History: Alberta’s Horn Penalty and Fund

Abridged from the January 1950 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Alberta’s Horn Penalty and Fund
By Kenneth Coppock

Alberta has given some good leads and some bad ones to the other western provinces. In the matter of the horn penalty we are convinced that the lead given was definitely bad. A brief historical review should be of interest.

Over a long period Canadian packers pointed out to livestock men through publicity that the livestock industry year after year suffers a preventable loss by marketing cattle with horns. Damage was done to hides and carcasses which loss definitely must come out of the producers’ pockets through lower prices paid for livestock.

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Finally the packers through their council decided that a penalty of $1 per head should be assessed against all horned cattle they purchased. This was designed to impress producers with the desirability of dehorning their cattle. It was, they said, of an educational nature and not a means of “putting more money in the pockets of the packers.” The deduction across Canada actually started on May 1, 1937.

We believe the packers made a mistake. If after consultation with producers it was decided to take action the policy should have been one of rewards. A reward of $1 per head for every dehorned animal sold to packers would in our judgment have been far more constructive than a penalty assessed against every horned animal marketed. Our social and business structure, except where a citizen breaks the law and is subject to fine or penalty, is built up and functions on the basis of rewards for jobs well done. Then, too, in following the policy they did follow, the packers aggravated the cattlemen’s general disapproval of them which had accrued from the low prices of the early ’30s and from the bad publicity resulting from the investigations of the Stevens’ Commission. Faith of the producers in the good intent of the packers was at a low ebb. The horn penalty deduction plunged the producers’ faith to an even lower level. Also it was soon evident that packers continued to bid 10 cents to 25 cents per 100 pounds lower for the horned animals than the dehorned animals of like quality. The $1 penalty for the horned animals was thus just another way, so the producer thought, of reducing the buying price and putting additional dollars in the packers’ pockets. As the producers suspicioned, the marketer of horned cattle was twice penalized, first with a lower market price and second with a horn penalty.

The minister of agriculture, the late D.B. Mullen, of the new government in Alberta, had come from the ranks of producers and was keenly anxious to do something which would improve the cattle industry. No doubt he was also possessed on the same attitude toward the packer as prevailed among the producers at the time. It was, therefore, not long before legislation was enacted which not only retained the $1-per-head penalty imposed by the packer on slaughter cattle but placed it on all cattle marketed with horns and weighing over 400 pounds. There was an exception. Registered cattle, both beef type and dairy, when marketed and accompanied with registration papers were exempted from the penalty. The $1-per-head penalty assessed by the packers was taken over by the province and a general feeling of approval surged through the ranks of the producers because they felt at long last, they had a government that could stand up to the packers.

It was in that spirit that the Alberta Horned Cattle Purchases Act was born in 1938. The act provided that a trust account should be set up and administered for the “improvement of the livestock industry.” In the minds of many it was thought that the minister’s intention was clear enough, that he would improve the cattle industry. It was not long however, before it became evident that the cattle money was to finance policies relating to livestock in the broadest interpretation of the term.

In rather quick succession other western provinces followed Alberta’s lead. Sask­atch­ewan passed essentially the same act but its interpretation of the word “livestock” in recent years has been “cattle” and expenditures from its Horn Fund, we are informed, has been restricted to improvement of the cattle industry. In Manitoba, expenditures from the fund have been restricted to cattle policies and projects.

From the first the Horned Cattle Purchases Act in Alberta was a financial success. A constant stream of dollars poured into the fund, ranging in volume from $70,000 to $125,000 per annum. At first it was thought the volume of collections would decline as producers would, in order to escape the penalty, dehorn their cattle. It was soon discovered, however, that for some reason peculiar to the industry, the percentage of horns on cattle marketed remained fairly constant. Since the enactment of Alberta’s Horned Cattle Act to the present nearly one million dollars has been taken from Alberta’s cattle industry. The cattle industry has received back through the province’s Bull Exchange Policy of earlier years and its Cattle Improvement Policy of recent years a substantial percentage of the take, but too large a percentage of the income is used for administration, for the maintenance of a pathological laboratory, and for assistance to other than cattle projects.

The Western Stock Growers’ Association has taken the stand that the act should be repealed in its entirety as bad legislation. As a matter of fact, it is opposed to special levies and funds designed to do those things which are in a general sense the responsibility of government which should be accomplished by the normal process of government.

If, however, legislators with enough moral courage to overcome the political advantages gained through the ramified expenditures from the Horn Fund are lacking, and the act is retained, then expenditures from the fund should be restricted to well-thought-out policies to improve only the cattle industry of the province.

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