Family farming in Switzerland –

It’s farming editor-in-chief Catherina Cunnane in conversation with Claire Jeannerat (42) in this week’s women in ag series. In the following segment, we approach a type of ancestral and traditional agriculture in Switzerland, the alpine pasture and its life as a wife, mother and shepherdess.

Read the first part of this interview on agriculture in Switzerland.

“We have chosen to respect a very ancestral and traditional type of agriculture, which gives me the impression that not only do we keep a living heritage, but that we have a very close and practical relationship with our animals.

For example, we move our animals 90% of the time on foot. I also feel that in many ways we are a link between a world that no longer exists and the modern world.

But I think what I like the most is that. I have more than one role; I am also a mother and a shepherdess. As a family, what we do, shepherding is incredibly difficult for all of us.

Children, from an early age, have been fully immersed in this way of life; they are very comfortable with animals and treat them with respect.

They had to learn to keep up, to be independent, to make sacrifices and to face life and death. But it’s a unique upbringing that takes them places and allows them to experience things that very few other kids their age will ever do.


Most of the months from mid-June to November, we live separated as a family, my husband at the pasture and the children and I at home because of school constraints and other obligations.

When we can, the children and I will stay with Damien at the mountain pasture. It is difficult to be separated as a family because during the winter we are always together.

It’s also hard to be separated from your “partner” as we work together on the farm and enjoy working together, so readjusting to solo work requires some tweaking.

I would also say that juggling the roles of shepherd, mother, wife, homemaker and administrator has its own set of challenges.

Some days you feel on top of your game and very accomplished; other days it’s just total chaos.

Finally, the constant need for all plans to be flexible; everything can and often does change in the blink of an eye, and you have to learn to let go and, as much as possible, go with the flow.

Family effort

We manage the farm between my husband and me. My husband takes care of most of the feeding during the winter months when the animals are housed in sheds and a good deal of the pasture fence in the spring as we still have three small children to look after. for too.

But when we are apart from June to November, he is responsible for raising the main herd of sheep (480 animals), and I am responsible for the goats, horses and cows.

Strong points

In terms of farming highlights, I have so many! We would witness so much wild beauty on the mountain pastures, the love and trust you receive from your animals, a whole new life (lambs, kids, calves and puppies).

Another would be to see our children grow up in this unique environment rich in life experiences, move animals on foot (the feeling is unparalleled) and finally the human bonds that this way of life has allowed me to weave.

My goal is to make our farm a successful business that we can pass on to our children if they wish to continue in our footsteps.

Also, we want to perpetuate the traditions and heritage of Swiss mountain agriculture and share our trip with as many people as possible.

By next year, we will increase the herd to include around 50 dairy ewes, to begin with producing milk which will be processed into cheese by a local company. The ultimate goal is to produce our own cheese ourselves.

We also hope to become more involved in agritourism to raise awareness of our way of life as a mountain farming family, hoping to raise awareness to support farmers by buying local, also to increase interest for wool as a sustainable and ecological product, with the ultimate hope of reviving the local wool economy.

Over the next five years, we hope to have succeeded in laying the foundations for the projects mentioned above.

It was an adventure that changed my life and became who I deeply am. I went from working a week behind a desk to having a mountain as my desk. I learned things about myself that I didn’t know.

Reflection and advice

It took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally. I failed many times but also had many successes and firsts. Agriculture made me know who and believe in myself.

My advice to aspiring farmers is: getting some good work experience (even as a volunteer) under your belt is a good idea.

This will not only help you determine if this is your calling, but will also give you essential insight into the farming path you want to take. Farming is lifelong learning, so talking to people who have experience is never a waste of time.

I really hope we can find common ground between those who see farmers as the cause of the destruction of the planet and those who see farmers as the saviors.

I think, overall, governments need to be more proactive in helping farmers farm more sustainably and ecologically.

This can only be achieved through financial incentives (according to the Swiss model through taxation used to support agriculture).

This allows farmers to operate financially on a smaller scale, which benefits both animals and nature, by encouraging the general public to buy local products and not allowing countries to be inundated with less meat. expensive from abroad.

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