The health and well-being of animals is the main motivation behind a proposed constitutional amendment which calls for financial incentives to encourage farmers – though not to compel them – to have cows with horns. Green Party parliamentarian Michael Töngi fully supports the “cow horn” initiative. It is to be put to a nationwide vote on November 25.
Cows and horns: they belong together. When cows appear on labels and advertisements in Switzerland, they always have horns. No advertiser would think of having hornless cows.
But the reality on the farm is different from the world of advertising: more and more cows are routinely dehorned. A few weeks after birth, calves have their budding horns burnt away.
Cow horns are not just an inorganic appendage, however: they have blood flow and nerves, and they grow throughout the animal’s life. They are important for the social behaviour of animals, their communication with each other, but also for hygiene. If animals are born with horns, the horns are very much a part of the animal.
The negative effects of dehorning have failed to arouse any interest on the part of the government or parliament: there was no information to suggest that animals suffered when dehorned, it was said, and the government declined to fund a study to investigate the issue more thoroughly.
Last summer – just after the matter was debated in parliament – intermediate results of an investigation were made public. They should give us pause for thought: many calves suffer from a higher sensitivity to pain even months after dehorning.
Even if they are touched in a way not normally conducive to pain, they feel pain and react more strongly to painful stimuli than animals that have not been dehorned. This prolonged vulnerability to pain in calves should not be ignored. Scientists at Agroscope, the government’s agricultural research institute, have also found that cows with horns are more careful in their interactions with each other.
Whereas horned animals can often resolve their conflicts about precedence without any bodily contact, cows without horns more often resort to head-butting and causing injury.
Anyone concerned about animal welfare should support farmers in not dehorning their cows. The animals will then need a bit more room and supervision in their pens. This is where the initiative comes in.
As it stands, the constitution calls for economically attractive incentives for a natural, environment- and animal-friendly agricultural sector. The new idea here is that keeping animals with horns should also be of economic advantage to the farmer.
This is easy enough to incorporate into Switzerland’s agricultural policy. There are various incentive programmes available, and the experience with promotion of animal- and environment-friendly standards has been a positive one.
Only half a percent of the federal agriculture budget would be involved.
The initiative does not say that all cows have to have horns. It allows farmers to make a free decision, and does no more than provide fair compensation for those who make the extra effort. This seems a moderate, unexceptionable approach.
The cow horn initiative is a fine example of personal commitment: it was launched by a farmer, Armin Capaul, who has been passionately advocating his crusade from his home in the Jura hills.
It was only when he got nowhere with meetings, letters, parliamentary motions and a petition, that he decided to launch a people’s initiative. With very little organisational backup, he managed to get his initiative off the ground.
That he was able to gather 120,000 authenticated signatures should have been enough indication to parliament that it was now time to take the matter seriously. But nothing of the kind happened. Parliament gave him the cold shoulder, in spite of all he had done. It refused a counter-proposal and the idea of integrating promotion of horned cattle in current agricultural policy.
So now it’s time for the nation’s voters to speak up – with a “yes” vote for Armin Capaul’s cow-horn initiative.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.
Translated from German by Terence MacNamee, swissinfo.ch