The Summer Holidays, and with them the main hiking season, are with us. Many hiking trails pass through summer pastures. The livestock owners have to ensure precautionary measures that maintain adequate protection for hikers and reduce the risk of accidents are in force. Specific recommendations and a supporting check-list are available (see below).
Hiking is booming. Switzerland has some 65,000 kms of hiking trails, many of which are in areas where summer pastures exist. Numerous hikers and dog owners have little or no experience in dealing with cattle or herd guard dogs. Encounters with these animals therefore can range from adverse events to fatal accidents.
Livestock owners are liable for damages that their animals cause, as long as it cannot be proven that the requisite supervision and safeguarding of the animals was not carried out. This means that keepers of cattle and herd guard dogs must carry out a risk analysis, then implement appropriate measures, if hiking trails cross their grazing lands. The fencing system should be tailored to the animals in the pasture and the locality, as well as third parties, the number of herd protection dogs present and it must be regularly checked.
Places of conflict, such as watering places, resting areas, salt licks and stalls are to be separated from hiking trails. The animals grazing on these pastures should be calm and well behaved.
Many accidents can be avoided, providing the hiker follows the correct behavioural guidelines. For these reasons pastures containing mother-cattle should be clearly marked with official information boards at all entrances and crossing points and, where possible, with notices at suitable locations.
On entering a pasture a calm manner is to be maintained and hikers are to remain on the trail. In general, cattle are curious and not dangerous, however, if cattle are on the trail, keep a proper distance and pass the animals well to one side. Particularly when mother cattle are present with calves, it is important to maintain a good distance as these animals are very protective. At no time should calves be approached or attempts be made to touch them, as the mother animal could interpret these acts as a threat.
Dogs are also seen as a threat and it is strongly recommended that they be kept on a lead. Dogs and humans should pass herds by keeping a greater distance. Threatening gestures from cattle, such as raising and lowering of the head, snorting, bellowing or scraping the ground with their hooves must lead to a slow, backwards withdrawal from the pasture.
Do not forget to close the cattle gates, so that the cattle themselves do not go hiking!