Herens cattle breed

Hérens cow at a cow fight in Valais

The Herens is a traditional Valais cattle breed with a pronounced sense of hierarchy and a correspondingly fiery temperament.

Characteristics of the Herens breed of cattle include short, broad heads, black to reddish-brown coats, powerful horns, medium-sized muscular frames and the large eyes. These animals feature strong herd unity, are curious and, thanks to their relatively short legs, also nimble on the mountain. All these characteristics, which also include a large dose of pride and grace, make Valais’ Herens cows true queens.

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Gentle giants with lots of energy

Extremely calm and peaceful to handle, the Herens cows have a strict hierarchy, which is already noticeable in their calves. When these lively animals come out of their stalls in spring, they are the first to instinctively establish the herd hierarchy in the pastures. This feature has undoubtedly led to the tradition of Herens cows contests throughout the canton, which attracts large numbers of breeders and spectators.

What happens in the ring?

Divided into age and weight classes, the Herens cows test their strength at the regional Stechfest in line with their natural ranking behaviour by choosing their opponents in the ring. Those who escape or lose a duel are eliminated. Supervised by the human "rabbateurs", the welfare of the animals always comes first. Finally, the strongest cow in each category is chosen as queen, with the seven best-placed cows qualifying for the national final at the Pra Bardy arena in Sion. There, the winners of the first four categories compete at the end for the title of "Queen of Queens".

Alpine ascent and descent

Like the Valaisans, the Herens cows are true mountain dwellers. This robust mountain breed moves easily in rough terrain and spends the summer at 2000 metres. Even when moving up to the alpine pastures, the Herens cows regulate the herd hierarchy, akin to a Herens cows contests in its own right. The cow that battles her way to the top on this day has to stand her ground the whole summer if she is to be able to return to the valley in autumn as the crowned alpine queen. In many places, alpine farmers and tourism organisations combine the Alpine ascent and descent with a traditional festival featuring Valais specialities. For more information, contact the local tourist offices.