Van Dorp’13 Shares the Spanish Bullfight – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Van Dorp’13 Shares the Spanish Bullfight

As part of her honors project, Megan Van Dorp ’13 recently published an editorial about her experiences abroad in Country Folks, a popular agricultural newspaper, as a way to encourage other rural farm kids to study abroad.

Her editorial, titled “Dairy Farming and Bullfighting?,” focuses on the research she completed about how bulls are raised for bullfighting in Spain. Van Dorp was initially interested in this particular topic because she grew up on a dairy farm, where raising cows is a part of life. Van Dorp has since turned her research into a year-long honors project with Professor of History Maureen Flynn. Her honors project will compare her time abroad in Spain with the past 21 years of life on a dairy farm.

“I decided to do research while abroad, because I knew that I would get out in the field and off the beaten path, especially by doing agricultural research,” explains Van Dorp, who visited several farms in the area around Seville, Spain, where she was studying abroad. “I hope that this project will open new lines of communication between local farmers and HWS students, many of whom have never seen a cow but drink milk, eat cheese and eat hamburgers. I also hope that my research will challenge other farmers to think about farming in a new perspective and realize how advanced the United States dairy industry is.”

While in Spain, Van Dorp visited Dehesa La Calera farm in Gerena. “While at the farm, I received a mini-bullfight lesson from Alfredo, a Colombian matador,” says Van Dorp. “This was an amazing experience, because I actually got to learn the steps and moves of a real bullfighter and practice them on a young calf.”

Van Dorp received research grants from Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Center for Global Education to help fund her study.

“When I was applying to study abroad, I applied for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which requires its recipients to conduct a follow-on project as a means to give back to the community from their experiences abroad,” explains Van Dorp, who, after receiving the scholarship, contacted Country Folks and got them to agree to publish her article. “Recently, while visiting my brother in Pennsylvania, we got a call saying that the newspaper had not only published my story as agreed, but that it had featured it on the cover with a picture of my cow, Winnie, and I. Needless to say, I was ecstatic.”

Van Dorp is a Spanish and Hispanic studies major with a double minor in Latin American studies and geoscience. On campus, she is the coordinator of the First-Generation Initiative and a member of the Laurel Society. She serves as a Spanish Teaching Fellow, a Teaching Assistant for Associate Professor Edgar Paiewonsky-Conde in the Spanish Department and works in the William Smith Dean’s Office.

The full Country Folks article follows and is also available online with photos from Van Dorp’s trip.

Country Folks
Dairy Farming and Bullfighting?

Megan Van Dorp • February, 27, 2012

My name is Megan Van Dorp. I am a junior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, where I major in Spanish and Hispanic Studies. I grew up on a small, family-run dairy farm, and my first-loves were cows. Whenever I can, I find ways to bring my two passions, farming and Spanish, together. In 2011, I spent four months living in Seville, Spain, where I studied Spanish language and culture. Seville is in the southern province of Spain known as Andalusia. This region of Spain is known as the birthplace of bullfighting. Dairy farming and bullfighting may seem like extreme opposite subjects, but they share bovine protagonists.

I received this opportunity to live in Seville through my college, which prides itself on its study abroad programs. Studying abroad is expensive, but there are ways to make it affordable for everyone. I took it upon myself to design a project in which I would research how bulls are raised in Spain. Upon returning to the United States, I could use my field research from Spain to create a comparative project. The thesis of this project would be an analysis of how my family raises heifers for dairy farming with how Spaniards raise bulls for bullfighting. I received funding from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Student International Initiatives Fund, which generously supported my four-month experience in Spain. The first part of my project focuses on reproduction and how current methods differ between the two countries.

The life of the toro bravo (Spanish bull) culminates in the bullring, but there is a detailed process that leads up to this event. In the first place, all living animals need to reproduce. On a ganadería (Spanish farm), the most important animal is the stud bull. Typically, a small ganadería will use one stud bull for hundreds of cows, so he is responsible for the profitability of the entire herd. Great care is used in the selection of this animal.

When choosing a stud bull, farmers take into account the bull’s morphology, genealogy, and his performance in la tienta (a test bullfight to determine the aggressiveness of each young animal). Although how a bull fights and dies in the arena is very important, it is equally important to realize that bulls are not solely assessed based on how well they fight. An important part of bullfighting is the beauty and character of the bull. When the bull enters the ring, he should awe the crowd with his beauty and carry himself in a cavalier way. He will be judged on his “authenticity,” and how well he represents his breed.

In the United States, the trend of crossbreeding dairy cows has grown exceedingly popular over the last decade. My family has Holstein cows, Brown Swiss cows, and multiple cows belonging to every generation between the two breeds. These cows are the perfect hybrid, producing a high yield of milk with the richness unique to the Swiss breed. In Spain, farmers emphasize la raza pura (the pure breed). Spanish farmers do not combine different breeds to make hybrid animals. Rather, they improve the breed using the best animals from that particular breed.

In order to find the best animals from each breed, Spanish farmers attend bullfights religiously. It is estimated that a shocking 30,000 bulls die every year at Spanish and Portuguese bullfights. Nonetheless, at every official bullfight there is a presidente who decides how well the bull performed. If his performance was mediocre or poor, the bull is killed. On the other hand, if the bull put on a great show, his life is pardoned. A select few bulls are pardoned, and these animals become the stud bulls that will father the successive generations of animals.

Bulls and cows of the raza de lidia (the Spanish fighting breed) breed seasonally, which is quite different from dairy cattle who can come in heat at any time. From January until the beginning of June, the cows and bulls graze together, and during this time, the animals reproduce by completely natural means. Artificial insemination is not common in Spain, although it has been the method of choice in the United States since the 1930s. The Spanish bulls and cows are self-sufficient and often only receive grain from the farmers. They roam hundreds of acres of land, and as I was told, it is normal to not see the herd for days at a time.

The reason for the difference in means of reproduction between the two countries largely has to do with each country’s emphasis on a different gender. Bulls can be used on dairy farms, but many farmers choose artificial insemination due to its numerous advantages: sexed semen, the availability of a certain bull’s semen to travel worldwide, genetic engineering for desired traits, etc. Having a bull is also extra work, dangerous work at that. In the United States, the female cow is the desired animal, and the bull takes a backseat. In Spain, the focus is not on the cow but on the bull. The bull is the animal that goes to the arena to be fought, in turn providing money for the ganadería. Therefore, of course a ganadería will have bulls, where as an American farm will typically cut them out of the operation for safety and profit reasons.

In regards to profit, bullfighting is a very lucrative sport. The cheapest bulls cost around $3,000, but it is common for a bull of exceptional breeding to be worth much more. Tickets to watch a bullfight begin at a price of $30 and can easily exceed $500. The smallest bullring can seat 13,000 people, but larger ones, like the stadium in Madrid, have capacity for more than 25,000 people. There are approximately 3,200 official bullfights each year, in which thousands of bulls will die. As you may know, some Spanish provinces have banned bullfighting, which in turn has hurt their already suffering economies. The balance between lucrative, economy boosting sport and animal cruelty is an issue that will continue to be hotly contested in Spain.


Although I was born and raised on a dairy farm, I know very little about bulls and have hardly ever seen a full-grown one. Therefore, it was fascinating for me to travel to Spain and develop a new understanding of the animal to which I have dedicated so much of my life. It was the experience of a lifetime, and I highly encourage any students or parents of students reading this to search out these unique opportunities. I am no different than the majority of students out there, but with a little bit of innovation and perseverance anyone can study abroad and develop a new appreciation for an old passion.