Swiss citizens will vote Sunday on an issue involving cows that has divided the country.
Voters will decide if farmers can receive government aid for not removing the horns of their cows.
Cows are an important part of the nation's milk industry. They are also a national symbol for Switzerland and draw visitors to the country.
Farmer Armin Capaul began the effort to keep horns on cows nine years ago. Capaul told Reuters that "listening" to his cows incited him to act. When his campaign to persuade politicians failed, Capaul collected more than 100,000 signatures to hold a national vote on the issue.
He is seeking to have the government give farmers yearly payments of about $200 for each horned cow they have. Capaul says the money is needed to help famers pay for extra costs linked to keeping horned animals. Having more space for the animals helps prevent fights and injuries involving cow horns. Capaul hopes the government assistance will reduce the number of dehorned cows.
Capaul says horns help cows communicate and keep the right body temperature. We must respect cows as they are, he told Reuters on his small farm in northwestern Switzerland. Leave them their horns. When you look at them, they always hold their head high and are proud. When you remove the horns, they are sad, he said.
About 75 percent of Swiss cows are dehorned or genetically hornless.
Capaul's plan would require a change to the Swiss constitution. The government opposes the idea. It estimates the assistance would represent about $30 million a year of the country's agriculture budget. Many farmers have also expressed concerns about how the country would pay for the proposed assistance.
Groups opposed to dehorning have supported Capaul's campaign. Dehorning involves burning a young cow's small horns with a hot iron. Critics say the process is painful and unnatural. But supporters say it is no worse than castrating male cats or dogs.
Farmer Stefan Gilgen has 48 cows that provide about 260 gallons of milk a day. He told Reuters that his cows get along better without horns. If cows have horns, the danger of injuries to the animals and humans is greater, he said.
Gilgen added that he does not agree that a vote should be taken to change the constitution for such an issue. Each farm should decide for itself. We have other problems in agriculture, he said.
The latest public opinion studies have suggested Sunday's vote will be very close.
I'm Bryan Lynn.