According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the practice of tail docking in the dairy industry began in the early 1900s in New Zealand as a method to reduce the incidence of leptospirosis in milking personnel. It continued as producers cited a variety of benefits, such as improved comfort for milkers and animal handlers, enhanced cow and udder cleanliness, reduced incidence of mastitis and improved milk quality. The most commonly used method for docking tails in dairy cattle is the use of elastrator bands. Usually performed on pre-fresh heifers or calves near weaning, the elastrator band is applied to remove one-third to two-thirds of the tail. Other methods of docking include using a cauterizing docking iron, use of emasculators and surgical excision.

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Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

New Zealand has since expelled the practice of tail docking and other countries, including the U.S., report the practice appears to be declining. Denmark, Germany, Scotland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and some Australian states prohibit tail docking.

In Australian states where the practice is permitted, guidelines state it should be performed when recommended by a veterinarian for health reasons and the tail stump must be long enough to cover the vulva.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association opposes the practice of docking of dairy cattle for management purposes, yet the practice is still permitted. Canadian national guidelines do recommend that trained personnel perform the procedure. It should also be done on young calves with the proper equipment and attention to pain relief.

In the U.S., California is the only state that has banned routine tail docking in dairy cattle, although similar actions have been proposed in other states. According to a survey conducted by Colorado State University in 2008, 82.3 percent of 113 north-central and northeastern U.S. dairies practiced routine tail docking.


The most common reported docking time was pre-calving or post-calving (35.2 percent). Rubber band was the most common method (92.5 percent), followed by amputation (7.5 percent). Cow hygiene was the most common reason given to dock (73.5 percent), followed by parlor worker comfort (17.4 percent). PD

Current AVMA policy opposes routine tail docking of cattle … Anecdotal reports of the benefits of tail docking are not currently supported by data in the scientific literature. Tail injury from trampling can be minimized by maintaining a lower stocking density and providing solid flooring and/or bedding for cattle.

Tail docking has been experimentally shown to cause minimal adverse physiologic effects; however, fly avoidance behaviors are more frequent in docked cattle, suggesting potential long-term adverse behavioral effects. Increased temperature sensitivity and the presence of neuromas suggest that chronic pain may be associated with the procedure.

American Veterinary Medical Association Excerpt from (AVMA) backgrounder

I am a believer in tail docking only because we believe it’s the right thing for the animal. We dock the tail when the calf is young and it feels very little, if any, pain. Since tails are a natural way for cows to get the flies off their back, we believe it’s also important to have a good fly control system throughout the dairy. We recognize an essential function for the tail is to clean the cow’s vulva, so we make sure it is left long enough to perform that procedure.

By docking tails we are able to reduce the number of flies on the cows. If you look at the picture above, you can see where the tail would lie if the cows still had tails. When the cow then swishes her tail, it will get her back dirty with manure. Without her tail, less manure accumulates on the cow.

A clean cow is a healthier cow. A cleaner cow will have fewer flies biting her because she no longer has manure on her back to attract them.

Cattle are not the only species in which tails are docked for the benefit of the animal. If there is concern for tail docking in cattle then there should be concern for docking tails on Dobermans and other dogs or other practices like pinning a dog’s ears.

John Pagel
Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, LLC , Kewaunee, Wisconsin