People

The mail carrier and his queen

His seven Herens wrestling cows are his life. Valais-born Christian Sermier dreams of victory at the national finals.

Magalie Terre

Wrestling cows from the cowshed to the alpine pasture
The proud cow owners lead their wrestling cows from the cowshed to the alpine pasture early in the morning. (Copyright: Isabelle Favre)

Alp Serin, up above Ayent in Lower Valais – even the climb to the alpine pasture at 1,800 metres above sea level is an adventure. The narrow, unclear road winds its way up the mountain, passing deep ravines and going through dense larch woods. In the distance cow bells and loud snorting sounds can be heard. When you reach the top, you can see a herd of Herens cowsall wearing a number. In this idyllic spot, surrounded by magnificent mountain peaks, some of which are still snow-capped, the cows fight in a natural way for the favour of the matriarch – the queen of the meadow and leader of the procession to the alpine pastures.

Ready to fight

Christian Sermier in the thick of the action. The expression on his face is guarded but friendly and his faithful look remind you of the good-natured way a cow gazes at you. He wears a traditional Edelweiss shirt and has a stick in his hand. From the fence he watches Viola, his cow, and encourages her with kind words. His voice is calm but determined.

The Herens cows, a unique breed of cattle globally, have a strong herd mentality by nature. They are powerfully built and have strong horns. (Copyright: Isabelle Favre)

She selects her opponent spontaneously. She lowers her head, scratches the ground with her hooves and snorts loudly. Then the fight begins. The sets of horns collide with one another and interlock. The rivals push forward with all their might or are edged backwards, depending on their strength. The loser moves away after a few minutes. “It’s simply fantastic,” remarks Christian Sermier. “She has won here for the last two years,” he reveals with great pride. You immediately sense the close connection between him and Viola, his cow.

(Copyright: Isabelle Favre)

“My cows are like my children”

50-year-old Christian grew up in Ayent, high up above the Rhone Valley. He has been a mail carrier for 33 years. Although his parents did not own any cows, he discovered his passion for the Herens breed during his childhood. He often went with his friends to cow-wrestling competitions. His fascination with the old Swiss tradition has grown stronger over the years. He fulfilled his dream of owning his own Herens cow by the age of 23. He bought his first wrestling cow from a friend and breeder with whom he incidentally also attended the same military training school. Today Christian has seven cows. He looks after them as if they were his own children. If one of his cows gets injured or falls ill, he spares no cost or effort to get it back on its feet. When a cow calves, Christian always finds it an incredible, although stressful experience.

(Copyright: Isabelle Favre)

A drop of white wine before the fight

Cow-wrestling matches are emotionally charged. Sometimes disputes between owners are played out by the animals. Christian Sermier knows a little song about that. He describes himself as being hot-headed. He doesn’t like anyone criticizing his cows. A rival cow owner once dared to do exactly that by declaring himself the victor before the fight. Christian recalled how he curtly replied: “Your cows know how to lose, but you don’t.” The winner was declared half an hour later. He watched as his rival trooped off the meadow with his tail between his legs. Christian has many victories under his belt for which he has been presented cow bells. Thanks to a disciplined regime, the right diet and physical training, his cows are in fantastic shape. Rituals play an equally important role. “I mix a drop of Valais white wine into the drinking water of my cows before the fight,” reveals Christian. He doesn’t give anything else away as the competition is listening.

written by

Magalie Terre

Editor