Travel

Photos of a Traditional Swiss Cattle Fighting Tournament

While their breeders drink wine and eat cheese, the cattle battle one another for the title of queen of the herd.

by Jojo Schulmeister, text by Philippe Stalder
Oct 14 2016, 4:15pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Alps.

Back in the day, the Romans used to stage gladiator fights in the amphitheater of Martigny—a small town located in the picturesque valley of Valais in Switzerland. Today, the ancient site serves as the location for traditional 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 honor, their breeder's honor, status, and cash for their breeders. Hérens aren't exactly famous for their overwhelming milk production, and 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 reevaluate their hierarchy, which results in these cows having beef with one another. 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 last seven 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 one another in the final. During all of this, tradition dictates that their breeders watch, sit, eat some raclette (a Swiss cheese), and drink fendant—the local white wine.

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