In Vermont, where the dairy industry is sacrosanct, there is a bill in our state legislature to ban tail docking. I was impressed when I saw that Dairy Herd Management editor Tom Quaife had written a piece back in 2002 called "Tail Docking Makes Little Sense," and opined that "tail docking is no longer a justifiable practice." I recently wrote to Tom to applaud this position and to rue the fact that tails are still being docked a decade later. I wrote to him again, to take issue with certain pieces that appeared in DHM. When I was disallowed from participating in a survey because I was not “in the industry,” I suggested that he occasionally airs points of view from “the other side of the fence.” I was pleasantly surprised when he generously offered me the opportunity to do that here in this blog.
I will do my best to represent the perspective of the concerned citizen/conscientious consumer in a manner that is civil and helpful.
By way of introduction, I am a longtime animal activist, although I’m no longer employed by, or affiliated with, any organization. I headed for the glorious Green Mountains of southwestern Vermont, where I’m a freelance writer/editor. I’ve been a vegan for most of my life; I’ve protested, gone to jail, advocated, campaigned, lobbied on behalf of the full gamut of animal issues. I saved two Vermont Randall steers, sire and son, from the slaughterhouse (close call!), and these two have given me the opportunity to observe them and members of their kind very closely. Rupert and Robin’s purpose is to keep the pastures down at the farm where they’re boarding, and to allow me the pleasure of being part of their bond. I tend to them every day whether they need tending or not, and they are my bovine inspiration.
Let’s get back to tail docking, a subject where many in the industry and those on the other side of the fence actually agree.
Even before Tom wrote his article, numerous scientific papers, expert opinions in journals, and industry-related position statements started to accumulate. Yet tail docking has become routine in this country, even as it has been banned in others. Even the conservative American Association of Bovine Practitioners opposes it.
The AVMA position paper addresses issues of acute pain, chronic pain, physiologic stress, disease and fly-avoidance behaviors (stomping, head-tossing). Fly-maddened cows waggling amputated stumps aren’t good for the burgeoning agri-tourism business; localvores are also paying attention to animal welfare. Some in the industry acknowledge the negative implications of ignoring public concern: "The insistence to continue a practice when it is neither supported scientifically nor condoned by the veterinary medical community casts doubt on the ethical bearings of an industry." (The Michigan Dairy Review).
This is big: Last year, Hoard's Dairyman concluded: "We all need to step back and take an outside look at our farms using the vantage point of the consumer who may be visiting for the first time. [...] When it comes to tail docking, it doesn't really benefit the cow, employee health, or product quality. Both Canadian and American veterinary associations agree and are on record as opposing the practice. We are, too. It's one practice whose only place should be in the annals of history."
So there's been plenty of information, and plenty of time to agree to stop docking cows' tails, yet some farmers continue to modify the animal rather than modify their practices. That is why it’s time to resort to the tedious and contentious process of implementing an enforceable, legislated ban.
It’s not just animal advocates making a clamor. Just listen to who else is saying that cows need their tails!