Case Study

Moving upside down


Moving upside down


1. Introduction

The farm of Hans and Lorna Küng is a special transhumance farm considering their way of movement. The animals are moved between 2 locations: Zürs, the main farm at 1.720 m a.s.l. and Bludenz-Bings at 606 m a.s.l. The livestock is in Zürs during winter and summer, and in Bings for spring and autumn.

2. Basic information

Main promoter

Hans Küng

Start of the practice



Zürs, Austria

Organisations involved
  • Farmer(s)/ Dairymaid(s)/ Herder(s)
Total surface of land farmed in ha
  • The farm is based on approx. 190 ha of mountainous alpine pasture with highly differing quality and accessibility. The grassland is mowed 2 to 4 times depending on the location.
Ownership of the land used for transhumance farming
  • Own land
  • Rented private Land
  • Rented public land
Basic produce

The main product is cow milk. The milk was once directly marketed to hotels in the tourist area of Zürs. On top, there were direct sales of 40.000 liter per year. Nowadays this direct marketing almost completely stopped. The leading staff is on steady change in the hotels, and it gets more and more difficult to build up reliable long-term relations with the chief cook. Moreover, it is increasingly difficult to convince the cooks that the higher quality of regional milk produced on the Alp compared to conventionally produced milk is worth a higher price. Furthermore, additional hygiene regulations for directly marketed milk and accountability make it more convenient for hotel staff to buy packaged milk.

AT341 Bludenz--Bregenzer Wald
  • Main farm

    Main farm

  • Farm


3. Situation before startup/ change/ continuation

Hans Küng’s grand-grand-father once left the Vorarlberg region and emigrated to a farm in the USA. After returning, he bought the farm in Bludenz-Bings, to which shares of the Alp Zürs belonged. Hans Küng took over the parental farm in 1996.

The Alp covers around 2.000 ha. Currently, it has 37 cooperative members. The Zürs Alp was once based only on farming. After Zürs has become a winter tourist hot spot, three active farmers remain on the Alp. Hans Küng is the only dairy farmer among those.

Income in the region is based very much on tourism. The Alp and the cooperative get lease incomes of the farmers and from the ski and mountain lifts.

4. Transhumance farming business description

Landscape type
  • Meadows
  • Natural grassland in mountainous region
  • Alpine grassland 
Animal type/ breed

Traditional, autochtone: “Brown Swiss”

Movement patterns

In addition to looking after the dairy cattle, Hans Küng is responsible for a young cattle herd with about 270 heads of cattle. A hired herdsman moves through the alp with the cattle of the approximately 40 farmers up to 2,400 m a.s.l. where the highest pastures are located. Most of the animals come from the neighbouring Pitztal. The farmers appreciate the good alpine pastures. Well-fed young animals are brought down to the valley at the end of the grazing period. 

As soon as fodder grows on the pastures in Bings at the end of April and the ski season is over, the cows are moved down to Bings. Bings is located in the Rhine Valley. With this system, Hans Küng makes good use of the resources in the valley and the mountains. The fodder yield is high and Hans Küng has to use little concentrated feed. By grazing the grassland early and selectively, he has always the best fodder available to his herd. In addition, he obtains the best hay at both locations. 

Kind of cooperation

Hans Küng together with his wife Lorna takes the decisions about specialisation and diversification of the whole family business. There is cooperation with other farmers for pensioning their cattle and still some direct marketing to hotels for the milk. Furthermore, local and regional farmers have an initiative to sell meat together.

Markets addressed/ product selling

Almost all the milk is sold to regional dairy processors.

Threats & challenges

The many regulations that follow up environmental and agricultural policies can be a challenge. The wolf predation is not directly affecting Hans Küng’s farm as it focuses on dairy cattle. However, within the region it is a vital topic for the farmers.

Economic challenges grow as investment in farm buildings as well as working capital needs increase. At the same time, prices for land have increased dramatically since the region is attractive for tourist and private housing and availability of land for construction is restricted.

5. Decisions taken


The essential decision for transhumance farming was made by taking over the parental farm. The family business is based on the family property and the ability of the farmer to implement innovations and adapt to changing needs of society and business partners.

The movement of the animals follows a different pattern than usual as the main farm is in Zürs up the mountain, where the herd stays over winter in the stable.

Hans Küng decided for a diversified way of work and income. He is a farmer, runs a small hotel together with his wife in winter and is a ski instructor. Hans and Lorna Küng are both 60 years and look forward to the free decision of their son if he wants to engage in farming. Their son is aged 16.

Decision for the kind of animal/ specific breed

Hans Küng is a passionate breeder. He breeds medium-sized, problem-free cows with a high, glandular udder and a strong central ligament. By problem-free, he means a cow that can graze the alpine pastures on her own, has correct foundations with hard claws and good pasterns, is sure-footed and can cope with hot days as well as several rainy days.

The currently oldest cow had eight lactations and an output of over 77,000 kg of milk. She is one of the Brown Swiss endurance cows in the region of Vorarlberg.

Decision for the production system

For some years, Hans Küng has not allowed his lactating cows and young cattle to graze on the entire 190 ha of alpine pasture, for a good reason. Over the years, he has observed that unpalatable fodder plants are becoming more widespread. Alpine roses and Green alders are causing the alpine pastures to become increasingly overgrown. 

The forage areas have become smaller. Küng switched from the standing pasture system to moving among pastures to reactivate the valuable alpine pastures. He alternates between four daytime paddocks and one nighttime paddock in a rhythm of several days. “This way, I force the cows to eat better,” he says, explaining the change. 

In addition to alternating among pastures, he mulches the areas and lets goats graze them to push back unwanted plants. 

Diversification of income

The family income consists of the farm, a small hotel and the work as ski instructor.

Multifunctional aspects

Hans Küng wants to keep and revitalise the beautiful cultural alpine landscapes for his farming activity as well as for tourism of the region. Farming and tourism need to work together and to find consensus.

6. Training/ skills to establish the business

Hans Küng is a professional farmer. In the Vorarlberg region, he was the first farmer investing in a new form of free-range stables. Although he thinks that free-range stables are positive, for example, in terms of animal welfare and work, he is concerned about the effects of the use of free-range stables on the cultural landscapes. Free-range stables may lead to less grazing and therefore the stables could reinforce the overgrowth of pastures.

7. Next steps to move on

Hans Küng will continue with his life exactly like it is right now. Farming is the centre of his work. Once asked about telling his free wish of profession, he answered: “Farmer”. Asked once more about his profession including a clarification that the wish is free, and he could choose whatever and wherever, he answered “English Farmer”.

He will continue to combine tradition and innovation to keep farming as long as he is healthy. He looks forward to the young generation taking over if so.

8. Quote and recommendation of the promoter

If you do what you love, life is beautiful.

In a region where skiing as well as tourism is shaping everything, it is nice to love skiing and go skiing in the winter.

Each season has its special offer and exceptional quality.