Finals are just 2 weeks away and Valais’s finest Alpine cows show their stuff in Mollens arena
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – You know spring is here when Swiss cows begin to fight (tourism office schedule) and the crowds stream in from all corners of the country to watch them.
Cool weather at 900 metres in Mollens, canton Valais and 30 titles to be won Sunday 22 April brought out 4,000 spectators for a tradition that is as popular as it is unusual in the animal world.
Spring comes slowly to the alps, the splendid pastures high above the Rhone River where lucky Swiss cows get to spend their summers, but the girls don’t take the wait lying down.
This is the season when many of the cows get pregnant, and as hormones kick in, snow melts and the air starts to smell of fresh grass, the herds look for their leaders.
These are the cows that are smarter, tougher and like a good challenge. The short legs on the Val d’Herens breed of small (relatively) black cows are particularly good for maneuvering steep Alpine slopes.
The cows don’t need encouragement from humans: left alone, they fight in the fields to determine the hierarchy of the troop.
Wander through canton Valais during the next six weeks and you’re likely to see a black cow start pawing the dirt and eying her buddies to see which one is up for a good tussle, then the cowbells suddenly clang like mad while they leap into action.
Yes, these are cows. No, they are not bulls!
The crowds love it. A cow that walks away from a fight is promptly eliminated. It might happen in a first round, when her mettle isn’t up, or after three rounds, when she’s had enough and wants to go back and graze peacefully.
These are not mean or vicious cows and they tend to have particularly warm ties to people, so they get a loving nose rub at the end of the match and the crowd cheers its appreciation.
The cows all have names. The dirt is raised as they leap and push, but you’ll hear someone cheering on a young cow called Gazelle.
By mid-June she’ll be heading up from her winter home on the plains to pastures at anywhere from 1,200 to 2,200 metres, sometimes higher.
She will eat fresh grass and flowers and provide the milk that makes Switzerland’s famous Raclette cheeses. These vary in taste depending on the pasture, much as wines vary depending on their terroir.
The cows fight in different weight categories and, as in sports, they are led off for drug control tests the day of the fights.
The big winner in every sense in Mollens Sunday is one of the canton’s heavyweights, Furibonde from Nax, age 8, who weighed in at 769kg. The finalists: Chips, Manila, Darwin, Rite and Calin.
The finals are 5-6 May in Aproz, when the Queen of the Cows is crowned, a title worth a few thousand francs to her owner.
Short video of a quick win
And here is a view of what it’s like when they let a group into the arena, as the eliminations get started