Cow horns, more than a decoration

Biodynamic agriculture is wholistic agriculture that respects the individual species' needs in keeping and feeding animals. This is important, not only for animal welfare, but also for the natural balance of the whole farm, and soil fertility. This is exemplified in the case of cow horns.

One doesn’t actually see cows with horns all that often anymore. In fact, it seems almost normal that cows don’t have them. Cows on biodynamic or Demeter farms, however, are whole cows. They are allowed to keep their horns.

Delicate at first, then majestic

The newly born calf shakes its head. The ears, still soaking wet, are already active, listening. The whole body with all the sense organs is completely developed, nothing is missing. The eyelids are open, revealing big eyes, looking around in amazement. One or two hours later, the calf is already up on its four legs looking for the mother’s udder to suck the first milk. Everything is already there and everything works. Only the horns will appear later.

The horns grow gradually. They start out delicately when the calf is three months old and already eating grass and hay. The horns are often beautifully formed, curved more strongly as the cow grows older, and eventually turning into a majestic headdress. During the cow’s whole life this extremely hard organ keeps growing in size and perfection.

Shaping the social space

Every herd of cows have their individual hierarchy; they constitute a social structure. As the horns slowly continue to grow, the animal also becomes a part of this social environment. It is no longer the small calf, looking for protection, but is turning into the sovereign queen of the herd. The cow proudly bears its beautifully shaped horns, and a simple movement of its head can interfere with the hierarchy of the herd. Thus the horns are essential for the animals in creating their social space. A cow with horns is an image of pride and beauty. As social organs, the horns allow cows to find, and keep, a tentative balance between being an individual animal, and being a part of the herd.

Letting nature unfold itself instead of removing the horns

It is essential to biodynamic farming that animals can live a good life, growing and developing according to their species’ need, including bearing their horns. Stables, pens and technical equipment are designed to serve those needs. If horn-bearing animals do not have the necessary space, the herd's social balance may be disturbed. Cows without horns become nervous and even aggressive. Without horns, Cows need less space, therefore stables will cost less. Cows usually have their horns removed for financial or space-related reasons. This is normally done through burning away the onset of the horns when calves are still young. Recently, new breeds of cows without horns have also been introduced. Either way, people take something away from the animal that is a natural part of the cow. Experience shows that there are no problems with horn-bearing cows, provided they have enough space in their stables.

Donate Online

Demeter principles: more than just letting cows keep their horns

The biodynamic agriculture movement and other free initiatives, the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL), and biodynamic farms and Demeter-partners all cooperate in various research projects concerning the future of agriculture.

Results of the latest research are made available to all interested parties:

  • Plant breeding and the treatment of seeds
  • animal breeding under consideration of the individual species' needs
  • Cosmic rhythms and their effect on nature
  • Long-term increase of the soil’s humus content, one of the desired effects being the absorption of excess CO2 in the soil (climate change)
  • Ethical responsibility human beings have for nature
  • Function of agriculture in the economic and social context
  • Foodstuffs as "means for life", rich in content and taste

In many ways, research into these areas benefits from the insights given by Rudolf Steiner in some of his lectures, especially those collected in the "Agricultural Course".
This course provides the foundation for biodynamic agriculture.