Why Horny Cows Make the Best Milk–Ruminations on Austrian Philosophy

“This cheese is made by a farmer in Holland who doesn’t dehorn his cows; it’s amazing.”

Standing by the “cheese cave” of a small market in Philadelphia, surrounded by an ocean of delicious dairies, I wonder, Why would anyone dehorn cows? Double take–Wait, dairy cows have horns?

So I’ve lived decades of my life without knowing that dairy cows naturally have horns, and perhaps you have as well. Both sexes of almost all breeds of cattle have the ability to grow horns, but modern farmers generally search for ways to get rid of them. There are a number of reasons, which all boil down to being able to get more bang for your bull (or cow). Dehorned cattle show less aggression and take up less space. Therefore, safety of the farmer and other cattle are cited, as well as reduction in bruised unsellable meat and risk of injury to the cow through a damaged horn. Smaller space requirements allow for more confined cattle, and maximizing profits.

Some breeds have been “polled,” or bread to eliminate the expression of the recessive horn gene. But this is apparently a challenge in the dairy cow field (pun intended) and so dehorning is standard and supported by industry cattle farmers, to the point of government “horn taxes” for sales of cattle with intact horns.

Cows are born with specialized cells on their heads, which will grow into horns. After birth the cells begin to grow and are referred to as “buds.” Around the second month the base of the bud becomes attached to the frontal bone of the skull, under which is the sinus cavity. As the horn grows, it fuses with the frontal sinus and a pathway is created.

You may want to skip this paragraph on the hows of dehorning cows if you have a sensitive stomach (or four). Dehorning occurs after the cows birth by any of three methods—polling, which is selective breeding to eliminate horn growth; disbudding by chemicals, hot iron, or surgical removal via sharpened tube or spoon; or dehorning by sawing off the horn and producing tissue after growth begins. Needless to say, anesthesia is not often used, despite the knowledge that horns have sensation through the Cornual nerve. I will note that the American Vetrenary Medical Association, along with well known livestock expert Dr. Temple Grandin support dehorning.

So other than the obvious animal welfare concerns (which other groups have done a great job of exploring) why do we care whether cows keep their horns?

Because dairy from cows with horns is different than dairy from cows without horns.

People who are lactose intolerant report being able to consume milk or cheese from cows with horns. Research studies have backed up this anecdotal evidence, and if that doesn’t convince you, how about the free market evidence that companies are cashing in by specializing in these products in order to tap the lactose intolerant market?

There are also people who believe that the dairy is of a better quality, though there is less hard scientific data to back this up. (Look for a post on my take on the quality and reliability of hard scientific data to back anything up, coming soon!) But think about it logically—The horn is connected to the sinus cavity. The sinus cavity plays a role in the digestion and thus metabolism of the cow. Does it make sense that the health of the cow will affect the quality of its fluids?

When the cow chews cud, digestive gasses penetrate the core of the horns via sinuses. The pattern of growth of horns can tell a farmer about the health of the animal, and whether its feed is difficult to digest. Old Farmer’s tales taught that bulls with horns produced more sperm, and that the silica in horns attracts more light energy that would transfer ultimately to the milk.

And here’s where it gets even more interesting.

There is a growing movement among farmers to hold on to the horns, despite industry and government opposition. It’s based on a series of lectures given by Austrian philosopher and scientist, and some would say “mystic” Rudolf Steiner in 1924, which he was cajoled into giving in the year before his death. Though Steiner was not a farmer, he elucidated a foundation for an integrated organic farming technique that is still in use today, and is gaining in popularity in recent years. In his first lecture, he summed up the basis for the philosophy of Anthroposophy (today known as Demeter Farming or Biodynamics), “From one aspect or another, all interests of human life belong to agriculture.” The lectures describe an integrated farming philosophy and technique which includes a holistic and sustainable view of the process. Those who have taken up the torch sometimes also categorize this as a spiritual practice. Not surprisingly, there are many critics who dismiss biodynamic farming as a hoax. More on this in future posts!

Who knew one cheese sale would propel me into Austrian philosophy? The cheese, by the way, a Remeker, was absolutely delicious.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Why Horny Cows Make the Best Milk–Ruminations on Austrian Philosophy

  1. I definitely found this article interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t consider anecdotes and farmer’s tales evidence enough to support your position. I suppose one could argue against dehorning based purely on compassion for the animal. If one is to argue it has an impact on the quality of the cheese a dairy cow produces, there’s much more evidence to gather. There’s countless other reasons for the taste of the cheese ranging from climate to preparation. After reading absoluteorganix’s article, it seems they are light on evidence as well. I’ll believe it when I see a couple peer-reviewed studies. Until then, if you simply find the product tastier than it’s competitors, by all means continue buying it.

  2. You’re absolutely right Jon; I agree with you. I spent some time scouring the web for “reliable” evidence (a.k.a. research published in journals). I came across a small handful of articles or studies, which were either not really on point or not published in any place most would deem acceptable for their standards of scientific evidence, or in another language since a lot of this work is going on in Europe. This is a topic I’d love to see explored, to see if there is a scientific way of measuring whether there is something measurable to the biodynamic farming, especially with respect to dairy. I do plan on exploring these concepts more in the future. I’ll keep you posted when I come across anything!

  3. Of course breeding out the horns “has been found to be impossible in dairy breeds without affecting milk yields” because none of the dairy breeds are polled so one has to cross with a beef breed to get the polled gene. Crossing with a horned beef breed gives the same result.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s