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During summer, all over the alpine regions cow herds feed on alpine pastures (Almen or Alpen) high up in the mountains (a practice known as transhumance). In numbers, these amount to about 500,000 cows in Austria, 380,000 in Switzerland and 50,000 in Germany.
While there is often some movement of cattle between the Almen during the summer, there is usually one concerted cow train in autumn to bring the cows to their stables down in the valley. This typically takes place in late September or early October. If there were no accidents on the Alm during the summer, in many areas the cows are decorated elaborately, and the cow train is celebrated with music and dance events in the towns and villages. Upon arrival in the valley, joint herds from multiple farmers are sorted in the Viehscheid, and each cow is returned to its owner.
In many places this Alpine custom of Almabtrieb has nowadays evolved into a major tourist attraction, with a public festival and booths set up along the course for selling agricultural as well as artisans' products along with alcoholic beverages.
The reverse cow train up to the Almen in spring is not celebrated.