The Mirandesa (aka Raça Bovina Mirandesa, Ratinha) was originally developed as a strong working breed under harsh weather and land conditions in northeastern Portugal. As recently as 1969, they were simply called ‘Miranda’ and ‘Ratinha’ (little mouse).
The official name of Mirandesa is derived from the municipality of Miranda do Douro where the Mirandese language is still spoken. The Planalto Mirandês (Mirandese Plateau) is known as the ‘Mirandes’ and is the birthplace of Mirandesa cattle. Or not. There are competing theories about the Mirandesa origin. One side has the breed descending solely from the Iberian Chestnut breeds of northwestern Spain and Portugal; the other side believes that it has brachyceros characteristics which would have the breed descending in part from the Illyrian Shorthorns.
The Mirandesa breed has been historically recorded as producing three local varieties: Bragança, Beiroa and Jarmelista. The Bragança and Beiroa have seemingly disappeared, while the Jarmelista has since been designated a separate indigenous breed (not a variety).
Nonetheless, the Mirandesa has become one of the most dominant breeds in Portugal and is now raised primarily for meat. They are large with a compact build (versus a long body that is found in many other breeds), and are easy to handle. Mirandesa cows are widely used to produce veal calves (often using artificial insemination from Charolais bulls).
In northern Portugal, the Mirandesa is also used for bull fights (luta de touros and chega de bois) in the same manner as cows are used for cow fights, i.e. two animals basically huff and puff, and then head-bang each other to decide dominance. The weaker animal eventually backs away. The stronger animal might give a little chase, but loses interest quickly. The oxen do not try to kill each other.
“What fun is that?” the bloodthirsty cry. To which the answer is: the betting!
Today most of the fighting Mirandesa bulls are privately owned, but previously many villages 'owned' and collectively cared for these bois do povo (oxen of the people). Village prestige was one major benefit; the utilitarian aspect of improved genetics was another. With few exceptions, artificial insemination has replaced the previous on-site duties of the winning bulls. So, it is now mostly cultural heritage and tourism that keep these bull fights active as an ongoing source of entertainment and stimulus to local economies.
Portuguese bull fight phrases you should know:
luta de touros (LUU-tah jeh TOH-ruhs) = fight of bulls
chega de bois (SHEH-gah jeh BOH-ees) = arrival of oxen
bois do povo (BOH-ees doh POH-voh) = oxen of the people
You can also go to:
The Cow Wall® of Portugal
My Daily Cow® Portugal and read about other Portuguese cattle breeds.