Why do Swiss cows wear bells?

When you already visited Switzerland and went up in the mountains, you probably heard the sound of the bells. The classic sound reverberates through the Swiss meadows.

The Swiss cows in the Alps wear bells, but why do they wear these bells? This is a question we quite often get. In this blog post, we will explain why Swiss cows wear bells!

Swiss cows in Uri, Stäuber waterfall

The sound of the bells, unless you are close to a church is probably from the grazing cows in the Swiss Alps. The classical sound is a sign of the presence of the animals grazing. If you see a cow in the countryside, they usually wear a shiny, sounding bell around their neck. Which you can see in the image below.

Why do the Swiss cows wear a cowbell?

The system of cows wearing bells dates centuries back. The bell is attached with a belt to the neck of the cow. The main function was for a shepherd to keep track of where their cattle were located. Most of the time the cows are grazing in a group, in this way they produce a significant volume of sound. The method was intentionally used for the shepherds to locate their cows.

Who was grazing in the open hilly areas and even on the mountains? These areas are full of rocks and little hills, where it is not easy to find a missing cow. The low ringing of the bells resonates throughout the mountainous alpine valleys, where the views can be obstructed.

You can probably imagine that, nowadays farmers and shepherds use electronic tags and systems with GPS to locate missing cows.

The tradition of the cowbells

Besides the functional part of the cows wearing cowbells. There is a tradition of these cows wearing bells. When the spring season starts in Switzerland, the snow starts to melt. The cows wearing cowbells are then sent to the higher-located alpine locations.

Here they can graze. When summer is over, the cows descend back to the valleys, heading to the villages. This is celebrated by the cows being adorned with floral garlands, woven on their horns.

Swiss cow parade, a true swiss tradition!

One other reason why the cows wear bells is that the Swiss have a cultural tradition around the cows. One well-known example is the annual Almabtrieb(cows returning to the villages/barns) Festival in Switzerland.

These annual celebrations mark the end of the summer season. Then the cows are decorated with religious symbols and beautiful large bells, they are then led to the barns where they spend the winter season.

When the alpine farmers leave the alpine pastures, the tradition starts. In many villages, this tradition is yearly held. Autumn in Switzerland starts with the Swiss cow parade. Over 350.000 cows are coming down from the mountains to the valleys.

The Swiss cows have spent the summer season high up grazing in the Swiss mountains. They spent the winter months in the valleys. Farmers come down with their cattle and are welcomed with great celebrations! The cows have floral crowns and wear a beautifully decorated bell around their neck.

These kinds of alpine traditions are really interesting. These kinds of celebrations or ceremonies are known as Alpabzug, Alpabfahrt or the Desalpe. This is one of the cultural rites that mark the seasons in Switzerland and their deeply rooted agricultural traditions.

The Swiss people originate from different cultures, speaking four languages(German, French, Italian and Romansh) and innumerable dialects. Which makes these festivals intriguing. The villages which are cut off during the winter season – due to a large amount of snow – created their unique traditions, which are still alive to this day.

The swiss have this idea, of the fact that in this fast-paced world, these kind of cultural traditions only survive if they are celebrated every year!

The cow parade in Urnäsch

After asking several people, we concluded, that a popular cow parade is in Urnäsch. This place is many times recommended as the best place to go for the best market, atmosphere and the best festive mood! Let’s talk a bit more about the cow parade in Urnäsch in 2024!

Not only the cows are decorated…

The cow parade will be held in September. The cow parade comes with a market in Urnäsch, with over 50 stands it has much to entertain you and your family. Lovely local drinks and food, games many animals of course. There are musicians everywhere. The musical entertainment is provided by the Buebechorli choir, so lovely.

In the morning the cows descend to the village of Urnäsch, this will happen approximately from 10 am till 1 pm. The market which we talked about, is located central to the Kronenplatz, here you can view the cows and hear them as well!

We can highly recommend visiting the Urnäsch cow parade, it is such a beautiful parade, with wonderfully decorated cows/bells and the atmosphere is amazing.


In this blog, we answered why Swiss cows wear bells around their neck. One of the reasons is the historic function of the shepherd to locate their cattle, because of the hills and mountainous landscape these animals graze and live on. Another reason is the tradition.

Every year a Swiss cow parade is held in many alpine villages, in specific we inform you about the Urnäsch cow parade, which is recommended as one of the best cow parades in Appenzell. We hope you now understand why the Swiss cows wear bells a bit better!


Maurits love affair with Switzerland started on his first visit to Switzerland and still continues today. He visits Switzerland often and enjoys writing about his discoveries and sharing his tips with fellow travellers.

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