Renewable Farming

How one organic dairy farmer leveraged social media to trigger a national referendum

67-year-old Swiss dairy farmer Armin Capaul is counting on his personal passion — and social media — to protect Swiss cows and goats from dehorning. Voters across Switzerland will decide Sunday, Nov. 25, whether to subsidize farmers 190 francs — almost $190 American dollars — per cow or goat which the owner allows to remain horned.

Swiss dairyman Armin Capaul

November 23, 2018 — Capaul amplified a longtime personal crusade via a website and other social media, multiplying his message when dozens of major newspapers, websites and TV outlets across Europe picked up the news.  (See post-vote update in the Swiss news report below)

Today, even the Wall Street Journal carried a colorful story on Capaul. It explains that in Switzerland, citizens for years have brought issues to a national referendum if advocates collected 100,000 or more valid signatures on a petition. 

Capaul accomplished that. In the process he enlisted amateur web advocates to create a website, named “Hornkuh” in German.

If you’re keen on leveraging your own idea via the web and social media, his website is a lesson in how to make it viral. 

This link opens the Hornkuh site in English, but read these guidelines first:

1. When the home page opens, it should be in English. If not, find your language choice at the top… “en” for English.

2. On the home page, read the Background section for the rationale behind this mostly single-handed effort.

3. On the home page, click on the “Video-clips” link and play your choice among several 21-second videos of why cows need horns. They open and close the same, but each is unique.  

Armin Capaul’s friends even set up a “Donate” capability on the website to help him recover the personal investment he made to field a signature-gathering team.

The Wall Street Journal feature is at this link, but it’s password protected for subscribers.

Even though some 90% of the American media mainstreams are in captivity to five major corporate conglomerates, your message on a single website is still available worldwide. Everyone, in effect, can be his or her own publisher. 

And just maybe… you might be tempted to e-mail one of your friends a link to this story. 

Update Nov. 25: Capaul’s campaign won 45% of the votes — not enough to carry the cause.  But advocates are reasoning that they’ll take a legislative route next, since the populace is much more aware of this Swiss legacy and its natural value.  Here’s the news report from Switzerland:

Horn-bearing cows and goats miss their YES

Our Hornkuh initiative was clearly rejected.  And this despite the fact that 45.3% (1,145,099 YES-votes) of the population were enthusiastic and said yes in concern for the welfare of the cows and goats. The electorate is now informed and wants a quick solution.

What is needed now – after the failure of a voluntary solution – is implementation at the legislative level that takes account of today’s sensitisation of the population.

For Armin Capaul, the initiator and mountain farmer in the Jura, it is a great disappointment: “What can I say? It’s sad.” However, he is at peace with himself and says: “I did everything I could for the cows.” He thanks everyone who didn’t let the counterpropaganda of Federal Councillor Schneider-Amman or the arguments of individual, industrially driven farmer organisations get in the way.

“All the positive people, with their news and letters, have given me the courage and strength to stay on the subject for almost nine years and to hold out until now. It was not enough. That clearly, already hurts very much. I only hope that the cows will understand that too. I will now go into my stable and apologise to them.”

Nadine Aebi, head of the Swiss-German campaign, says: “We have certainly succeeded in raising awareness of the issue. Every consumer now knows that the horn is a warm organ with a lot of blood circulation and fulfils many functions. I am also convinced that some farmers are reconsidering their dehorning and hope that they will be interested in the advice and courses offered on the keeping of horn-bearing animals. It has been a pleasure for me to see what can be achieved with enthusiasm, community spirit and a small budget”.

Tamara Fretz, at home in the canton of Fribourg, said of the campaign in French-speaking Switzerland: “We have not lost, because there was a debate about respect and esteem for farm animals. However, the animals have lost and that hurts the most. I would like to see active consumers who no longer tolerate cruelty to animals for the production of our food.






Erica Bänziger, who achieved in the canton of Ticino the narrowly a YES: “It is great that we have won our canton but very sad that we did not succeed on national level. In terms of personnel it was not quite easy in Ticino to actively promote the initiative with relatively few committed people. Ticino is topographically very wild and reaching every valley was almost impossible in the time before the vote. I would like to thank especially Armin and his wife Claudia for their tireless efforts for the welfare of the cows. He deserves a horn medal!”


From all Swiss view of the IG Hornkuh (the group around Armin Capaul organizing the campaign) it lies now not least at the animal protection organizations to find a genuine and for the animals in their dignity respecting solution. The problem of the long-term pain with the dehornung lies on the table and can no longer be embezzled.


[1]The compulsion not only to achieve a majority of voting citizens nationwide but also the majority in more than half of the Swiss cantons.