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Dehorning: Dairy’s Dark Secret

Many people are surprised to learn that nearly all cows used for milk are born with tissue that will develop into horns. That’s because most farmers remove the sensitive horn tissue or the horns themselves from the cows’ skulls using searing-hot irons, caustic chemicals, blades, or hand saws.

Animals often struggle violently and have to be restrained manually or in a head bail (a metal apparatus for restraining a cow by the neck) during the painful dehorning process, which is frequently performed without anesthetics or painkillers and results in severe pain that lasts for hours and can become chronic.

This procedure is extremely traumatic to young calves, who are often just a few weeks old when their horn buds are burned or cut out of their heads. Older cows fare even worse. Dehorning in mature cattle usually requires amputation of the horn, which has already attached itself to the skull. Tools used for this procedure include saws, sharp wires, or gruesome guillotine dehorners, which also slice off the surrounding skin. Horn removal in older animals can lead to post-operative problems of hemorrhage, tissue necrosis, bone fracture, sinusitis, and even death. The wound caused by this amputation can take three months or more to heal.

Farmers are fully aware that dehorning is painful, and it is up to the industry to phase out this excruciating mutilation. One simple solution is to breed for naturally hornless cows. A single gene determines whether or not a cow will have horns, and this approach has proved effective in the beef industry.

However, the easiest and most effective way for consumers to save cows from the misery of factory farms is to stop buying cow’s milk and other dairy products and choose instead from the dozens of vegan milks, cheeses, yogurts, coffee creamers, and ice creams available in grocery stores. Browse PETA’s website for hundreds of free vegan recipes, and pledge to be vegan today!