Evaluation of the scientific justification for tail docking in dairy cattle

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The practice of tail docking of dairy cows appears to have originated in New Zealand and by the 1990s was a common procedure in that country. A variety of benefits have been attributed to tail docking, including improved comfort for milking personnel and enhanced udder and milk hygiene. Although the practice has been increasing in US dairy herds, its reported benefits have been questioned by researchers who raise concerns related to animal welfare and efficacy. In a survey conducted in New Zealand, tail docking was viewed as a welfare concern by 60% of the general public and, interestingly, 53% of nondairy farmers. It is likely that US consumers will have similar concerns. In the United States, the issue ultimately may be resolved through trade negotiations or legislation. Veterinarians will need to address these issues in their practices and when developing position statements for various professional associations. It is likely that veterinarians will be key advisors in deliberations within the dairy industry and a credible source of information for consumers.

Our working hypothesis for this review was that there is no benefit to tail docking of dairy cattle. Lay publications were evaluated to determine the alleged purpose and management factors associated with the practice of tail docking in the dairy industry. Computer-assisted databases (MEDLINE, BIOSIS, and AGRICOLA) were used to identify the peer-reviewed scientific literature available. Governmental and regulatory reports from a variety of countries also were collected and reviewed.