He is campaigning for farmers to stop burning off the horns of young calves with a heiben branding rod – albeit under anesthesia and with painkillers. On sunday, the swiss will vote on his horned cow initiative.
Capaul (67) could have stepped straight out of a heidi movie with his beard, plaid shirt and knitted hat. He is a swiss mountain farmer with a farm in the canton of bern. "I’ve heard many a calf cry out in pain," he says. Agriculture minister johann schneider-ammann disagrees: "i saw dehorned cattle with my own eyes when i was a boy and never had the impression that they were suffering."
The significance of horns for the mental balance of cows has been disputed for years. "The horn gives the animals serenity, inner peace and security," says christian muller of the research institute for organic agriculture. Farmers’ and farmers’ wives’ association, on the other hand, fear for the safety of farm families. Full-grown cows with pointed horns could be a mortal danger.
Besides, horned cows need coarser stalls. "We are afraid that if the initiative is accepted, more cows will be tethered in the stall. This would not be in the best interests of the animals," says patrizia andina of the swiss veterinary society.
In switzerland, only ten percent of the approximately 1.5 million cattle still wear horns. In some breeds they have been completely bred away. Germany is home to a good twelve million cattle. How many of them carry horner is not known, says bjorn borgermann of the dairy industry association. "Cattle are not cuddly animals by nature, but rough working animals with a lot of strength," he says. "There is therefore an increased risk potential for the animal keeper when working with horned animals, irrespective of the type of husbandry."
Capaul calls for no ban because he saw no chance for it at the ballot box. Instead, he demands new subsidies for farmers who let their animals – not only cows but also goats – have horns. The government believes that it will be too expensive.
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