Tail Docking of Dairy Cattle – Position Statement

October 12, 2016

Position

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) is opposed to the docking of the tails of dairy cattle. Tail docking does not contribute to the improved health and welfare of the cow. 

Summary

  • Tail docking of dairy cattle has been perceived to decrease the risk of udder infections, contribute to cleaner cows, and improve the working conditions of those working with dairy cows.

    Tail docking of calves or adult cattle causes pain and discomfort, and alters normal behavior. 

    Tail docking is prohibited by several jurisdictions in Canada.

    The CVMA encourages dairy producer groups to educate their members and to develop alternative management techniques to achieve proper hygiene for dairy cows and improve working conditions for workers.

Background

  1. Cows use their tails to dislodge and deter insects from landing and biting. It has been shown that cows are unable to effectively keep flies away once the tail is docked (1,2).
  1. The practice of tail docking has been done based on the assumption that this procedure will decrease the risk of udder infections, contribute to cleaner cows, and improve the working conditions of those working with dairy cows. Scientific evidence has not identified any differences in udder or leg hygiene, somatic cell count, or prevalence of intramammary pathogens that could be attributed to tail docking (3-5). In addition, tail docking failed to result in any performance based improvement, or carcass or health traits in beef feedlot cattle (6).
  1. Tail docking of calves or adult cattle causes pain and discomfort. After placement of a rubber band on the tail, young calves show behavioural signs of discomfort (increased movement, decreased lying and movement of the head towards the tail) (2). In older calves, even after the use of caudal epidural anaesthesia and post-surgical administration of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, surgical removal of the tail and use of rubber band around the stump for haemostasis can be followed by 1 to 3 days of behavioural changes indicative of acute pain (7). Docked heifers show signs of chronic pain as indicated by greater sensitivity to heat and cold of the tail stump. Neuroma formation, risk of post-operative infections, and loss of ability to control flies are welfare concerns associated with tail docking (8).
  1. Several provincial jurisdictions prohibit the act of tail docking by veterinarians for cosmetic (or medically unnecessary) purposes as there is no scientific evidence to support the perceived benefits of the procedure (5). The CVMA encourages Dairy Farmers of Canada to educate their membership and support the development of alternative management techniques aimed at improving employee working conditions.
  1. A recent large-scale study has demonstrated that undocked cows are in fact less dirty than cows with docked tails (9).
  1. Across all demographics, people are uniformly and strongly opposed to the procedure of tail docking of dairy cattle (10).

References

  1. NFACC Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle National Farm Animal Care Council. (Updated 2009). Available from: http://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/dairy-cattle Last accessed June 15, 2016.
  1. Eicher SD, Dailey JW. Indicators of acute pain and fly avoidance behaviors in Holstein calves following tail-docking. J Dairy Sci 2002;85:2850-2858.
  1.  Schreiner DA, Ruegg PL. Effects of tail docking on milk quality and cow cleanliness. J Dairy Sci 2002;85:2503-2511.
  1. Tucker CB, Fraser D, Weary DM. Tail docking dairy cattle: Effects on cow cleanliness and udder health. J Dairy Sci 2001;84:84-87
  1. Sutherland MA, Tucker CB. The long and short of it: A review of tail docking in farm animals. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2011;135:179-191.
  1. Kroll LK, Grooms DL, Siegford JM, Schweihofer JP, Metz K, Rust SR. Effects of tail docking on health and performance of beef cattle in confined, slatted-floor feedlots. J Anim Sci 2014;92:4108-4114.
  1. Kroll LK, Grooms DL, Siegford JM, Schweihofer JP, Daigle CL, Metz K, Ladoni M. Effects of tail docking on behavior of confined feedlot cattle. J Anim Sci 2014;92:4701-4710.
  1. Eicher SD, Cheng HW, Sorrells AD, Shutz MM. Short communication: Behavioral and physiological indicators of sensitivity or chronic pain following tail docking. J Dairy Sci 2006;89:3047-3051.
  1. Lombard JE, Tucker CB, von Keyserlingk MAG, Kopral CA, Weary DM. Associations between cow hygiene, hock injuries, and free stall usage on US dairy farms. J Dairy Sci 2010;93:4668-4676.
  1. Weary DM, Schuppli CA, von Keyserlingk MAG. Tail docking dairy cattle: Responses from an online engagement. J Anim Sci 2011;89:3831-3837.


(Revised June 2016)