Tail docking is becoming a hot topic, but how much of the nation's dairy herd has undergone the management practice?
Cassandra Tucker of the University of California points to USDA's 2007 National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) survey. "The NAHMS report found that 38% of cows are docked nationwide,” she says.
In a subsample of that survey, researchers looked at 297 U.S. dairies, all comprised of Holstein cows housed in freestalls. They found that 53% of those operations docked at least 75% of their herd. "Farms in this subsample that docked tails had a higher percentage of severely dirty cows (13%) than operations that did not dock (7%),” Tucker says.
In 2009, Noelia Silva del Rio of the University of California-Cooperative Extension helped conduct a survey of 171 dairies in California's Central Valley. Results showed that only 9% of the dairies docked tails.
In Minnesota, about 85% of the state's freestall herds dock cow tails, says Marcia Endres, a veterinarian with the University of Minnesota's Department of Animal Science. "I don't know what the percentage would be for tiestall herds, which still represent a large percentage of our farms,” she says.
Chris Galen of the National Milk Producers Federation points to USDA's 2002 NAHMS study, which found that about 50% of farms docked none of their cows' tails, 16% docked all, and the remaining one-third applied it on some but not all cows. On a volume basis, the same study found that one-third of U.S. dairy cows had docked tails, as the procedure tends to be less common among the largest farms, Galen says.