Monday, October 25, 2010

Milk producers behind the times

I'm currently trying to correct a huge publishing error on which merged 2 of my blogs together into something less than intelligible. Hopefully this works...

I know this is one of the more controversial subjects that I touch on, but the Gateway to Animal Welfare has once again uploaded discussion about tail docking dairy cows and it is time people realized that this is an issue which simply isn't going away.

Tail docking
started in New Zealand in the 1960's as a way of limiting urine splash onto milkers' faces and thus preventing the spread of leptospirosis to dairy farmers, presumably passed from bovine to human. As it turns out, further research by Mackintosh in the 1980's found that the incidence of Leptospirosis is much stronger correlated to previous worker health and their exposure to rodents while on the job.

That being said, the question presumably follows, "Why are we still docking cows?". Well, the assumptions began to stack up that docked cows would be cleaner around their udder, healthier (less mastitis), and would be producing a higher quality milk. Research since has proven none of these to be true. In fact, not only is there little discernible improvement in the health of cows or the quality of milk, but the cows are further prevented from avoiding flies since they have lost the ability to swat them with their tails as found by Eicher in 2000-2002.

Folks, this research is nearly 10 years old and yet we have made minimal steps towards ending tail docking as a practice in the US dairy industry. You know that I'm an advocate of the dairy industry and livestock agriculture but this is a concerning subject to me. The debate should not be on whether or not the docking is harming the animals. Since this is not providing any gain to the farmer beyond milker relief from tails (which can also be aided by trimming switches), then why are we going to the effort to remove tails from cows that can put them to good use and will be able to retain their natural appearance. This is far different from the case of sheep which will suffer diseases with an intact tail. Dairy cows need their tail and we aren't getting a thing out of taking it off. It's time that the national dairy industry and organizations supporting them begin serious discussions about voluntarily removing this as an industry practice before someone from the outside comes in and makes it happen like they did in California.

It's up to us to be responsible for caring for our animals. If we don't take charge, someone less knowledgeable will take it away from us.

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