Every year a spectacular meeting brings together Hérens breeders from the Mont-Blanc region. These strong and stout cows with their dark coats, wide foreheads * (a) and curved horns * (b) are all good climbers, bred for the quality of their milk and their meat.
This breed is naturally combative and competes to create a hierarchy within the herd. Local traditions have transformed these battles into a popular show. Four villages alternately organize a regional cow fighting event at the end of every summer: Servoz, Les Houches, Argentière and Les Contamines.
Les Contamines counts no less than 5 breeders of Hérens cows:
– Jean-Louis Mollard
– Bruno Mattel and his son Niels
– Roger Mattel
– Christian Jacquemoud
In 2012 the regional competition was held in Les Contamines *.
It was a great success for our breeders.
This year, four cows from Les Contamines competed in the international competition against cows from the Valais in Switzerland, the Aosta Valley in Italy and the Haute-Savoie region. The event, which took place in Chamonix, was a great success despite the gloomy weather! Numerous stalls were installed around the central arena: local produce, traditional crafts and workshops. On the Saturday, a long procession of black cows marched through the streets of Chamonix to the cheers of over 3000 spectators.
Les Contamines had 2 heifers in the French selection of the international competition ( combined weights). Aged between 3 and 4 years they were both carrying their second calf. This ensures the continuity of the breed and reduces their natural aggressiveness.
Bruno and Niels Mattel accompany DOUCHKA, bib137*: weighing in at 594 kg (c)
Jean-Louis Mollard leads TURIN, bib 146*: weighing in at 590 kg(d)
For the regional battle, cows are classified into 4 categories of 16 cows: heifers in the one category (carrying their first calf) and 3 categories of cows, divided according to their weight. The first 4 in each category receive a beautiful cow bell.
CHOUQUETTE (bib 21) and FILETTA (bib 22), two of Bruno Mattel’s cows were due to fight in category 2 (590 to 630 kg) and category 3 (475 to 585 kg) respectively.
The morning of the contest, thunderstorms hung over the valley, the ground was wet and muddy. Under the marquee the atmosphere was agitated. The cows weighed in*(1), some of them struggling, others retreating or getting stuck in the rungs. The previous day veterinary controls were carried out ( including an ultrasound scan) to make sure that all the cows present complied to the rules.
A computer draw determined the different challengers and the jury took its place in the stands. The light rain continued to fall and the ground soon became soaked.
Damien Châtelard * (e) was present to accompany his uncle’s cows. During the winter season Damien is a ski instructor and organizes different competitions on the slalom stadium in Les Contamines. On this occasion he traded in his red sweater for a more rustic outfit. Similarly, Bruno (who was once a cross-country ski instructor) and his son Niels momentarily left their carpentry workshop. Yet another great example of the versatility of alpine people!
The event began at 9.30 am with a battle between heifers.
The international selection started around 10.30 am* (2): 16 cows from the Valais region of Switzerland were bought into the arena. The competition took place according to the Italian method: 2 cows among the 16 present were determined by a draw and confronted, face to face. The rounds continued by direct elimination until there were only 4 heifers left. The French and Italian selections took place in the same manner.
4 cows per nation were thus selected for the international final, to compete for the title of Queen of Queens in the Mont-Blanc region. Unfortunately DOUCHKA*(f) and TURIN * (g) didn’t make the final rounds. Despite fine and valiant fighting neither made it further than the quarter-finals.
1:30 pm: after warming up and enjoying a bite to eat in the marquee it was time for the regional finals.
FILETTA (bib 22) * (h) entered the arena to fight in category 3. She was successful in the first rounds of the fight until the horns of her opponent got stuck in her collar. Her bell was removed. Tired, unbalanced and anxious she resumed the fight * (i), but sadly only took 6th place.
CHOUQUETTE (bib 21) competed in category 2 and from the earlier stages of the competition she took precedence over her opponents. Her determination was greatly encouraged by both Damien and Bruno. She fought hard for a place on the podium, missing the gold medal by very little .
The day ended with the international finals. The best 4 from each nation were selected to fight in the afternoon event. The battle took place according to the Swiss method: the 12 finalists entered the arena. Each chose an opponent. Some locked their horns, slid and skidded on the muddy ground. Some resisted. Others gave up! Competitors were eliminated after 3 defeats or 3 refusals to fight.
Towards the end of the afternoon the sunshine broke through the cloud (a miracle after the rain) and a beautiful Swiss cow named FAROUCHE (bib 10) was crowned Queen of the Mont Blanc region. FILETTA was also rewarded by the jury for her combativeness and her courage, for fighting with bravery even when weakened by her opponent.
By the evening, the cows were back in the fields, the stress and fatigue fading quickly. Most of them will return next year to compete for the title.
That evening Chouquette returned to the pastures of Les Contamines, triumphant.
Something to look forward to…
In September 2017 the event is programmed to take place in les Contamines.
My thanks to Bruno Mattel and Damien Châtelard for all their additional information.
A special thanks to Michel Parfus with whom I attended the cow fighting in Chamonix and who lent an ear to those details that I may otherwise have forgotten.