National Milk Producers Federation Opposes Tail Docking on Dairy Cows

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Photo by Fotolia/Studio Porto Sabbia
The practice of tail docking on dairy cows, which originated in New Zealand in the 1980s, prevents cows from switching flies and communicating with herd members.

The following article is posted with permission from Humane Farm Animal Care.

One of the most egregious welfare issues in dairy production is the practice of tail docking. The practice of tail docking started in New Zealand in the 1980s and soon spread to North America. The reason it gained in popularity was because farmers claimed it improved their ease of milking the cows, their ability to keep cows clean and their ability to keep the cows’ udders healthy. This made managing dairy cows easier for the farmers.

Unfortunately, no one thought of the impact on the cows. Cows use their tails for many purposes, including swatting flies and communicating with other cows. When a cow’s tail is docked it is painful. There is no welfare benefit to the cow for undergoing this painful procedure, and when her tail is docked she can’t swat flies and she can’t communicate with her herd mates.

The Certified Humane program has never allowed tail docking. The decision to prohibit tail docking was made by our scientific committee, led by Dr. Carolyn Stull. Dr. Stull had done a lot of research on the issue of tail docking and its purported benefits, and concluded that there was no reason for dairy cows to undergo this painful procedure. Dr. Stull was one of four animal scientists who helped found Humane Farm Animal Care, and helped write the original HFAC Animal Care Standards. Dr. Stull is the Chair of our Scientific Committee.

Unfortunately, tail docking has been a widespread practice in the US commercial dairy industry. The dairy industry trade association, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), has never prohibited tail docking. However, on July 23, 2012, the NMPF Board of Directors approved a resolution to oppose tail docking of dairy cows in their industry guidelines, the Dairy FARM program. Their decision also aligns their FARM program with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP). The Board voted to approve the following language:

“NMPF’s National Dairy FARM Animal Care Program opposes the routine tail docking of dairy animals, except in the case of traumatic injury to an animal. This practice is recommended to be phased out by 2022. Switch trimming is recommended as a preferred alternative. Acknowledging existing animal cruelty laws, NMPF opposes efforts to prescribe specific on-farm animal care practices through federal, state, or local legislative or regulatory action.”

Dr. Stull has been instrumental in getting the industry group to change its position. We congratulate Dr. Stull on this achievement!

We commend the NMPF on opposing tail docking in dairy cows. However, we feel that 10 years is far too long to wait for implementing this policy. When farmers want to become Certified Humane® and have practiced tail docking in the past, they must immediately cease all tail docking on their cows, or we will not certify them. We have not found any that dairy farm which immediately ceased tail docking has had problems. We would urge the NMPF to change the phase-out period to two years instead of 10 years.

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