Who says national referendums are boring? The people of Switzerland, after parliamentary discussion at the beginning of the summer that I had thought was just a joke, are voting in a few weeks on the wildly famous Cow Horn Initiative.
This popular initiative (it received 119,626 valid signatures) is for the encouragement of farmers to let their dairy cows grow natural horns. This, in turn, necessarily leads to roomier stables (as swinging your horns around in close proximity to others can cause obvious damage) and much more bovine naturalness, well-being, self-esteem and freedom.
Most Swiss cows are de-horned when they are very young for the common good and out of social politeness. Of course, it does not exactly tickle, but then neither does getting your wisdom teeth pulled out or your dodgy moles and warts removed.
There will be a financial incentives, of course. If a farmer lets his cows grow horns, then there is 190 francs in it for him/her every year for every cow. And for every goat with horns, you get 38 francs a year.
It is calculated that this new constitutional amendment, if accepted, will cost Switzerland up to 30 million Swiss francs annually. However, to get this agricultural subsidy the farmer also has to prove that each horned cow is let out of its stable into roomy and bucolic pastureland 26 times a month between May and October.
Strangely, the government does not really want this law to pass.
Just imagine. You would need cow-horn police (testing that the horns are real, not just plastic imitation horns); you would need cow-herd police (counting the numbers of cows that are out and about shaking their horns and ringing their bells on every Alpine patch of spare grass; you would need cow-psychologists testing and judging that these new horns are making the cows happier (it can be jolly cold at altitude in September.)
Out of 600,000 milk-cows in Switzerland, only about a quarter of them at the moment have horns. These ones must be putting on their safety goggles in preparation for the clumsy onslaught of amateur horn-wearers tonight. For as it’s Hallowe’en, I’m sure all Swiss cows are busy dressing up with their fake horns. Much like Mickey Mouse ears, these come out once a year to disguise, amuse and confuse.
There is also a business opportunity here. With all the danger of farmers and other cows getting their eyes poked out with new, flashy, ubiquitous cow horns, the cow-horn protector must be invented. A pair of signed Roger Federer used tennis balls, for example, could be the nec-plus-ultra in cow horn safety essentials.
A perfect example of Swiss skill, compromise and ingenuity.