Got Beef: Photos of a Traditional Swiss Cattle Fighting Tournament

While their breeders drink wine and eat cheese, the cattle battle each other for the title of Queen of the herd.

by Jojo Schulmeister, text by Philippe Stalder
13 October 2016, 11:00pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Alps

Back in the day, the Romans used to stage gladiator fights in the amphitheatre of Martigny – a small town located in the picturesque valley of Valais in Switzerland. Today, the ancient site serves as the location for traditional annual Swiss cattle battles.

Every spring and summer, around 200 Hérens cows partake in a fighting tournament around the valley, in which they battle for their honour, their breeder's honour, status and cash. Hérens aren't exactly famous for their overwhelming milk production, but they're mostly dear to their breeders because of their combative character.

Unlike Spanish bullfighting, these Swiss cows seem to fight because they feel like it. When new members join a herd, the herd has to re-evaluate its hierarchy, which results in these cows having beef with each other. If an anxious cow avoids a confrontation, she won't be pushed to fight – she'll just get deducted some points and drops out of the competition after two losses. The seven last cows standing in a weight class compete for the coveted title of Queen, and the highlight of the tournament is when the Queens of all weight classes fight each other in the final. During all of this, tradition dictates that their breeders watch, sit, eat some raclette (Swiss cheese) and drink fendant – the local white wine.

Photographer Jojo Schulmeister went to the last cow fight of the 2016 season, held on the 4th of October in the amphitheatre in Martigny.

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