Attitudes of farmers towards cattle dehorning

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To better understand how farmers decide to manage animals with or without horns and how they choose the method they use to dehorn, 9 group interviews were carried out in Italy, Germany and France in different regions, different production systems and among different cattle breeds, in the framework of the EU-Project ALCASDE (alternatives to castration and dehorning). The groups gathered 94 cattle farmers. Ultimately, managing animals with or without horns is not a mere detail but is rooted in different views on the farming profession, on the human–animal relationship, and on the practical and daily work with the animals. Farmer safety and animal safety is often pointed out in connection to loose housing. In favour of keeping horns, different aspects are combined: ethical considerations towards the animals (integrity of the animal, avoidance of pain and stress), a strong farmer–animal relationship, and in rustic breeds, aesthetic and tourism considerations. Practical and material aspects play a role, such as, for example, the type of housing system and equipment, the amount of available time, and the organisation and equipment for carrying out dehorning if needed.

Many farmers are convinced that disbudding or dehorning are painful but their sensitivities differ largely. Among the farmers who dehorn their animals, some expressed a real unease on this subject during the interviews. On the one hand, they express a concern for the animals and their welfare, and on the other hand, they voluntarily implement a practise that they know is accompanied by pain, although it is intended to improve animal welfare during the animals’ life span. For most of the farmers we met, adult dehorning is to be avoided, as it is too stressful and painful for the animals, and disbudding at a young age is preferable. Using polled (genetically hornless) cattle is still rare, and opinions are divided. Most farmers do not think that it is feasible at short notice to have polled cattle with a high quality of production and reproduction.