Most consumers have a positive perception of dairy farmers thanks to our track record of concern for our farms, our land, and our animals. With a proactive approach, we can ensure that credibility remains rock solid. With that in mind, tail docking is one animal care practice that should be permanently discontinued. Study after study confirms there is little scientific evidence to defend it.
When tail docking was first introduced, it was promoted as a way to improve udder health, cleanliness, and worker comfort. As the practice spread from New Zealand to Australia and then to other dairy regions, scientists began taking a closer look at it and discovered these claims were all unfounded.
The University of Tennessee's Peter Krawczel does a great job detailing the studies that investigated tail docking on page 189 of this issue. Each and every investigation confirms that there are no differences in cell counts, production levels, or cleanliness between cows with or without tails. What studies have found is that bovines with docked tails actually have more flies, not less, compared to counterparts with tails. The only remaining possible defense in support of tail docking is worker comfort. That can be easily remedied by trimming switches once or twice a year.
We all need to step back and take an outside look at our farms using the vantage point of the consumer who may be visiting our operation for the first time. We can easily explain a practice such as dehorning which can be a safety issue for other animals and those who care for them.
When it comes to tail docking, it doesn't really benefit the cow, employee health, or product quality. Both Canadian and American veterinary associations agree and are on record as opposing the practice. We are, too. It's one practice whose only place should be in the annals of history.
This editorial appears on page 194 of the March 25, 2012 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.