Tail Docking of Dairy Cattle
February 22, 2022
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.
- 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.
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).
2. The practice of tail docking dairy cattle has been based on the assumption that it will decrease the risk of udder infections, contribute to cleaner cows, and improve the working conditions of personnel. However, tail docking does not (a) improve udder or leg hygiene, or (b) reduce the prevalence of intramammary pathogens (3-6). Switch trimming (trimming long hair off the end of the tail) does not provide any improvements in hygiene or fly-control (7).
3. 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 (8). 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 (9).
4. One survey indicated that a majority of dairy producers and veterinarians were opposed to the tail docking of dairy cattle and all other participants were unanimous in their opposition (10).
5. Several jurisdictions prohibit tail docking for medically unnecessary purposes. It is also considered unacceptable by the NFACC Dairy Code of Practice (1) and any degree of tail docking is subject to penalty by the Dairy Farmers of Canada Animal Care Program (Pro-Action) unless the procedure is deemed medically necessary and performed by a veterinarian as well as the rationale documented and provided to Pro-Action inspectors upon request.
6. The CVMA encourages Dairy Farmers of Canada to continue to educate their membership and proscribe the practice through Pro-Action and to support the development of alternative management techniques.
- 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 September 2021.
- 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.
- Schreiner DA, Ruegg PL. Effects of tail docking on milk quality and cow cleanliness. J Dairy Sci 2002;85:2503-2511.
- Tucker CB, Fraser D, Weary DM. Tail docking dairy cattle: Effects on cow cleanliness and udder health. J Dairy Sci 2001;84:84-87
- 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.
- 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.
- Frantz, L. M., Morabito, E. A., Dolecheck, K. A., Bewley, J. M. (2019). A comparison of cow cleanliness, fly population, and fly avoidance behaviors among docked, switch-trimmed, and switch-intact dairy cows in 3 commercial dairy herds. Journal of dairy science, 102(2), 1584-1588.
- 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.
- 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.
- Weary DM, Schuppli CA, von Keyserlingk MAG. Tail docking dairy cattle: Responses from an online engagement. J Anim Sci 2011;89:3831-3837.