By Tim Morrissey
MADISON, Wis. - The Humane Society of the United States is calling for an end to the practice of cutting the tails off dairy cows, calling it painful and unnecessary.
Paul Shapiro, a vice president of the organization, sent a letter to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, calling for an end to tail-docking.
"There's no reason to cut cows' tails off," he said. "The science is overwhelming that there's no benefit to the cow or to the farmer of performing this mutilation - and yet still, the dairy industry continues it."
The Farm Bureau responded to the letter, saying tail-docking should remain a decision between farmers and their veterinarians.
Shapiro said tail-docking is a serious animal-welfare problem, adding that the practice is banned in several states.
"A number of other states - including California, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island - have passed laws banning this inhumane and unnecessary practice of tail-docking of dairy cows," he said.
Some dairy producers say tail-docking helps with cleanliness and makes it easier to milk the cow, but a University of Wisconsin Agricultural Extension study concluded that the practice has no effect on cleanliness or milk quality.
Shapiro said the jury is "in" on this issue.
"The scientific literature is overwhelmingly clear that there is no benefit to tail-docking," he said. "There's no benefit to the cow. There's no benefit to the producer. It's a cruel and unnecessary practice that's opposed by the dairy industry's own trade group, the National Milk Producers Federation."
The American Veterinary Medical Association also opposes tail-docking.
Shapiro said the practice continues only because of superstition and tradition.
"If the dairy industry actually looked toward science-based guidelines for how they ought to treat cows," he said, "it would do away with tail-docking."
According to the state Department of Agriculture, there are nearly 1.3 million dairy cows in Wisconsin, and each generates about $21,000 worth of economic activity.
The University of Wisconsin study is online at milkquality.wisc.edu. Audiofile.