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Switzerland to vote on whether to save cow horns

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A hornless cow grazes in a field at Stefan Gilgen-Studer's farm in Oberwan
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REUTERS - A hornless cow grazes in a field at Stefan Gilgen-Studer's farm in Oberwan
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Switzerland will vote Sunday on whether to subsidise farmers who let their cows' and goats' horns grow naturally.

The referendum on preserving the ‘dignity of livestock’ was started by farmer Armin Capaul.

When political lobbying failed, he collected over 100,000 signatures to trigger a national vote.

He wants a 190 Swiss franc annual subsidy per horned animal for farmers.

Capaul said horns help cows communicate and regulate their body temperature. His campaign has gained support from those who oppose dehorning – which involves burning a sedated calf's horn buds with a red-hot iron.

Critics said it is painful and unnatural.

However, some argue it is harmless, including veterinarian Jean-Marie Surer.

Capaul said it is over in seven seconds and a cow may suffer some pain after the sedative wears off.

The government has opposed the initiative.

It 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 to it, 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.

Three-quarters of Swiss cows are dehorned or genetically hornless.