In autumn of 2018 Switzerland voted on a proposition to subsidize those farmers willing to let their cows and goats grow horns. For decades their horns have been welded at very high temperatures at an early age to prevent them from growing. It is very painful as you can imagine. The reasoning behind this treatment is to protect the animals from hurting each other with the horns when grouped together. It also saves space and thus money.
As a newly minted Swiss citizen, I voted in favor of the proposition.
We live near a farm of Scottish Highland cows. They are grass fed, free to roam the fields, and they do not have to follow the law. That is they are allowed to grow their horns. However, when they are slaughtered, the entire head, including the horns, has to be incinerated. Although there have never been any reported cases, this is done as a safety measure to prevent a potential outbreak of mad cow disease.
The horns are quite large and beautiful. Petra was attracted to them and wondered if she could score two horns to make a frame for a pair of glasses. She contacted Frau Ryffel from Huebhof Farm in Schwamendingen and conveyed her wish. Would it be possible to have a pair of horns rescued before the incineration? The farmer was amused by the request but saw no reason to deny it. She promptly agreed and advised Petra that she would call her when the horns arrive.
A few months went by and Petra paid the farmer a visit. The horns were there waiting for her. The price for two horns from a Scottish Highland cow was 10 Swiss francs (about US$10). The fee pays for the cleaning of the inside of the horns which is partially filled with fleshy tissue. The horns were very clean, Swiss clean!
It is hard to believe that such beautiful and hard material is thrown away, or rather incinerated. It’s not hard to imagine the many things that can be done with the horns: drinking vessels, flower vases, arm bands, earrings, bases, napkin holders, sculptures, glass frames, and more.
She took the horns to Herr Diepolder, an optician in Zürich who specializes in making frames from buffalo horns from Namibia and India. But Petra’s horns were local. They were from a Scottish Highland cow that was born and raised in Schwamendingen, the twelfth and most culturally diverse district of the city of Zürich. And 100% bio! (organic). The optician felt the joy and pressure of delivering his best work yet.
He first selected the best part of the horn which needed to be at least 5mm thick. He cut it with a saw, deep fried it for an hour to soften it, and then flattened it with pressure in order to shape it into a rectangular slab. From it, he carved out the shape of the design of the glass frames. The process sounds simple but it actually takes dozens of steps to reach this point. Finally he polished them, and fit the correct prescription of glasses.
The result was nothing short of amazing and beautiful: one-of-a-kind Schwamendingen horn glasses from a Scottish Highland organic cow! Wow!
Oh, and the vote. Unfortunately the proposition did not win. So 70% of Swiss cows and goats, unlike our Scottish neighbors, will continue to live a horn-less life.