Swiss cows are the source of Swiss cheese, which is a famous source of holes. This is all that the world knows about the subject, and all that it needed to know. But in 2018, we know some more about Swiss cows, thanks to the first of three referendums in the month of November, in which the nation will vote on whether to subsidise farmers who let the horns of their cattle grow naturally. It is a battle for animal dignity initiated by a farmer, Armin Capaul, who has been “listening” to his cows and found that those which had been dehorned were dispirited and could not hold their heads high.
In Switzerland, it is common practice to dehorn cattle by cauterising the blood supply to the roots. This is not merely a public safety measure — Swiss cows are a tourist attraction, and they do not always maintain Swiss neutrality if they feel crowded. It also has economic implications, and the size of horns corresponds to the grazing space they need. Capaul had petitioned the government to subsidise farmers who let their cows be for the extra grazing. When it turned a deaf ear, he collected 1 lakh signatures, enough to force a public referendum, eight years after he started his movement.
Switzerland goes to the cow polls on Sunday, and close observers of the situation believe that the contest is too close to call. Oddly, Ladbrokes is ignoring this agricultural battle, preferring to offer odds on Swiss performance in sport. But then, British punters would cheapen this grand tradition of the Swiss referendum, which takes matters as diverse as protection for cycle paths, and the supremacy of domestic law over international law, directly to the people. But certainly, the issue of horns is the oddest matter ever to engage their attention.