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Fair Oaks Farms Reduces Dehorning Of Cattle

Farm says it is breeding hornless cows; PETA calls dehorning cruel and painful
(image courtesy of Fair Oaks Farms)
One of the largest dairy farms in the country is reducing the practice of dehorning some of its cattle, which animal rights activists describe as cruel.
Fair Oaks Farms off I-65 in Newton County says it will gradually reduce the number of calves in which horns are removed with a variety of methods.  "We use a paste when the calves are about two weeks old that doesn't allow the horn tissue to grow," said Mike McCloskey, chairman of Fair Oaks.  "That paste has a bit of a caustic effect.  It doesn't hurt. It's like the compound you use to take off warts on your fingers - it's the same concept."
Fair Oaks and other dairy farms were criticized by animal rights groups for dehorning, particularly using different methods on cattle that are older, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals describing the process as horns being gouged out with sharp metal scoops, something McCloskey says Fair Oaks no longer does.  "We do quickly burn the hairs around the horn area, that way we get the hair cleared out so the paste ends up only in the horn area."  The reason to get rid of horns is safety, as McCloskey says cattle with horns will use those horns to fight each other, and also to fight people sometimes.  "We have a lot of employees working with our cows, and getting hit by one of those horns or stabbed by one is very dangerous."
Now, though Fair Oaks has bred about 20-percent of its cattle to have no horns, what are known as polled cattle. "If we select bulls that carry a dominant gene for their offspring not to grow horns, then you can eliminate horns over time," McCloskey said.  While a long term plan might be to slowly replace all cattle with hornless polled cattle, McCloskey says they have to be careful, as some polled cattle are not as high in quality as those with horns.  "Those bulls that carry the polled gene are not as good in other traits such as milk production and total protein in the milk," McCloskey said.  "The hope is that over time, we can modify the genes to where the quality of those traits will increase."
Fair Oaks, which also draws thousands of people every year as an agritourism attraction, provides dairy products to several major brands across the country, such as Coca-Cola and Kroger.  ""While PETA advocates consuming soy and almond milks and vegan cheeses, Fair Oaks Farms' decision is sparing calves the pain of dehorning," says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. 
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