Time is running out faster than ever on the routine tail docking of dairy cows - and it can't end soon enough.
The biggest step taken so far to end the controversial practice occurred on Monday this week, when the board of directors of National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) voted at their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., to drastically shorten the deadline for dairies in the national Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program to stop routine tail docking.
The old deadline was January 1, 2022. The new deadline is January 1, 2017.
According to the FARM website, more than 90 percent of the current U.S. milk supply is produced by dairies that participate in the FARM program.
"On this issue, the science, the advice of our technical experts, and requests from our dairy customers and consumers are all aligned," said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. "Today's action demonstrates that dairy producer-leaders want to be proactive, yet pragmatic, in addressing animal care concerns."
Tail docking has become a highly visible black eye for the dairy industry in recent years, – one that leading veterinary organizations officially oppose and many industry groups say is indefensible.
In 2010, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners adopted a position opposing the routine tail docking of cattle. The current policy of the American Veterinary Medical Association also opposes it.
A law prohibiting tail docking has been in effect in California since 2010, which was supported by the California Veterinary Medical Association, the California Cattlemen's Association, and the California Farm Bureau.
NMPF's opposition to tail docking was incorporated into the FARM program when it began in 2009. At that time its position was it did not recommend the practice. That was upgraded to opposition in 2012, and a 10-year phaseout for its elimination was adopted.
Hoard's Dairyman has long opposed tail docking and has repeatedly said so in print. We believe its minor convenience and questionable health benefits are vastly outweighed by the horrible animal welfare perception it creates for consumers. Tails have never been docked at the Hoard's Farm in Fort Atkinson, Wis.
The author has served large Western dairy readers for the past 38 years and manages Hoard's WEST, a publication written specifically for Western herds. He is a graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, majored in journalism and is known as a Western dairying specialist.