Seeing as I spent about an hour writing this email I thought I would post the email conversation on here. Please share your thoughts in the comments box:
Hello there. My name is Ellie I am a recent convert to more sustainable
living and part of this has included buying only local organic dairy. For
the past two months I have been buying calon wen dairy products through
the Organic Fresh Food Company in Lampeter. I am very happy with it and
have been getting through 12 litres of milk a week as I’ve been making
yoghurt and 4 packs of butter due to plentiful cake baking.
Today I found out about de-horning cattle and was wondering if your
farmers de-horn theirs?
Kind thanks Ellie Jones
Ellie good evening
Canvassed views here amongst our farmers – this is the view from one – Dai
Look forward to your thoughts:
” I Can’t really understand the problem with de horning… as normally
calves are de- budded between 3 and 10 weeks with a local anaesthetic,
and very much for their own benefit as well of course as health and safety
precautions for humans, both farmers, and those they may meet walking
through our fields.
If missed at that early age they can still be de-horned at 12 – 18 months,
again with more anaesthetic, but it must be carried out by a qualified
Sadly I’ve seen the dreadful damage & the terror a group of horned animals
can inflict on their polled or de horned cohorts and its horrific, and we
also fail in our duty of care to those that work on our farms too, should
they ever be placed into danger by such an animal.
We do hope this practical, and very carefully managed program won’t put
you off buying our milk, we spend a huge amount of time and energy
preserving our Organic farms so that your milk is produced in a
sustainable & caring system.
Yes I understand that this is the dominant perspective on de-horning. Who could argue with putting safety first? I have only done a few days work on a dairy farm with a relative but obviously I am not a dairy farmer and cannot comment on your farmers’ expertise.
I wonder if you knew how old the dehorning practice is?- whether humans have always dehorned cattle, or whether it was a practice introduced as herd sizes increased. I am aware that this is no fault of the small scale farmers, but rather industrialised food production and a culture of consumerism promoted by supermarkets put pressure on farmers to produce more milk at a cheaper price. I understand that managing a horned herd would involve more intensive management and that means more money. I don’t imagine for one minute that small scale farming is so lucrative that there are pots of money waiting to be spent. However your organic farmers are much more likely to open their minds to challenging the norms of farming than factory farms supplying the supermarkets. As a consumer the first step of course is supporting small scale farmers until business is thriving before taking such steps but the ideas have got to start somewhere. Here is an article which suggests farming horned cattle may cater to a gap in the market (http://www.dairyexporter.co.nz/article/35417.html)
Research about horned cows and the purpose of the horns is lacking and therefore seems to be a marginalised perspective. From what I have read (http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/welfare/farm/docs/calves_alcasde_D-2-2-1.pdf) about working within horned herds it seems that cattle have quite complex social needs which, if poorly managed, is what increase the chances of injury and not the presence of horns. Personally I see the dominant practice of dehorning entire herds of cattle as a convenient solution to a problem where there could be any number of factors contributing. But rather than looking for the root of the problem and less aggressive methods the horns are removed. There are loads of suggestions in the above research, but the primary seemed to be prevention of confrontational situations which would be preferable to de-horning.
I fully understand if what I’ve said comes across as ignorant, ill informed, jumping to conclusions and so on but again I am not a farmer and I do not understand the complexities and practicalities. For example I could not really decide whether using a traditional tying system suggested for horned herds, in which cows sleep more and spend less time eating (and therefore produce less milk) was a good thing for welfare. It could be more comfortable for the cow, hence more sleeping, but worse for social interactions and behaviour (clearly not good for high milk yeilds though) http://lhu.emu.ee/downloads/Welfood/Eating.pdf
Even though I have a few questions about de-horning I don’t think that it will stop me from buying Calon Wen as I am grateful to have found milk that I can say is environmentally good and supports small scale Welsh farmers. It is a good quality product and I love the fact it is not homogenised.
Kind thanks for reading my email and obtaining the reply from Dai.