– Gameness til the End
Cow fighting is a traditional Swiss event, mostly in Valais, in which a cow fights another cow, unlike bullfighting, in which humans fight bulls – often to the death. Each year, the Swiss canton of Valais hosts a series of cow fights known as combats de reines (“queen fights”), which began in the 1920s and has drawn as many as 50,000 spectators in a year. The winner is called La Reine des Reines (“the queen of queens”) and increases dramatically in value. At the end of the year, a grand final is held in Aproz, where the six best from seven districts do battle in six weight categories.
Cows naturally fight to determine dominance in the herd, and this is the behaviour that is exploited in cow fighting, using cows from the local Herens breed. With their horns blunted, the fights are mainly a pushing contest. Any cow that backs down from a fight is eliminated until one cow is left standing in the ring. It sometimes happens that the cows in a fight refuse to engage in physical contact with each other at all. Each fight can last up to 40 minutes.
Similar events take place in France, in Haute-Savoie, in the Aosta Valley of Italy and also in Turkey, in Artvin.
By Spooky on May 14th, 2013
Every year, the peaceful Swiss village of Aproz becomes a battleground for Herens cows, a breed of cattle known for its genetic predisposition for combativeness. During the Battle of the Queens (Combats de Reines) the animals get a chance to fight each other for supremacy.
Before you pick up the phone to call your favorite animal rights association, you should know the Battle of the Queens is nothing like the bloody bull fights organized in Spain. Here, farmers take great care of their prized “queens”, making sure they don’t suffer any serious injuries. Plus, there really isn’t much fighting going on, either. The territorial cows mostly lock horns and push each other with their foreheads, until one of them turns around and walks away, accepting defeat. Some of the fighters have lost horns or gained battle scars in the event, but no serious injuries were recorded in recent events. Herens cows, named after Val d’Herens in Valais, have an aggressive instinct that makes them fight among themselves for leadership of the herd. These so-called queens then take part in regional and national rounds of traditional Swiss cow-fighting, with participation in the final Battle of the Queens as their ultimate goal. The event draws in hundreds of cattle farmers from across Switzerland, eager to test their champions in horned combat, as well as a crowd of spectators. Those who can’t attend, watch the fighting on television or listen to it on Rhone FM, a radio station in Valais with a weekly cow fight program.
The bovine queens scheduled to take part in the Combats de Reines are divided into five or six categories, based on their weight, from 550 kilograms, to 750 kilograms and over. Combatants must be between 3 and 11 years old to enter. Finalists in each category are determined by the process of elimination, and the top cows in each weight class are finally released into the arena, all at once. Some instantly begin establishing their territory, chasing away weaker opponents that try to approach them. A few queens occasionally crawl under the ropes separating the combat area just to escape a glare from a more dominant specimen. More often than not, there will be more than one queen who thinks they can rule over the rest, and they ultimately end up facing each other. That’s when they start pounding the ground like raging bulls, digging their horns into the dirt as if trying to sharpen them, and ultimately lock foreheads in a shoving match. After a few minutes, one of them concedes defeat and walks away. According to the official rules of the competition, a queen loses if she turns away from her opponent.
Although the crowd likes a good fight, whenever the queens get riled up to the point where they might actually injure themselves or other cattle, the rabatturs (which literally means “one who breaks up”) and their owners step in to break up the fight. The Battle of the Queens isn’t about violence, it’s just a centuries-old tradition that allows Swiss farmers to socialize and exchange ideas, as well as a fun event for spectators.
Battle of the Queens – Swiss cow fighting 2011
As soon as winter takes its leave cow-fighting fever takes a hold on Valais. Released from their stalls, the cows are ready to face any challengers in order to establish the hierarchy within the herd. Fighting cows are unique in their kind, just as much as the joyful folk festivals that surround the cow-fighting competitions. Regional elimination heats are held from the end of March culminating in the crowning of the queen at the cantonal final in Aproz.From mid-June, with the annual transhumance to the alpine pastures, the summer pasture contests are held, followed by some alp contests throughout the summer and some competitions in autumn when the cows return to the plain.
|06.10.2013||Martigny (Foire VS)||Breeding syndicate Martigny|
|Breeding syndicate Basse-Nendaz|
|Raron / Goler||Breeding syndicate Leuk|
|Breeding syndicate Bagnes|
Raron / Goler
|Breeding syndicate Visp-Brig (Vifra)|
|Breeding syndicate Evolène|
|Breeding syndicate Oberwallis|
|03.08.2014||Saas-Almagell||Breeding syndicate Saas|
|Raron / Goler||Breeding syndicate Nikolaïtal|
Martigny (Foire VS)
|Breeding syndicate Martigny|
|* postponed to this date in case of bad weather.|
Where Cows are Queens
Annual Events between March and September.
The Canton of Valais (Wallis) is famous for its ski slopes, thermal baths, and its climate that lets wine thrive and apricots grow. Come spring though the fever of cow fighting not only grabs a hold of the beasts but farmers and spectators alike – even TV camera teams – national and international – flock to the event.
No matter which breed of Swiss cows, they are naturally territorial and love a good cow fight. They lock their wicked looking horns to determine who takes the lead in the pack as soon as they are released from the barn where they spend long winter months.
However, the Hérens cows (or Eringer in German), named after the Val d’Hérens, are a particularly feisty and temperamental breed. The dark chocolaty colored cows seem to love the battle for the prestigious title “Queen of Queens” in the Combat des Reines (fight of the Queens”).
Unlike the running with or fighting of the bulls, the Queens of Hérens do their battle in a queenly manner. Although the muscular and quick tempered beasts paw the ground with downcast heads, a dangerous look in their eyes while mooing nasty threads before they lock their horns, the actual bovine battle is mostly push and shove with little harm – if at all – to the animal. The looser quickly runs away as soon she realizes that there’s no winning the battle with her opponent (who says cows are not intelligent?).
The cows are neither trained nor do they get prepared for the battle. They are brought into the ring in different categories (according to weight and age) where they choose their opponent themselves.
The joyful and entertaining cattle fights attract tens of thousands of spectators each year. Thetournaments take place in various villages from spring to fall and in the end, the winner will be crowned “Queen of the Queens”. The prize is not only a humongous ornate cowbell; the offspring fetches whooping prices at auctions.
Cow fighting starts in the fall and ends in May (with a winter break) with the national final in Aproz where the crowning of the “Queen of Queens” takes place.
Where and When?
|24. March 2013||Aproz|
|01. April 2013||Raron / Goler|
|07. April 2013||Raron / Goler|
|14. April 2013||Grimisuat|
|20-21. April 2013||Orsières|
|28. April 2013||Les Haudères|
|04-05. May 2013||Aproz||Cantonal Final|
|22. June 2013||Nendaz||9:30am and 4pm|
|29. June 2013||Thyon – plan de Poé|
|04. August 2013||Anzère|
|11. August 2013||Leukerbad|
|22. September 2013||Raron / Goler|
|29. September 2013||Martigny (Foire VS)||October 6, 2013 in case of bad weather|
The Herens (Eringer in German) is a breed of cattle named after the Val d’Hérens region of Switzerland. These small, horned alpine cattle are coloured black, brown or dark red, often with a lighter stripe along the spine. The cows are used in organised cow fights.
Herens Cattle are one of the smallest cattle breeds in Europe. Their fur is dark red to brown or black, with pied animals being very uncommon. Newborn calves are red with a dark stripe along the back, with the colours reversing as they grow. A distinguishing feature is the short and broad head, with a concave front line. The animals are very muscular, with both sexes sporting strong horns.
Bulls typically reach a height of 125–134 cm, weighing 650–700 kg. Cows reach 118–128 cm and 500–600 kg. The cattle are bred primarily for beef, but the cows produce around 3,200 kg of milk per year. They are well adapted to pasture in alpine altitudes.
Blood typing shows the Herens to be distinct from other Swiss breeds but similar to the Tuxer breed from the Zillertal in Austria. In 1884 a breeding standard was introduced for this old breed. In 1917 a specialised breeding union was founded.
Herens cattle were often cross bred with other cattle breeds in the alpine region. For example Tux Cattle, Évolène Cattle, and Pustertal Pied Cattle may be partially related to the Herens. The population of Herens has decreased since the 1960s. In the year 2000 the population was about 13,500 animals. Pure-bred bulls are bred at an insemination station in Neuchâtel. There is a breed society in the United States.
The Herens is well known for the high aggression of its females. In spring, cows and heifers are made to fight one against another in five weight classes in the local tradition of “cow fighting”. The winners are sold for high prices. Today cow fights are a major tourist attraction in the Valais.
The Hérens Breed is probably the remainder of a cattle population that formerly lived in the region of the Alps between Austria and Savoy (France). Upon its cranial morphological traits, the Hérens Breed makes part of the cattle with large cranium so called Brachycephalus. The same characteristics can also be found among the cattle of the Neolytikum. The ancestors of the Hérens Breed existed already 3000 years before Jesus Christ. A cranium has been found in a place of archaeological findings in Saint Guérin near the town of Sion.
The Hérens Breed is closely related with the native breedsCastana and Pezzatanera of the Valle d’Aosta in Italy. According to a study conducted by Reuse, the blood type structure of the Hérens Breed is distinctively different than the blood type characteristics of the other swiss breeds.
Its similarity with the Tuxer breed from the Zillertal in Austria has induced in 1925 the responsibles of the Hérens Breed to undertake limited exchange of breeding bulls.
The animals have an average size, they are deep and have a wide and well muscled body. The skeleton is thin and very strong. The head is short and wide with strong horns. The glance is vivace and expressive, the front is straight and the muzzle wide. Feet and legs are short and strong with sound articulations and solid hoofs. The position of the legs is correct and the move is easy and speedy.
Hérens animals are unicoloured from black to brown-red (fawn). The mucosis, the hoofs and the peaks of the horns are black or have the colour of lead metal. The colourwise wide formulated breed standard has facilitated the selection of phenotypes from various colours. In 1983, Lauvergne has described these colour versions as follows: black, inverted mulish vertex, brown of the fawns with black or badger coloured feet and legs (belly and legs are black), as well as all possible intermediate stages of all different types.<
A rare peculiarity of the Hérens Breed is the change of colour of the new born calves at the occasion of the moult; the red body turns into black and the black top line turns into red.
Size and live weight of mature animals
|Height at withers||122 – 132 cm||118 – 128 cm|
|Thorax||185 – 220 cm||180 – 215 cm|
|Live weight||650 – 950 kg||480 – 800 kg|
The Herens is a small, triple purpose breed native to the Swiss Alps with a range as far as Chamonix, at the foot of Mt. Blanc, in France. Numbers have decrease since World War II due to a decrease in farming done in the higher mountain regions. The Herens was originally a sporting breed with herd leaders received special care and are trained for the cowfight in which animals push against each other, head to head, until one backs away, the loser.
Coats are dark red to brown, often with a lighter stripe down the back. The average female height is approximately 119 cm and weight from 450 to 500 kg; males are somewhat large with an approximate height of 122 cm and weighing from 600 to 650 kg. The average milk yield was estimated in 1975 at 2909 kg.
Switzerland’s Cow Fighting
Valais Wallis – The country where the cows are Queens
The Valais is known for a host of peculiar local traditions, one of the oddest of which must be cowfighting. Utterly unlike Spanish bullfighting – an altogether gorier spectacle – Valaisian cowfighting stems from village get-togethers to see whose cow was best suited to lead the herds up to the summer Alpine pastures. The cattle all come from the local Hérens breed, bright-eyed with short legs and powerful chests, and known for their aggressiveness, who would naturally pick fights with each other in the open meadows: in the beginnings, farmers merely corralled them together to see who would win. These days, the contests have become rather more important – breeding means big money for the Valaisian cattle farmers, and the winner of the annual round of cowfighting championships can be assured both a head price in the tens of thousands of francs plus the prestigious title Queen of the Herd.
Farmers feed up the most bullish of their cows on a special extra-rich diet to improve (or worsen) her temper, occasionally allowing her the odd bucket of wine as a tonic and coaching her in sparring contests amongst the herd. Come the day of battle, farmers tie a huge cowbell around their champion’s neck, lead her into the “arena” (generally just a meadow), and introduce her to her opponent. Hérens cows rarely need any encouragement to provoke each other into aggression, and they happily lock horns to fight it out. There’s never any bloodiness, and the winner is generally deemed to be the cow who has shoved or intimidated her opponent into submission.
Local contests are held on Sundays once or twice a month in various towns from late March through to September, accompanied by much revelry and the consumption of gallons of local wine. Two events stand out: the cantonal championships are held in Aproz, a small town just outside Sion, in mid-May, with the winners going on to Martigny for theCombats des Reines, a huge show held in the 5000-seater Roman amphitheatre in early October. It’s here that the supreme champion is crowned Queen of the Herd.
Traditional cow fighting in the roman amphitheater in Martigny