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With or without horns, Swiss cows on the ballot this weekend

2018-11-20 19:16
Switzerland votes this Sunday (November 25) on an issue of national importance that has divided the Alpine country - whether to subsidise farmers who let their cows' and goats' horns grow naturally. The referendum on preserving the "dignity of livestock" was initiated by farmer Armin Capaul, 66, a self-described rebel, who says "listening" to his eight horned cows inspired his campaign for cash to fund the extra grazing space horned animals need and which he hopes will reduce dehorning. "We must respect cows as they are. Leave them their horns. When you look at them they always hold their head high and are proud. When you remove the horns, they are sad," he told Reuters on his small farm in northwestern Switzerland. Three-quarters of Swiss cows, a national symbol and tourist attraction, are dehorned or genetically hornless. Capaul, who says horns help cows communicate and regulate their body temperature, wants a 190 Swiss franc ($191.65) annual subsidy per horned animal for farmers. When political lobbying failed, he collected over 100,000 signatures to trigger a national vote. The latest poll says the vote is too close to call. Capaul, a distinctive figure with a long grey beard and hand-knitted red hat, had become a media star in Switzerland, due to his alternative approach. His campaign is likely to garner support from those who oppose dehorning - burning a sedated calf's horn buds with a red-hot iron. Critics say it is painful and unnatural but supporters liken it to castrating cats or dogs and argue it is a safety issue. Veterinarian Jean-Marie Surer, however, said dehorning with a hot iron is harmless, over in seven seconds, though a cow may suffer some pain after the sedative wears off. The initiative is opposed by the government, which says it would drain 30 million francs from its 3 billion franc agricultural budget, and is a burden on the constitution. Some farmers are also opposed, arguing that cows must be able to move around freely, and keeping their horns would require more space. "Our current system in the stable has advantages, the cows get along better with each other. If cows have horns, the danger of injuries to the animals and humans is greater," said Stefan Gilgen, whose 48 cows provide 1,000 litres of milk daily. "We have other problems in agriculture. It should be up to each farm manager to decide whether to keep the horns or not," he said.