was about the price of milk. Farmers demanded 40 cents per liter. That is easily exceeded today. In 2022, there was talk of sometimes 50 cents and more for conventionally produced milk. The demand is great. This is probably also due to the war in Ukraine and the insecurity in the food supply. Since April 2015 there has no longer been a milk quota, i.e. a cap on the production volume. The so-called milk quota was introduced in 1984 by the then Federal Minister of Agriculture, Ignaz Kiechle (Kempten), to prevent overproduction. This is currently not an issue.
It’s a good thing that tethering will soon be a thing of the past
It is true that the focus today is on the conditions in the barn. It’s about the welfare of our livestock. It’s a good thing that tethering will soon be a thing of the past: the federal government is planning a ban from 2030. The pressure to do this comes from retailers and consumers.
But there are other aspects of livestock farming that need to be viewed critically: According to Franz Birkenmaier from “Pro Rind”, a dairy cow lives an average of 6.5 years. Then she comes to the slaughterhouse – much too soon. But in the current economy, that’s logical. Because tens of thousands of calves are born in the Oberallgäu every year, more space has to be created in the barn for the offspring. Dairy cows are bred in such a way that they have to have offspring once a year, otherwise their milk yield drops rapidly. The female offspring usually stays in the barn, the male calves mostly come to fattening farms in northern Germany. However, there are also reports of male calves being crammed onto ships in Spain and then slaughtered in Egypt. That must not be. One solution would be to increase the milking period through breeding. Then the dairy cows would have to be inseminated less often. Research in this direction has started. Hopefully they will prevail.
Every animal deserves species-appropriate husbandry, preferably with grazing. Even in the Allgäu, there may be a few thousand fewer cattle – without changing the image of the region.
Also read: Animal rights activists want to sue against tethering – that’s what a farmer says about the allegations