History and Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog

Additional Background on Bernese Farms
by Margret Baertschi

The term "farm" or "farmdog" does not mean the same thing when used for Swiss or Bernese farmers as when it is used in the USA. The farm in the two countries/continents are two very different things. In order to get an idea what the duties of a farmdog on a farm around Berne were like a hundred years ago one must have seen a Bernese farm and understood its functioning.

The main business of the dogs on Bernese Farms has always been to be good watchdogs. These farms were built at a distance from each other, each one situated more or less in the center of the land that was cultivated by the farmers family. A dog that announced strangers (man and other animals) which approached the farm or the nearby meadows was essential for the security of all the living creatures there. The land belonging to a farm was from about 5 ha for the poorer farmers up to 15 ha at the maximum for the richest farmers. (1 ha (hectar) = 2.47 acres ) Up to about 1830 the farmers did not have a great number of cattle (cows), because they had no use for the milk. Their main income was from different kinds of grain: wheat, barley, oats etc (maize was unknown). The cattle and some sheep, horses and swine moved freely around the houses and in the nearby forests. The crops were fenced to save them from being eaten by the animals. The cattle did not have to go far.

Only after about 1840, when the cheeseries were built and farmers could sell their milk at a reasonable price, the farmers started to have more cattle (about 6 to 15 cows at the maximum and some heifers and calves), so many as they could nourish on their land. Poor people (day-laborers) kept a few goats instead. At the same time the farmers started to keep the cattle in stables, not only in winter but all the year round, also in summer. This means, that there was not a lot of driving to be done on the farm itself. The few sheep (maybe 6 to 10) that were also kept on some farms could move freely in the nearby poorer parts of the land that were not cultivated and in the forests. It was the butchers who also kept dogs to drive the cattle they bought on the farms to distant places were they were either slaughtered or sold to other merchants.

I have found reference to these facts lately in a newer publication of a historian who specialized in the history of farming in the Canton Berne from 1700 till 1914 (first world war). His Name: Prof. Dr. Christian Pfister, he lectures at the University of Berne.

bernese past