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American couple lock horns with Swiss farmer over ‘cattle cruelty’

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'Baby' with her calf. Photo: Diana Dorsch
18:38 CET+01:00
Animal lovers are shocked about Swiss eating dogs and cats, which remains legal despite attempts to ban the practice. An American couple living in northeastern Switzerland have equally serious concerns about cruelty to cattle.

They have gathered detailed evidence, which they say proves that animal welfare laws are being violated. The Swiss have toughened regulations to protect animals from mistreatment but it's too late as far as Bryant and Diana Dorsch are concerned. The Dorsches, from Kreuzlingen in the canton of Thurgau, campaigned for over a year to save a cow and her calf suffering apparent neglect and mistreatment. They wanted to buy the two animals and move them to a sanctuary.

Despite being offered more than the slaughter price, the farmer went ahead and had the animals butchered at the end of last year. The Dorsches took over 3,000 photographs and recorded around 50 hours of video footage of the alleged ill treatment of cattle on the farm neighbouring their home between April 2010 and October last year.

Cow crusade

After moving next to the farm  with her new husband in April 2010, Diana Dorsch developed a relationship with one  of the animals in the herd of 60 or so cattle, “Baby” — a black and white calf. Concerned at the filthy state of the animals, she tried to persuade the farmer to improve their conditions. 


But little changed and in the two years that followed the Dorsches say they reported many violations of animal protection ordinances to the canton of Thurgau veterinary office. These violations included allowing the animals to lie in their own filth and failing to provide water.

The Dorsches gathered fresh grass for the cows during the winter months when they were confined to the barn, and every time they were led out to pasture fed them apples and carrots. Meantime, Baby gave birth to a calf of her own. Learning that the farmland was to be sold for the construction of apartments, Diana Dorsch asked to buy Baby and her calf from the farmer but he refused to sell.

She last saw the cow and calf on October 11th last year. A day later, the two were taken away for slaughter along with three other cows. “I can’t tell you how shocked I was,” recalls Dorsch, still traumatised by what happened.

The farmer was unavailable for comment, but in a statement to the animal protection group VgT, his wife accuses Diana Dorsch of taking “revenge” on them, and says the “feeding of bags of carrots and apples to the animals caused them digestive problems”.

Legal framework

Dr Paul Witzig, head of the Thurgau cantonal veterinary office, confirms that he handled the abuse allegations but says that for reasons of confidentiality he cannot comment on what action was taken.

The animal protection law was revised in 2008, clarifying the rules on keeping cattle. After a transition period certain provisions will come into force from September 1st this year.

These federal regulations state that the surface where cattle are kept must always be clean. The animals should also be properly fed and watered. “Calves must be able to drink water at all times,” the law says. “Cattle need water at least twice a day.”

The Federal Veterinary Office says there are no nationwide statistics on reported cases of mistreatment of farm animals. But figures from 2011 show legal proceedings were brought in 211 cases for mistreatment of cattle, up from 154 cases the year before.

“Farmers generally respect the rules as they know that violations can soon become costly, and also because they know that they can make money by looking after their animals well,” Witzig says.

The Thurgau veterinary official says two to three dozen reports of violations of the law involving cattle are reported in the canton annually, a figure that has remained constant for a number of years. But the type of infringement being reported has changed. The stalls now being built mean it is less common for cattle to be tied up and have their movement restricted. However, there are more cases of cattle in a dirty condition because the tendency towards larger herds means less care is given to individual animals.

“The farmers know the rules, and the rules are clear,” Witzig says. “But violations still take place, just as there are always people who drive too fast. The reasons are usually too much work, lack of investment or no-one to take over the farm, and financial and social problems.”

While cattle are to be better protected by the law, it remains legal for Swiss to eat cats and dogs. Diana Dorsch and her husband hope to end that anomaly. They want to raise the required 100,000 signatures to bring a popular initiative against the consumption of dog and cat meat in Switzerland.

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