RESEARCH SHOWING less than one-in-10 dairy farmers still dock cows’ tails has prompted renewed calls for farmers to eradicate the practice altogether.
While the latest Dairy Australia Animal Husbandry Survey found 91 per cent of dairy farmers had stopped docking tails, it still occurs on some farms, mainly in the higher rainfall areas of Gippsland, western Victoria and Tasmania.
The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle only allow tail docking of cattle under veterinary advice to treat a tail injury or disease. Compliance with these guidelines is dairy industry policy.
Australian Dairy Farmers’ Animal Health and Welfare Policy Advisory Group chair Andrew Lester said he had not experienced any problems since ceasing tail docking at his Tasmanian dairy farm 12 years ago.
“We did grapple with how we would manage mastitis and dirty udders and those sorts of things but mastitis levels haven’t been elevated beyond what we had before we stopped docking,” Mr Lester said.
“We also had concerns about the operator issue of being flicked in the eye with a tail, but we’ve never had any damage from it.”
Mr Lester said ceasing the practice altogether would be a positive step for the welfare of Australia’s dairy herd.
“The tail is obviously something they need to defend themselves against insects. It’s a comfort thing for them and it’s probably why they have a tail in the first place,” he said.
“Two or three times a year we have an extra person in the dairy to trim the dirty and long tails so there is a cost but, when you take into account animal welfare and public perception, I think the benefits definitely outweigh that cost.”
Dairy Australia’s animal health and welfare policy manager Susannah Tymms said tail docking in the dairy industry was largely based on habits, attitudes and tradition, rather than good science or real need.
“Farmers who have given the practice away discover that cows with full tails are just as easy to manage as those without,” Ms Tymms said.
“Switch trimming is one alternative, with excess tail hair trimmed once or twice per year to minimise the problem of dirty tails.
“Other strategies to manage cows without tail docking include calm, consistent milking practices, good dairy design, fly control and the use of tail clips.”
For more information on managing cows’ tails, go to: www.dairyaustralia.com.au/switchtrimming