Combat des Reines (Fight of the Queens): Switzerland's unique cow-fighting contest

Combat des Reines, Valais, Switzerland FestivalCombat des Reines by Matt PerichCreative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Erdinger cows fight each other to decide which brown-coated contender will be ‘queen’ of the herd.

Location: Martigny, Valais, Switzerland

Dates: first week in October

Level of participation: 2 – watch the queens do battle

Switzerland’s Valais region is famous for its pistes, but a far stranger sport than skiing takes place here every spring and autumn. Erdinger cows, diminutive but aggressive beasts, fight each other to decide which brown-coated contender will be ‘queen’ of the herd. The combatants snort and stamp their hooves before charging, locking horns and trying to force each other backwards.

While this ritual has taken place for centuries, Valaisian farmers have organised battles since the 1920s. The cow-fighting circuit has grown so big that farmers can earn more from the sport than from their herds’ milk- and meat-producing talents. Genetic selection, embryo freezing, oat concentrate (believed to act as a stimulant) and even wine are employed. It can be anticlimactic: the animals sometimes lose interest and drift out of the ring in search of some grass. No blood is spilled – one of the reasons animal rights activists don’t object to the showdowns between the naturally feisty bovines.

Nonetheless, the major competitions, such as the rodeo-style event held during Martigny’s Foire du Valais exposition, are big events in southern Switzerland, attracting television cameras and thousands of spectators. Tickets cost over US$10 and there’s tens of thousands of Swiss francs to be won. A contest on this scale is the rodeo-style event held during Martigny’s Foire du Valais exposition.

Local attractions: Valais’ oldest town, Martigny, offers reminders of its ancient Roman masters.


See other festivals in October here.