Who'd have guessed that in the peaceful, serene mountaintop community of canton Valais, Switzerland, you'd find “fighting” cows. Really, cows that attack each other just to be the herd “queen.”
That's what attendees of the Inter-national Federation of Ag Journalists (IFAJ) annual meeting witnessed in August during a farm tour to the grape and fruit area of Switzerland — also home to a fierce fighting breed of cattle called Eringers.
Cow fighting is an ancient tradition in Switzerland. The first official fight was organized in 1923, but Eringers have battled it out on mountain pastures for centuries, reports SwissInfo.com.
The comparatively small-bodied, brown and black-coated animals will stamp their hooves, bellow and dare their opponents to approach, before locking horns and testing their strength with a show of pushing and shoving. There are rarely injuries, the Web site says, and those who expect to see blood at a fight will be disappointed. Cows that don't want to participate are allowed to leave the ring.
Actually, the cows are rather docile until they're herded into a ring to perform for cheering crowds, says cattleman Jacques Pralong. He owns about 100 of the dual-purpose (milk and meat) cows and regularly enters them in fighting cow shows across the southern part of Switzerland.
“They're an aggressive breed and naturally like to fight,” he says.
Generally, about 40 cows are entered in an official match. Much like a championship sporting event, there are elimination rounds in which cows are penned into groups of 10. The top four from each group are pitted against each other until six fight their way to the top spots and become winners.
Local residents and diehard fans pay 13 franks ($10) to watch the match and 15 franks ($12) for the final championship fight. As many as 3,000-4,000 spectators show up for one of the events, usually held in the spring and fall. The matches are even broadcast on television.
“I make more money with the fighting than I ever would with the meat or milk,” Pralong says.
In a normal herd setting, the cows will quickly spar to set the pecking order and determine the boss cow, or queen. From then on, no more fights.
“In fact, with humans, these cattle are very much like pets,” Pralong explains. “It's like having a dog. It can be somewhat aggressive but not with its owner.”
So what do animal activists in Europe, some of the world's most assertive, think of the activity? Pralong says they don't seem to care since the breed is naturally aggressive.
“They (activists) worry more about us letting the cattle walk on frozen ground where they could slip and hurt themselves,” he adds.
Greg Lamp is editor of The Corn & Soybean Digest, a sister publication of BEEF magazine.