Why Switzerland Airlifts Its Cows

It's not just about helping the cows, it's about helping the land: Aeon

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 21, 2013 7:30 AM CST

(Newser) – The sight of a cow flying through the air isn't so rare in Switzerland: When a cow is injured—or dead—a helicopter may arrive to bring it to safety, or, if dead, to incineration. The practice, Aeon reports, isn't just about caring for our bovine friends, or keeping the landscape free of dead cows. Instead, it's tied to the maintenance of Switzerland—environmentally, economically, and even culturally, writes Veronique Greenwood. In order to protect its cow farmers from an international open market in which others can raise cows more cheaply, Switzerland pays farmers to maintain their herds—and the local land.

The funding comes, in part, on a per-cow basis, meaning farmers have an added interest in maintaining their numbers. From an environmental perspective, a dead cow must be removed because its decomposition could pollute local water. And the herds are key to rural culture in Switzerland, inspiring celebrations when they are brought up to mountain pastures in the spring and back down in the autumn. Switzerland's care for its land is linked to the country's tiny size, Greenwood explains. But as the world faces a changing climate, we might learn from Switzerland's example, she writes. Click for her full piece, or click here to read about a cologne that cows seem to like.

A cow grazes near a spring snowflake on a meadow at the mountain hamlet Chestenholz above Mels, Switzerland.
A cow grazes near a spring snowflake on a meadow at the mountain hamlet Chestenholz above Mels, Switzerland.   (AP Photo/Keystone, Arno Balzarini)
Cows graze on a snow covered pasture in Furggels, Switzerland, above the river Rhine valley.
Cows graze on a snow covered pasture in Furggels, Switzerland, above the river Rhine valley.   (AP Photo/Keystone, Arno Balzarini)
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