Swiss farmers in a ding-dong battle to keep cowbells on their cattle after villager complaints
Residents of a small village in Switzerland are fighting to keep traditional cowbells on their cattle after new residents complained the noise was keeping them awake at night
READING LEVEL: GREEN
Bells clanging* around the necks of dairy cows grazing* lazily on an emerald green meadow may sound idyllic*, but if you live next door, it can be a noisy nuisance.
Two residents who recently moved to the small village of Aarwangen in the Swiss Alps, which has a population of just 4700 people, filed complaints with the village council about the constant ringing of cowbells. They asked for the cows’ bells to be removed at night so they can sleep.
Long-term residents, and the village’s remaining farmers — just five or six, according to the village mayor — were outraged* at what they felt was an attack on their traditional culture*.
A petition was organised and soon had 1000 signatures. It read: “We, the Swiss (want to) preserve and maintain our lived traditions in the future”.
Cowbells have been used in rural* Switzerland for centuries. They were once useful for tracking herds grazing high on steep slopes in the Alps in summer.
The noise level of these cowbells is usually between 90 and 113 decibels* — which is the equivalent of the noise from an alarm clock, hairdryer or some power tools.
Older farmers say they can hear each individual cow by the sound of its own bell.
In modern times, however, many farmers have switched to using electronic chips instead of bells.
Aarwangen has seen many changes over the decades, with new homes built close to the meadows where the cattle graze. The village mayor told the BBC in Britain that most people who have recently moved are “not necessarily from cities, but from urban outskirts*, and are less familiar with the agricultural* way of life”.
Another resident, Mr Andreas Baumann, said cowbells were an essential part of the Swiss soul*.
Referring to the sound of cowbells along the walkways at Zurich Airport, he told the BBC: “As soon as I hear them, I know I’m back home.”
This year’s battle is not the first time residents have complained about cowbells.
In 2015, a Zurich appeals court ordered a farmer to remove the bells from his 27 cows from 10pm to 7am, since they were safe in a paddock and keeping the neighbours awake.
Next month, Aarwangen’s villagers will gather for a public meeting to vote on the future of their bells. They will decide how the sound of the bells can continue without breaking noise pollution laws.
And what about the residents that complained? According to the BBC, one of those who objected to the noise has withdrawn* their complaint and the other has moved away.
- clanging: the bonging sound a bell makes
- grazing: eating for long periods of time
- idyllic: peaceful and beautiful
- outraged: becoming angered
- culture: the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society
- rural: country areas
- decibels: a measurement of noise levels
- urban outskirts: outer parts of a city
- soul: a person’s emotional centre
- agricultural: relates to farming and the land
- withdrawn: removed
1. Why are farmers outraged at the move to ban cowbells?
2. How loud are the bells and what is the noise equivalent to?
3. What percentage of residents in Aarwangen have signed the petition?
4. What were cowbells traditionally used for in the past?
5. What is the modern equivalent of a cowbell?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. For and against Swiss cowbells
Work with a classmate to discuss the pros and cons of this town discussion and meeting taking place soon about whether or not the cowbells should stay or go.
Imagine you are the mayor of the village and it will ultimately fall on you to make a decision that you see best for the Swiss village you’re in charge of.
Make a list of pros and cons from the perspective of each of the parties involved in the debate. Whichever one has the longest list of pros might be the answer you decide upon.
What is your ruling on the cowbells? Write your answer below the table.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education, Personal and Social, Critical and Creative Thinking.
If you were moving to a Swiss village where the cows still wore bells, would it affect your decision to move or not?
Would you prefer the bells and Swiss tradition to continue or move to more updated processes of tracking the cows? Explain your answer.
Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social, Critical and Creative Thinking
To sum it up
After reading the article, use your comprehension skills to summarise in a maximum of three sentences what the article is about.
- What is the main topic or idea?
- What is an important or interesting fact?
- Who was involved (people or places)?
Use your VCOP skills to re-read your summary to make sure it is clear, specific, and well punctuated.