To dock or not to dock

Swishing Tails

Photo by Melanie Lukesh via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A recent piece from Abbie Fentress Swanson for Harvest Public Media takes listeners and readers inside an issue that will be familiar to folks in the dairy industry but may never have occurred to the rest of us:

[M]any dairy producers cut off – or dock – their cows’ tails. Cow tail docking as a practice was introduced in the New Zealand dairy industry in the early 1900s. Cow tails were thought to be the cause of an outbreak of leptospirosis among milkers, which is a disease caused by bacteria found in animal urine. Dairy producers in the U.S. got in on the practice in part because they believed docking also led to cleaner cows. But recent studies show there’s no scientific proof that docking keeps cows healthier or that it stops the spread of disease….

Noted animal advocate Temple Grandin, who teaches animal science at Colorado State University, was one of the writers of a report published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2008 that looked at cow tail docking at 113 dairies in the U.S. “A lot of people that want to dock tails just want to do it for the convenience of the milkers,” she said. “They don’t want to get slimed by tails.”

Grandin said she’s seen more flies on cows with docked tails because they don’t have tails to flick them off. Many dairies have also given up on tours because they’re tired of explaining to visitors why the cows look funny. “I think in ag[riculture] we have to look at everything we do and go, ‘[How] would you explain this to the wedding guests from New York or Chicago?’” she said. “And you know, you see a cow out there covered with flies wiggling a nubbin. I don’t think that’s something we want to show the wedding guests.”

The story suggests there may be a harmless, effective resolution:

But there is an alternative to cowtail docking – and it’s being done at the Foremost Dairy Center in Columbia, Mo. Fall is a busy time at the University of Missouri-owned dairy because that’s the time of year when veterinarian Scott Poock trims the switches off the tails of the dairy’s 425 cows. In his blue jumpsuit, rubber boots and baseball cap, Poock shows how the procedure works in one of the dairy’s freestall barns. He sidles up to a big Holstein with an ordinary Greenlee PVC pipe cutter in his hand and picks up her 3.5-foot long tail.

“We’re going to take off her ponytail is what we’re doing,” he said…. “That will keep that hair away from the milkers when they are milking her. And yet she’s got a long tail,” said Poock. “You can see there are no flies in here but if there were and she wanted to switch flies away that could be possible.”

Head here for the full audio and print versions of the story, along with a photo slideshow.


One comment

  1. Little Sis

    So many things that we do in the name of ease are best re-examined – not gotten rid of without consideration, but with an understanding of why we do these things and with a thoughtful process to divine a new alternative. Thanks for sharing.

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