Over 1.7 million cattle have arrived in Jeddah to fulfill the demand for Hajj
You sigh and wonder why you agreed to this assignment as you stare out the tiny window of the cramped prop plane descending into Jeddah. The massive herd of cattle below resembles a brown sea rippling across the Saudi Arabian desert. Your editor pitched this story as a chance to witness an epic feat of logistics in action during the Hajj. What she failed to mention was the smell—an earthy, pungent aroma wafting up from over 1.7 million beasts all converging on the city at once. You pinch your nose and brace yourself for the landing, hoping your supplies of hand sanitizer and peppermint oil are up to the task. This is going to be a long week of dodging hooves and manure for a story no one back home will even read. The things we do for journalism! At least the kebabs should be tasty…if you can stomach eating anything in this place. Adventure awaits, dear readers, as we go behind the scenes of the greatest cattle drive on Earth.
The Massive Scale of the Hajj Cattle Drive
When you think “cattle drive,” images of cowboys on horseback herding longhorn cattle across the American West probably come to mind. The annual Hajj cattle drive to Jeddah is a whole different beast. We’re talking over 1.7 million animals – cows, sheep, goats, and camels – transported hundreds of miles to meet the massive demand for livestock required for the Muslim pilgrimage sacrifices.
The mind boggles at the immense scale of this bovine extravaganza. Forget a few ranch hands – this operation requires 35,000 workers and takes months of planning to execute. Unlike the romanticized cattle drives of yore, these animals travel via modern means – trucks and trains. Though some unlucky camels still make the trek on foot, escorted by handlers.
The livestock descends upon Jeddah from all corners of the kingdom and beyond – as far as Australia and East Africa. This veritable United Nations of cattle breeds – Brahma from India, Ankole-Watusi from Africa, Bactrian camels from Central Asia – come together for a common purpose. One can only imagine what it must sound, smell, and feel like with so many animals in one place. The mooing, bleating and grunting alone would be deafening!
For all the spectacle, the Hajj cattle drive serves an essential purpose – to provide sacrificial animals for Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in Islam. The meat is then distributed to the needy, honoring the spirit of charity and goodwill that embodies the Hajj. What was once a necessity has become a time-honored tradition on a scale that baffles the senses. The Hajj cattle drive is truly a sight to behold, as long as you hold your nose!
How the Cattle Are Transported to Jeddah
So 1.7 million cattle walk into a port city…no, this isn’t the start of a bad joke, it’s how the annual Hajj pilgrimage gets its massive supply of livestock.
- Every year, an unparalleled bovine brigade makes the long trek to Jeddah to meet the huge demand for ritual animal sacrifice. How do they possibly get all those four-legged pilgrims to the port city without total chaos ensuing? Through a highly organized system of drovers, holding pens, and transportation, of course.
- The journey begins at collection points across the region, where farmers bring their cattle to be purchased for the Hajj. Once bought, the cattle are walked or trucked to large holding areas outside Jeddah to await their sea voyage. Talk about a lot of mooooving parts!
- When it’s time to ship out, the cattle are loaded onto massive cargo vessels for the overnight journey to Jeddah’s port, where even more holding pens await. It’s a veritable sea of cattle, a bovine bonanza, as far as the eye can see.
- From the port, smaller trucks transport the cattle to the holy sites and temporary slaughterhouses set up to handle the millions of ritual sacrifices during the Hajj. It’s an incredible feat of organization and logistics for what must be the world’s largest annual cattle drive and barbecue.
Who knew so much went into wrangling over a million cattle for their big Hajj adventure? While the pilgrims embark on a journey of spiritual reflection, the real unsung heroes may just have hooves and horns. May their sacrifice, and the efforts of all those who guide them, be accepted and rewarded.
Caring for the Cattle Upon Arrival
Hydrate and Feed
After a long, hot journey through the desert, those cows are thirsty! The first order of business is getting them access to fresh, cold water. Luckily, the cattle farmers planned ahead and have massive troughs set up and waiting. The cows will drink their fill and start feeling more like their usual selves.
Next up, it’s time for some grub. Farmhands will fill the troughs with hay, grass, grains and cattle feed to give the animals plenty of energy after their trek. With full bellies and hydrated bodies, the cattle can start settling into their temporary home.
Speaking of, when you gotta go, you gotta go. And with over 1.7 million cattle arriving, that’s a lot of going! The farmers have prepared open areas where the cattle can do their business. These areas are regularly cleaned to keep the holding pens from getting too messy. After a long trip, the cattle likely have some pent up energy in more ways than one, so having space to roam, graze and relieve themselves helps them decompress from the journey.
Given the concentration of numerous animals in a single location, it is inevitable that health issues may arise. The farmers have veterinarians and medical staff readily available to examine each cow for potential problems. They carefully assess for signs of injuries, infections, parasites, or any other concerns that require attention before the cattle proceed to their next destination.The staff can provide necessary vaccinations, medications or other treatments to ensure the cattle are healthy, happy and ready for the next leg of their journey.
- Resting: After traveling, eating, drinking and taking care of business, the cattle mostly want to rest. The farmers give them time to nap, lounge, graze and generally unwind before moving them on to the next holding area. Low stress and lots of rest help keep the cattle in good condition during this demanding time.
Caring for over 1.7 million cattle is no small feat, but with good planning and the hard work of many farmers and staff, the cattle receive everything they need to recover from their pilgrimage to Jeddah. The annual cattle drive requires patience and dedication to responsibly handle these animals during their long journey.
How the Meat Is Processed and Distributed
The Annual Stampede
Over 1.7 million cattle make their way to Jeddah for the Hajj, turning the city into a veritable sea of mooing, meandering beasts. Where do they all go? How does the city handle this bovine influx without succumbing to madness? Have no fear, there is a method to the madness.
Processing Plant Perfection
State-of-the-art processing plants on the outskirts of Jeddah are prepped and ready for the four-legged pilgrims. Conveyor belts, carcass chilling rooms, and packing facilities on an industrial scale allow for efficient but humane handling of the cattle. Teams of veterinarians and butchers work around the clock during Hajj season, fueled by copious amounts of cardamom coffee, to prepare the meat according to strict halal standards.
- Cardamom coffee: A traditional Saudi coffee infused with cardamom pods, providing an energizing kick.
Meat Distribution for the Masses
Once packaged, the meat is distributed to butchers, restaurants, and markets across Jeddah. With millions of extra hungry mouths to feed during Hajj, the supply chain is crucial. A fleet of refrigerated trucks transports the meat, while motorbikes zip through crowded streets delivering directly to vendors. Locals and pilgrims alike can find affordable, high-quality halal meat—whether for grilling, stewing, or to add to a hearty Hajj stew.
- Hajj stew: A traditional dish of meat, vegetables, and spices, often eaten communally during the Hajj pilgrimage.
While the influx of cattle may seem absurd, the streamlined system in place to care for the animals and provide sustenance for pilgrims is a marvel of logistics. The annual stampede of beasts into Jeddah is a reminder of the dedication of all involved in orchestrating the Hajj. Where there are cattle, there is a way.
The Environmental Impact and Future of the Hajj Cattle Drive
The Yearly Stampede
Every year, over 1.7 million cattle, sheep, goats and camels descend upon the city of Jeddah for the Hajj pilgrimage. This massive influx of livestock leads to some unintended consequences for the local environment. All those hooves mean a whole lot of methane and manure. The sheer volume of animals in one place puts a major strain on resources like grass, grain, and fresh water.
Droppings for Days
With millions of animals comes millions of droppings. All that dung has to go somewhere, and usually that means it gets collected and dumped in massive mounds on the outskirts of the city. The mountains of manure can take months to clear and the smell is, shall we say, quite fragrant. The runoff from these mega-mounds often pollutes nearby water sources and releases greenhouse gasses as the waste decomposes.
Where’s the Grass?
The huge herds of cattle, sheep and goats require massive amounts of grass and feed during their stay for the Hajj. The large influx of animals in a concentrated area can quickly deplete the available grassland and vegetation. Local farmers struggle to maintain enough grass and feed for their own livestock with so many additional mouths to feed. Some experts worry whether the region has enough resources and grazing land to support such huge herds in the long run.
While the Hajj cattle drive is an important religious tradition, its environmental impact is undeniable. As the Hajj continues to grow in size and the effects of climate change intensify, Saudi officials will need to find sustainable solutions to handle millions of livestock and their byproducts if they want the tradition to continue for generations to come. Reducing waste, protecting water sources, improving waste management and finding alternative feed sources will be crucial to ensure this moving religious experience doesn’t become an ecological nightmare.
Well there you have it, another successful Hajj cattle drive in the books. As the dust settles in Jeddah and the last straggling goat finds its pen, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing your pilgrimage provisions are secure for another year. The blisters may be sore but the memories will last forever. When the relatives ask about your trip, you can regale them with stories of close encounters with ornery camels and near stampedes averted. Though the work was hard, the rewards of faith and community made it worthwhile. Only 364 more days until you get to do it all over again! May the blessings of the season find you and keep you until we meet once more on the dusty trail to Mecca.