Dairy farmers don't want horns on their cows. When the animals are stuffed into tight, stressful pens next to other unhappy cows, fights are bound to break out.
For decades, farmers have pacified the problem by burning away calves' horn tissue before their horns start to take shape. They'd apply caustic chemicals or white-hot irons directly to the skull. The teenage calves whose horns have already started to peak will have to have them cut or gouged out. None of this happens with painkillers.
It's another dark secret of factory farms that would have easy to miss, but undercover PETA videos showing calves fighting and crying while their heads are mangled have been pressuring dairy farmers to quit the practice.
"In the dairy industry, de-horning is extremely common," PETA spokesman David Byer says. "People often aren't aware because it's been behind the scenes, and it's a cruel practice that's been well-hidden."
PETA's solution is to replace the horned cows with breeds that are naturally hornless. It's a pretty mellow compromise coming from an animal rights organization notorious for its hard-line anti-meat, anti-fur, and anti-factory farm platform. Corporations seem to be listening.
Just last week, General Mills threw its support to naturally hornless cattle, joining brands like Häagen-Dazs, Yoplait, Nature Valley, Cheerios, Pillsbury, and Betty Crocker, which have all spoken out against the de-horning procedure.
On the farm end of the production chain, Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, one of the largest dairy farms in the U.S., just stated that 25 percent of their calves are now born hornless. Wisconsin-based Sargento seems to be more change-resistant. So PETA's placed an action alert on the cheese giant, encouraging folks to call and say they're terrible.
Send news tips to Susan Du.