Wed, May 09, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Family proud of breeding fighting bulls

AFP, PORTEZUELO, Spain

“Here all animals are born and live free until they die,” Victorino Martin said, pointing proudly to the herds of fighting bulls grazing by the Tagus River on a famous breeding farm in Spain.

With their trademark gray coat, the bulls weigh about half a tonne when they reach maturity at five years old. By then, some of them will already have been sent to their death in bullfighting arenas, a tradition cherished and reviled in Spain.

However, for Martin, a veterinarian, breeding bulls is a passionate, family affair and he stresses his cattle are treated with more dignity and humanity than those destined for people’s plates.

On the Las Tiesas de Santa Maria ranch in the southwestern Extremadura region, the bulls munch peacefully in a field scattered with spring flowers.

However, it is a deceptive calm.

“They fight and kill each other,” the 56-year-old second-generation breeder said with a warm slim.

“There are nearly as many deaths in breeding farms as in the arena,” he added.

The keepers on horseback stay well away. Several sport the scars of horn butts.

The ranch, with its 1,100 animals spread over about 2,000 hectares, is famous among bullfighting fans.

“Victorino Martin, the father, created this farm from nothing and turned it into a legend,” said Juan Diego Madueno, a journalist who specializes in bullfighting.

He bought a herd in 1960 and quickly bettered the breed to make his bulls stronger.

“Before, people would go to the arenas to see the toreros [bullfighters]. With Victorino Martin, they ended up going to see the bulls,” Madueno said.

“He allowed breeders to ask for payment for participating in corridas [bullfights],” he said.

Martin junior has inherited his father’s passion.

“My first memory was going to feed the bulls with him, when I was four,” he said.

Just like his father, he is a novillero, a bullfighter who fights two or three-year-old bulls.

He carefully selects breeding pairs, and the resulting young bulls and cows are tested on the ranch as if they were in a bullfighting arena.

Those who show the most fighting spirit are destined for reproduction, and their calves will grow up and become toros bravos — those who go to the arena.

The others will be sent to the abattoir.

Martin is head of the Fighting Bull Foundation, created by breeders in 2015 to defend bullfighting in Spain. That year, about 300 left-wing municipalities banned shows involving bulls, foundation director-general Borja Cardelus said.

For Martin, the corrida is “a sacrificial ritual where man must risk his life in order to be allowed to kill the animal.”

He also defends the becerradas, bullfights for beginners with calves that can be particularly gruesome and have been slammed by animal rights activists.

“They’re necessary for the training of young toreros,” he said.

However they are becoming “fewer and fewer,” said his daughter, Pilar, 32, also a veterinarian and passionate about bullfighting.

Martin points to the free-range life of his animals, of which only 10 percent are sent to fight every year, compared with cattle in the food industry, which are often locked up and killed when they are “10 to 15 months” old.

“A breeding farm for fighting bulls is one of few places where a cow can die of old age — up to 22 years — while a dairy cow is killed after her fourth lactation,” he said.

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