The beautiful autumn sunshine broke through the clouds over Beatenberg, revealing a clear blue sky above and perfect conditions below. The 15th of October was no ordinary day for this small alpine village. It was the day of the Miss Beatenberg contest.
Nor is this an ordinary pageant. The winner does not give a speech, win a world trip or pose for toothpaste commercials. In fact, it is doubtful if Miss Beatenberg even realizes she has competed.
She is, after all, a cow.
The annual Miss Beatenberg contest and cattle show takes place on the second Saturday in October, has so every year since 1989 and is a very serious affair.
The competition is organized by Beatenberg Tourism. Firstly, to thank the dairy farmers in the area for their assistance to the tourism association, and secondly to extend cooperation between agriculture and tourism in the Beatenberg area.
Such cattle shows are becoming rare. There are fewer farmers in Switzerland, hence, fewer shows. For many visitors, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
With taped folk music playing in the background and a lively restaurant serving traditional foods, wine and other refreshments, no one is left wanting. As an authentic day out in rural Switzerland, it does not come any better than this.
This year, a total of 108 cows participated in the event, 20 more than in 2010. 350 visitors - of which over half were tourists - came to see the show.
Festivities began at 10 AM when the cows were paraded to the Wydi parking lot in Beatenberg, wearing their traditional bells and flower head dresses. They were then tied into their respective lots and the judging could begin.
A panel of livestock experts evaluated each animal from each of the eight categories (depending on the age of the animal), of which five were chosen to be shown in the ring.
The Calf Parade
The first show in the ring, just after lunch, however, was the calf parade. Dressed up in wreaths of flowers, the calves were led by children – future farmers, proud of their little charges. The children proved themselves very knowledgeable, many of them could recite their calf’s parentage and could handle the calves themselves without any help from their watchful parents.
Shortly after, cows from all eight categories were led into the ring, the experts explaining the different virtues of the animals. A good score here boosts the reputation of the breeder and the value of the cow.
The animals are judged on several points, including milk yield, body type and udder veins.
It was not just about beauty. Even older animals which had provided over many years were praised at the viewing and ample congratulations given to the farmers for their sterling work.
The Main Event
According to the rules, Miss Beatenberg cannot be more than four years old, must be born in Beatenberg, and can only enter the competition once in her lifetime.
10 cows competed this year for three titles:
- Miss Beautiful Udder (self-explaining, really)
- Miss Protein (the title is given to the cow according to her milk yield and the protein content in her milk)
- Miss Beatenberg
The first two categories are chosen by the experts, while the actual "Miss" title is an audience ballot vote. As a reward, each of the three cows received a special bell, called a Trychle. The first two are privately donated while the last, and largest bell, is given by Beatenberg Tourism. 218 votes were cast, with 54 going to the winning cow.
And Miss Beatenberg 2011 is...?
Senta – a beautiful, young Simmental cow, bred and owned by Alfred Gafner and his family. Senta herself was less impressed: It took four people to wrestle the winning bell around her neck!
But as she was not used to having so many people around her, her reaction was understandable. Quickly calmed by her proud owners, Senta posed serenely for photographs and when all the excitement was over, wore her bell home.
There is an extra prize for the audience. Everyone who cast a vote for the winning cow has a chance to win the final prize of the day – a whole alpine cheese, offered by last year’s winner. What better way to end your visit to this beautiful region?
With festivals like these, we can all learn to appreciate the dedication it takes to be a farmer and feel ourselves privileged to be allowed a look into this fascinating aspect of true Swiss alpine culture. This is not only about choosing the prettiest cow - it is about honoring a way of life and reminding us how fragile that life is.