Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows

Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows
In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, a hornless cow stands in a dairy barn at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind. Fair Oaks, one of the nation's largest dairy farms with 36,000 cows, is phasing out the use of milk cows with horns—unruly cows can be hazardous because they can gore farm workers or other animals. About a quarter of its newborn calves are hornless due to selective use of bulls with the polled gene, a dominant no-horn genetic trait. AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Food manufacturers and restaurants are taking the dairy industry by the horns on an animal welfare issue that's long bothered activists but is little known to consumers: the painful removal of budding horn tissue from calves so farm workers or other animals don't get gored later.

It's routine to remove the horn tissue from young calves before it attaches to the skull, either by burning it out with heat or chemicals or digging it out with sharp instruments. While veterinary groups recommend pain treatment, only about 10 percent of calves are properly medicated, according to Vermont breeder Mark Rodgers.

Certain cows carry a dominant no-horn genetic trait, and are called polled cows. Research has shown it's cheaper to breed polled cattle than to dehorn cows, but experts say the has been slow to expand polled genetics because it's been focused on boosting milk productivity. Yet, the change may come sooner than producers expected, as some of the nation's largest food companies, such as General Mills, Nestle and Dunkin' Brands, are asking dairy suppliers to incorporate polled cattle into their herds.

The beef industry already has largely adopted polled cattle. Less than 1 percent of the nation's carry the hornless polled gene, but 10 times more polled animals have been registered with breeding programs in the past three years, Rodgers said.

"It's an animal well-being issue but it's also a management issue. It's a labor-saving issue. Ask anyone working on a dairy farm and they'll tell you the most disagreeable job on those farms is dehorning calves," said Rodgers, who belongs to an international group of 46 polled breeders, including farmers in Australia, Canada, England and Germany.

But Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, a trade group, said the industry believes removing horn buds at a very young age is safe and "minimally disruptive, uncomfortable process."

Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows
In this July 17, 2014, Gary Corbett, CEO of Fair Oaks Farm, talks about milk production in a milking parlor at Fair Oaks, Ind., farm which is phasing out horned milk cows. Corbett says about a quarter of the dairy's newborn calves are hornless due to selective use of bulls with the polled gene, a no-horn genetic trait, after genetics in polled bulls improved and there was proof that good traits like milk production weren't being lost. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune, File)

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University research has shown it's more expensive for farms to dehorn cows than it is to use polled genetics, something Galen says there is "merit in exploring," but added, "it's a very limited gene pool in dairy breeds right now and that won't change for many years."

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, began working with restaurants, food makers and three years ago to push the use of polled genetics. David Byer, PETA's senior corporate liaison, said the public doesn't know what milk cows go through.

"These major brands are coming out publicly because they now see it as a viable option for the future for eliminating the very cruel practice of dehorning," he said.

General Mills, which makes Haagen-Dazs and Yoplait yogurt, is the latest with a new animal welfare policy that "supports the use of polled genetics breeding programs to promote polled or naturally hornless cattle, thereby eliminating the need for dehorning."

Nestle, which buys nearly 2 billion gallons of milk a year, has a similar policy, though spokeswoman Edie Burge acknowledges "dairy genetics have not progressed as fast as beef genetics."

Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows
In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, cows are milked on one of the carousels in a milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind. Fair Oaks, one of the nation's largest dairy farms with 36,000 cows, is phasing out the use of milk cows with horns—unruly cows can be hazardous because they can gore farm workers or other animals. About a quarter of its newborn calves are hornless due to selective use of bulls with the polled gene, a dominant no-horn genetic trait. AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Both companies' policies advocate the use of analgesics or anesthetics to reduce pain in disbudded calves.

The policy of Dunkin' Brands, which owns Baskin-Robbins ice cream, asks its suppliers to "support industry-wide efforts to promote the humane treatment of cattle, including the responsible use of polled breeding." And dining chain Denny's released a policy in February indicating a "purchase preference" for milk from polled dairy cattle.

Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows
In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, cows walk to a milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind. Fair Oaks, one of the nation's largest dairy farms with 36,000 cows, is phasing out the use of milk cows with horns—unruly cows can be hazardous because they can gore farm workers or other animals. About a quarter of its newborn calves are hornless due to selective use of bulls with the polled gene, a dominant no-horn genetic trait. AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Grocery-chain suppliers increasingly are on board, too, such as Colorado-based Aurora Organic Dairy, which supplies Wal-Mart and Costco, and Trader Joe's supplier Rockview Farms.

Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, a Kroger supplier and one of the nation's largest farms with 36,000 cows, is phasing out horned milk cows. About a quarter of its newborn calves are hornless due to selective use of bulls with the polled gene, CEO Gary Corbett said. It began to do so after genetics in polled bulls improved and there was proof that good traits like milk production weren't being lost.


Explore further

Dairy industry making strides toward reducing its carbon footprint

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows (2015, March 28) retrieved 17 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-03-dairy-farms-no-horn-cows.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
46 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Mar 28, 2015
How many dog owners will demand certain breeds not have their ears clipped or tails bobbed for aesthetics?
Dehorning cattle is not a fun job when they are few months old.
Using caustic paste on dairy calves is much less disruptive and easy as dairy calves are taken immediately from their mothers.

Mar 28, 2015
@ryggy

Dehorning cattle is never fun for anyone involved.

Mar 28, 2015
@ryggy

Dehorning cattle is never fun for anyone involved.


I guess it's better to leave the horns on so the cows can fight and injure each other.

Mar 29, 2015
LOL Farm boys soon learned respect and to not get between cow and calf.


Not dairy cows.

Dairy cows have calves year round and may need help. The Dirty Jobs show filmed the pulling of a calf.
I have had to reach in and rearrange a calf before the calf could be pulled.

Dairy cows are genetically manipulated with artificial breeding to produce high quality and quantity of milk over their lifetime.

There are only a few cattle breeds that don't have horns and if they are dairy cattle, I'm not aware of them.
We used to alternate a Holstein bull with a black or red Angus to breed heifers. Angus have small heads and no horns.
Holstein/Angus cross are good for beef, not milk.

Mar 29, 2015
Dairy farmers will be eager to breed polled heifers if they can as it lowers their cost.
But it will take time.

https://absdairy....d-bulls/

Mar 29, 2015
My wife and I thought of raising some chickens but thought better of it. Soon we would be naming them and then bringing them to the vet if they looked a little sick and finally mourning their loss. In short they would soon become pets and not food. It's a tough life being a farmer and there is not a lot of profit in it so I can see were every dollar counts.

Mar 29, 2015
naming them and then bringing them to the vet


So it's ok to cut the tails off of dogs and bob their ears for aesthetics, or declaw or neuter, IF they are taken to a vet and put under a risky anesthetic?
Or, even worse, create breeds, like bulldogs, that require a vet to be born or a breed with know genetic defects?
This is truly animal abuse.

Mar 29, 2015
I don't have a problem with neutering animals or the risk of anesthesia. The other stuff does raise questions.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more