Cutting Through the Nonsense on Tail-Cutting

By on March 3, 2015 with 14 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

A couple of years ago I visited perhaps the largest dairy farm in the United States – Fair Oaks Farm in northwest Indiana, which at the time had 36,000 cows, divided into 3,000 cows per pod. Expecting to be pretty horrified by the operation, I was pleasantly surprised by the care provided to the animals. Among other things, the owner, Mike McCloskey, refused to cut off the tails of the cows. When I saw the cows, they were swinging their tails, as they are meant to do.

If the biggest dairy in the country can make it work without tail-docking, so can other producers here. There’s nothing remarkable about running a dairy and not mutilating the appendages of the animals. Other big dairy-producing nations, including Australia, the European Union, and New Zealand, all maintain strong, anti-tail-docking policies.

The meat and dairy industries pay frequent lip service to the science of animal welfare – all too often as a hedge or an excuse to sidestep actual animal welfare reforms. On the topic of tail-cutting – the practice of painfully cutting or crushing the tails off of dairy calves – there is as close to a scientific consensus as we get in society. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, and veterinary authorities around the world say that the practice is bad for animal welfare and completely unnecessary.

So why are major dairy producers in the United States still routinely cutting and crushing their cows’ tails? They’re stubborn, and want to do what they want to do – and their trade associations oppose any regulations or standards to govern their behavior, even as they recognize the practice is unnecessary and inhumane. Although the dairy industry doesn’t release numbers, a recent estimate suggested that as many as half of them routinely cut and crush their cows’ tails. And the dairy industry continues to lobby against rules to prevent the practice, though we’ve succeeded in passing such laws or regulations in states such as California (the nation’s largest milk-producing state), Ohio, and Rhode Island.

This week we’re launching a new website to draw attention to the issue: It explains that cows need their tails to ward off flies and other biting insects, and that the amputation is typically done without any pain relief, and may leave the cow in chronic pain. I encourage you to visit the site and then take action to protect cows from this painful and unnecessary procedure. Urge your lawmakers to introduce legislation to outlaw this inhumane, scientifically discredited practice. And use your purchasing power in the marketplace to support that goal, too.

It’s long past time for American dairy producers to stop tail-cutting. In 2012, the National Milk Producers Federation took a positive first step, when it voted to oppose tail-docking, recognizing that the practice is unnecessary. But the Federation set a phase-out date of 2022 – an inexplicably long time, since farmers don’t need to invest in new technology; they could stop cutting the tails off their cows tomorrow. The industry’s own veterinarians concluded five years ago that the “[c]urrent scientific literature indicates that routine tail docking provides no benefit to the animal.” And the AVMA concludes that the practice is not only unnecessary, but may cause cows distress and chronic pain. Dairy Australia, the country’s dairy trade association, neatly sums up the arguments of hold-out dairy producers, noting “[t]ail docking in the dairy industry is largely based on habits, attitudes and tradition, rather than good science or real need.”

Kraft Foods is now requiring its milk suppliers to phase out tail docking, while other food industry giants, including Dunkin Brands, Nestle, Sodexo, and Starbucks, have condemned the practice and aim to phase it out, too. If the dairy industry is serious about its commitment to science-based standards for animal welfare, it should show some leadership on this issue and bring a complete and immediate end to tail-cutting.

Farm Animals

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  1. Cheryl Lawrence says:

    Please stop cutting off tails of dairy cows and mutilation of animals! I wish all cows were free.

  2. David Bernazani says:

    This is about what I would expect from an industry that treats animals no better than parts in a machine. Best not to drink milk at all, since doing so supports their horrid practices.

  3. Barbara Hunter says:

    I think, with your help, it just might work. Thank you from all cows…. and me.

  4. Peggy Ellison says:

    I do not drink milk and never will as long as abuses to the cows continue. I cannot understand the total abuse against these magnificent animals by the psychotic people who make their living from torture.

  5. Nancy lit says:

    I wonder if any of those humans who operate the dairy’s that continue this barbaric and unnecessary practice of mutilating cows tails have themselves, or their loved ones, ever experienced a traumatic amputation? Do these people understand what “phantom pain” is, how intense that pain can be, and how frustrating it is because of the lack of adequate treatment for such pain- and that’s for humans! These dairy owners don’t even try to treat the pain that these poor cows feel. This practice serves no purpose whatsoever, so why do they continue to mutilate cows unnecessarily? In a country that claims to be more advanced than all others, we certainly are in the Stone Age when it concerns animal welfare. It’s time for the government to govern and stop allowing big business lobbyists make their own laws.


      What about docking dogs tails? Nobody bats an eye. Do they experience phantom pain? So many breeds do this!

  6. Patricia Frazier says:

    Please stop this cruel and barbaric practice. When you treat cows with such disrespect, how can you think that the people who eat and drink from these cows to be healthy. You reap what you sow.. and you are sowing seeds of torture. I stopped eating dairy products once I learned about your cruel, evil treatment of these beautiful, gentle, loving beings. As more people learn of your unscrupulous tactics, they, too, will stop consuming dairy products. And then you will all be out of business. I hope that day comes soon.

  7. Annie Capek says:

    I drink a lot of skim milk,maybe 2 gallons a week.However,I will give up milk until I know that EVERY dairy farmer has stopped this barbaric practice.I am addicted to the milk,and it will be hard to stop drinking it,but I am repulsed by this cruelty and refuse to be a part of it.Please do the right,humane thing.

  8. Suzanne Billings says:

    This is so cruel and unnecessary. These poor dairy cows suffer such pain and torture and now this. I feel these dairy farms just care about the almighty dollar and have no regard or compassion for these animals who are suffering. My entire family, myself and several friends have stopped buying milk as well as other dairy products until and unless this stops! Please show some compassion and do the right thing.

  9. Vic Marquis says:

    It’s called progress…we stopped sacrificing humans, then animals. Now it is time to stop inflicting pain on our fellow sentient beings.

  10. Denni A says:

    stop buying everything made from cow’s milk and you see how fast they stop this practice. I switched to non-GMO soymilk 8 yrs ago and never looked back. in fact I can’t even drink cow’s milk now, the smell and taste makes me nauseous. next time you’re shopping for ice cream try the ones made with Almond Milk, seriously you can’t taste the difference and the almond milk ice cream is more creamier.

  11. Heather Landry says:

    I love that we’re phasing out tail docking on cows, but is there really no one trying to get the same thing done with DOGS? We have such an attachment to dogs, yet no one seems to be working to prevent this evil from continuing.

  12. Bill says:

    It seems pretty clear that anyone commenting on this, never milked a cow or have had significant experience on a dairy before. I have absolutely never heard of fellow farmers ‘cutting’ or ‘crushing’ a cow’s tail. They are (or were) amputated via a castration band. The pain is no different then castrating a bull, clipping a dog’s ears, etc.
    Although it arguably does not benefit the cow, (we have noticed an increase in mastitis) this practice does benefit the farmer. The one doing the work for all of the ungrateful city folk. I’d invite most of you to milk a full milking just once. I will guarantee that you will get at LEAST one tail, that was laying in the gutter behind the cow full manure, to the face. None of you would knock it, if you knew how sanitary it was to dock it.

  13. Cow Dairy Farm says:

    Thank you for the information.

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