The practice of de-horning cattle is one which we do not engage in at Mossgiel Organic Farm. The practice is normal within conventional farming as young animals, with the intent of making life on the farm safer for farm workers and other livestock. When Farmer Bryce took over Mossgiel Farm and converted it to be an Organic Dairy Farm, he stopped the practice of de-horning the cattle too. With a vision of natural farming, he wanted to find how cattle having their horns as nature intended affected their natural behaviour (plus he thinks Ayrshire cattle with horns are pretty awesome too).
Many years ago, cattle would have horns and live in small herds on family farms. During winter, the cattle were kept in byres to ensure they did not have to endure the cold wet weather we experience in Scotland. Having horns meant that farmers, farm workers and cattle could be seriously injured due to the confined spaces. An issue was also apparent during times of cattle being boisterous out in the pastures – with 'boss cows' ensuring the timid heifers knew who was boss with a swift bash of the horns, again causing injury.
Here at Mossgiel, we adapted our sheds and management to allow the girls to keep their horns without having the issues of yesteryear. This was pretty expensive for us and took a lot of planning and we still monitor everything we do to ensure it's the right thing for us and the Mossgiel Girls.
In order to change a Farm from de-horning to leaving the horns on the Cows, many adaptations have to be made to ensure human and animal safety. These changes aren't cheap either – with the average spend of £2,000 to £4,000 per cow on each dairy farm (the average dairy farm has 170 cattle, so that's big money) just to build a normal shed for a typical modern dairy farm, the costs simply do not justify altering again at extra cost to move to a horned cattle system, when milk prices are being driven into the ground by supermarkets and mega-dairies.
This is the economic reality of such ideas and visions. At Mossgiel Organic Farm we work with our supporters to ensure our Gold Standard milk is exactly how you wish. We are extremely lucky that due to our unique relationship between our supporters and ourselves that the few extra pence on top for our Gold Standard milk allows us to farm in this way. The realities are however that unless we change our food system and how money is managed from Fridge to Farm, we are unlikely to change the Scottish farming in this way.
Our Gold Standard Milk is produced exclusively from the Cows at Mossgiel Farm, rather from the Scottish Collective of OMSCO Farms, as our Whole Milk and Semi-skimmed Milk is. It carries a premium in price. This is mostly due to our Calf-With-Cow policy leaving us with less Milk to sell to our customers: young Calves are thirsty beasts! This premium is, in part, also due to our policy of not de-horning our Cows. The investment made in the infrastructure needs to be made back.