Practical Issues > Factory Farming > Cows

Dehorning Cows

Disturbing video footage of animal abuse in the milk industry has been stirring Israeli public opinion in the recent three weeks, and has already resulted in a ban on a painful agricultural procedure, prevalent in the milk industry in Israel.

The Pictures: Blood and Fire

The video was shot by a group of Jerusalem activists of Anonymous for Animal Rights. It showed branding and dehorning of young cows, reared for milking in Kibbutz Gat. The heifers were violently restrained between metal bars. Then, their heads were stretched forcefully to the side, using a nose-ring. The heifers' backs were shaved, and the worker clutched metal numbers, taken from a container filled with liquid nitrogen, to the exposed skin. The footages show the heifers struggle desperately to escape the obvious pain of the burn. After having gone through this trauma the heifers were dehorned. Dehorning was done by huge cutter, with no anesthesia or analgesia, and with no veterinarian around. Blood burst from the wounds left after the horns were cut. This was treated by naked fire. Some heifers were struggling -- but they had no chance to run away. Others were screaming in pain -- but got no empathy from the workers, who only strengthened their hold, and stretched the nose-ring more. A picture that cannot be forgotten is a tear running down from a heifer's eye.

The Governmental Guidance

The footages were shown in the national TV on Sunday January 14th. The next morning, responding to the public outcry, the Director of the Veterinary Service guided all cow breeders that dehorning and debudding after the age of 10 days should only be done under anesthesia, which should be done by a veterinarian. However, the Director recommends debudding with a salve containing caustic soda, in the first 10 days after birth, which causes the heifers pain and distress. The Director also prohibited tail-docking other then for concrete individual medical reason. The guidance continue to the issue of branding, which is permitted, provided that it is done by a capable person and with the outmost effort to prevent unnecessary pain, suffering and stress. The Director stresses, that failing to obey these guidelines will be considered as violation of the Animal Protection Act.

Other Responses

Meanwhile the Israeli police launched an investigation into the offences documented in Kibbutz Gat. Anonymous for Animal Rights and another organization - Let the Animals Live -, as well as MP Yossi Sarid, filed criminal complaints. The Ministry of Environment promised to make all efforts to bring everyone responsible for the documented dehorning to court. The Minister of Agriculture denounced the exposed procedure. The issue was also the subject of a special meeting of the Economic Committee of the Parliament. Representatives of the two major dairy products companies in Israel were also invited to the meeting. They were seen holding fliers distributed by Anonymous in Tel-Aviv titled "there is blood in my milk".

The Legal Situation in Other Countries

Few countries have specific rules regarding dehorning of cows. In Switzerland, for example, dehorning and debudding require anesthesia, except for debudding of calves under 2 months old. In Germany, anesthesia is required unless the animals are under 6 weeks old. In Norway, only a veterinarian may perform surgical operation when animal suffering is expected, and anesthesia is generally required when great pain may be inflicted. Dehorning is generally prohibited, but exceptions may be granted. A report of the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Union stated in 1995 that: If dehorning is carried out, adequate anesthesia and analgesia should be used and it should be undertaken using a heated disbudding iron at 1 to 3 weeks of age. The heated disbudding iron is preferred as the use of caustic potash as a cauterization agent can continue to produce pain after the operation is completed.

For pictures of the Dehorning exposure and additional information please contact campaign coordinator Naama Harel at

Food Not Bombs
New Brunswick, NJ
For information call
John @ 732-819-0602


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