Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Time to end painful tail docking for dairy cows?

PD Staff Published on 29 October 2012

Over the last few years, the HSUS has driven major change within multiple sectors of animal agribusiness – and at a pace faster than I could ever have anticipated. Just this year, we’ve seen a slew of major food retailers decide to phase out their purchases of pork from producers that confine sows in gestation crates.

The veal industry has agreed to phase out crates by 2017 and more than 70 percent of that transition has already been completed. The egg industry has agreed to support federal legislation to phase out the use of the barren battery cage as well as require a labeling program that gives consumers more information about production practices.



The latest major announcement came in late July from the National Milk Producers Federation , one of the industry’s major trade associations, which has voted to officially oppose the inhumane practice of dairy cow tail docking.

We achieved the first state ban on tail docking in California – the number-one dairy producing state – in 2009 and then subsequently won bans in Ohio and Rhode Island. Now the industry’s biggest trade group has come out against the practice on a nationwide basis.

But unfortunately, the time-frame is too long. The trade group has called for an unduly long phase-out of the amputation practice, which is typically done without anesthetic and removes up to two-thirds of a cow’s tail. According to its resolution, the NMPF is urging a 10-year phase-out.

There’s no compelling reason for such a needlessly long time-frame, given that there are no costs associated with the termination of this practice. Many dairy producers have already stopped it and it’s time for the outliers to abandon it, too.

Other animal agribusiness industries making animal housing improvements desire phase-out periods and adequate time to depreciate equipment and build new facilities. But in the case of tail docking, no new buildings must be constructed and no equipment must be depreciated.


Though the pace is often slower than we’d want, there’s no doubt that change is afoot within animal agriculture, thanks mainly to reform efforts driven by the HSUS. Some sectors embrace change, others do it grudgingly and still others continue to fight the inevitable trend toward higher standards of animal welfare.

In this case, we’ll push the milk industry to expedite this change. There’s no reason to subject cows to this procedure and the HSUS will continue to drive reform until tail docking is a thing of the past. PD

— As posted on Wayne Pacelle’s blog Aug. 10, 2012. Pacelle is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

I agree with John Pagel! He hit the nail on the head. I challenge anyone on cow cleanliness and comfort of cows with docked tails. We need to win this argument by education. The AVMA has very few cattle vets on their staff!

—Curt Norton
P.S. We milk 900 cows in western New York

The rationale in the magazine by Jerry Kozak frustrates me. He apparently has never been hit in the face by a tail full of manure. The real problem is that he is willing to concede our right to dock tails. Conceding rights is a slippery slope; if we give this up, what other rights will follow?


—John Temme
comment left on website in poll results

Research & public relations/public opinion want intact tails on cows.

—Jack Albright, Carmel, IN

Of all the things we do to keep our animals happy and healthy, tail docking when done properly undoubtedly causes the least pain or distress to the animal. Anyone who thinks cows with long tails (even when clipped frequently) are as clean as cows with docked tails has not spent much time in a barn.

—Les Pike
comment left on website in poll results

On my dairy we do not dock tails and will not in the future.

—Martin Avila, Modesto, CA