Talking beef with Otmaro Beti, San Carlo/Bernina Pass

«Interests are becoming increasingly diverse. Space is limited.»

Railway, road, power lines, hiking trails, cow pastures and so on – lots of different interests compete for space on the Bernina Pass. (Photo: Otmaro Beti)

Otmaro, you and your family are at home here, where thousands of tourists spend their holidays, on the Bondo alp at the Bernina Pass. This year, even more holidaymakers are expected in the Swiss Alps. Have you noticed this trend?

Yes, already at the beginning of June we noted that more people were on the move up here. But we are well prepared – during the winter we carried out a thorough risk assessment with the Advice Centre for the Prevention of Accidents (BUL). Based on a safety report together with expert recommendations, and in cooperation with those responsible for maintaining hiking trails, we have put up signs to inform tourists at the right places about the correct behaviour to adopt in the presence of grazing animals.

Didn’t you set up warning signs before?

Yes, but every day there are hikers who walk through the herds with their dogs. So we must exercise due diligence and make them more aware of the need to keep a distance from the animals, put their dogs on a lead and never stray from the path into a meadow with young calves. The risk assessment involved determining where the signs have the greatest effect. I can recommend a risk assessment for any ‘alp master‘ who is responsible for an alp in a tourist area.

Signs at the right places draw attention to the correct behaviour in the presence of suckler cows and their calves. (Photo: Luana Speiser)

The Bernina Pass is certainly one of the most heavily frequented areas of the Alps.

Yes indeed, we have a great number of visitors up here. On the one hand, there are tourists who come up by train, bus or cable car and are mostly no problem for us.  They hardly venture into the grazing area, and turn back when they reach the first cow pat (laughs). But then there are the hikers, botanists, those who want to observe wild animals, and of course the bikers. Often a lot of bikers are racing around and unfortunately some of them don’t take the time to enjoy the landscape and environment.

What does that mean for you and your work on the alp?

It’s a real challenge, but we also have advantages in respect of the openness of the area. Access is quite easy and I can look at and check out many grazing areas from my car on the road. Due to hiking trails, roads and railway lines, the very extensive grazing area is divided into many small paddocks, which lets me keep the animals in small herds. Calves grow better in small herds, as the weaker animals fare better than in large herds.  But this entails a great deal of work, as repeated fencing is required and the pastures have to be changed with the different herds.

What is your wish for tourists coming to the Bernina Pass and your alp?

I want people to be aware that they are visitors up here and that they should take the time to enjoy the peace and the scenery, and show a certain respect for the place and the locals and the animals. The alp belongs to us all. Formerly, there were only the alp farmers up here with their animals, then came the road, the railway, the tourists, the bikers, and predators like bears and wolves. Interests are becoming more diverse and everyone claims a place for himself.  But space is limited. Everyone is entitled to pursue his interests, but one must also have consideration for those of others. Through dialogue we can find solutions so that there’s room for everybody.

Otmaro Beti and Johanna Strawe live with their children Ismaele (11), Giacomo (9) and Alma-Sophie (7) in San Carlo in the Val Poschavo. Here at an altitude of 1000 metres, they farm  60 hectares of agricultural land. On one hectare, they grow bread wheat for the Cooperativa Val Poschiavo. The major part of the holding is composed of eco-meadows and hay meadows for harvesting fodder for the 35 suckler cows with calves and offspring as well as 120 ewes.

From the end of May to mid-September, the family is as often as possible with the animals on the Engadine side of the Bernina Pass. In addition to their own animals, they also take care, aided by a mountain shepherd, of 20 dairy cows, several suckler cow herds, beef cattle, 20 alpine pigs and even some horses. With the help of an employee Otmaro also handles the hay harvest on his own farm.

The meat from the alpine pigs, as well as the Natura-Beef, is marketed directly.

 (Photo: Johanna Strawe)