Dairy Pipeline: December 2002
VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine
However, this practice has generally been accepted as being beneficial without significant scientific scrutiny of its effectiveness. A study recently published in the Journal of Dairy Science (October 2002) examined the effect of taildocking on the cleanliness of legs and udders of dairy cows, as well as the impact on somatic cell counts and intramammary (primarily subclinical) infections. This study compared 625 docked cows with 625 undocked herdmates in 8 Wisconsin dairy herds over an 8 month period. The researchers could find no significant differences in cow cleanliness, somatic cell count or infection rate which could be attributed to the docking of the tails. (Although it would have been valuable information, they were not able to compare the rates of clinical mastitis between the two groups of cows because of unreliable records!) This study agrees with a few previous studies which have not been able to demonstrate a significant beneficial effect of tail-docking. Besides the general lack of scientific evidence supporting the practice, there are other factors that may impact a producer's decision about whether or not to dock tails. A report has recently been released by the Food Marketing Institute and the National Council of Chain Restaurants, who have established a scientific advisory panel to help them "improve the care and handling of animals used for food" (JUNE 2002 REPORT - FMI-NCCR Animal Welfare Program, which can be found at http://www.fmi.org/). Under the guidelines for dairy cattle, the report "recommend[s] that switch trimming be used rather than taildocking." While this is only a suggested guideline at this time, it seems likely that this could be one of the standards that the retail community (and public) will require producers to meet in the future. If you are currently docking the tails of your cattle, or considering this practice, it may be beneficial to discuss with your staff, your veterinarian and other advisors the benefits and costs associated with this practice. For some producers, the real (and perceived) benefits may continue to outweigh the costs. However, it is also possible that you will decide, in the light of the above evidence, that this practice is not beneficial enough to warrant continuing.