How are dehorning and milk quality connected?

Importance for the cow and its physiology

In conventional agriculture the dehorning of cattle is a standard process. This is not the case in biodynamic agriculture. Here, the horns of the cow are considered to be very important, while it is usually considered to be only an "appendage" that interferes with the animal's ability to move within the cowshed. At the Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau ("Research Institute for Organic Agriculture") (FiBL) and the experimental farm of the University of Kassel, a scientific investigation is to be carried out on the effects which the dehorning of cattle has on the animal and the milk.

On the experimental farm of the University of Kassel, approximately 100 cows are kept in accordance with organic guidelines. In previous investigations into biodynamic milk quality it was found that the dehorning of the cows affects the metabolite and protein composition of the milk. The "Cow and its horns" project will investigate the significance of the horns for the cattle and their physiology. In 2012, eight calves were dehorned on the Frankenhausen experimental farm. Eight other calves served as control individuals which were not dehorned. The animals of both groups were kept under the same conditions with the same supply of feed. At the same time, both the animals which had been dehorned and those which had not had samples of their blood, milk and faeces taken. Furthermore, random samples were also taken in a second independent system in order to ensure that the results are not specific to one farm.

Biological fluids such as blood or milk contain several thousand proteins and metabolites (non-proteins). By analysing the metabolomic and proteomic composition it is possible to create a kind of fingerprint of the metabolic status of the animal and detect diseases. The FiBL would like to find out with this project if and how the horns function as an organ and thereby broaden the discussion about the dehorning of cattle.


What are the funds of the MAHLE FOUNDATION specifically used for?

The funding provided by the MAHLE FOUNDATION is part of the overall financing process.