The transhumance in the Ötztal Alps is a special form of sheep drive. The drives traverse the Timmelsjoch (2494m), the Hochjoch (2885m), and the Niederjoch (3017m), and represent the only cross-border transhumance in the Alps that also crosses glaciers. Every year, about 5,000 to 5,500 sheep are driven from South Tyrol up to the Ötz Valley pasture areas in the early summer and back down again in autumn.
A total of 70 to 80 mostly young men and women from the Schnalstal and Vinschgau work as drivers. The drive over the Timmelsjoch into the Passeiertal is generally carried out by men from Obergurgl. They live for three months a year in old shepherd huts in the Ötz Valley. The drivers wear the traditional blue aprons and carry long wooden hiking staffs. Calls such as “höörla leck leck leck” are typically used by the drivers from the Ötz Valley to keep the flock together.
Over many generations, this transhumance has resulted in the development of kinship and social and cultural relationships between the people on either side of the border. This is reflected not only in identical family names but also in the folk culture. Old rituals and customs such as the determination of the pasture grounds and the number of sheep, payment, and attending church together before the drive continue to be practised today.
There is now evidence from research in pre- and protohistory that sheep drives over the partially glaciated ridges have been carried out for at least 6,000 years. Through appropriate grazing, the shepherds continue to make an important contribution to the preservation of an ecological balance in their regions. Construction projects related to winter tourism represent an ongoing threat to transhumance, as they lead to the partial destruction of the sheep’s pasturelands.