Dairy farmers like to amputate cows’ tails. No anesthetic, needless to say. Colorado legislators were working on legislation to ban the painful practice, but have been stymied — by one of the bill’s sponsors, no less.
Dairy farmers believe that when cows swish their tails they spread germs. They apparently don’t care that cows have tails for a reason: to protect themselves from flystrike, which can kill them.
Flystrike primarily affects calves. Sorry, but here is what happens:
“Fly strike occurs when common flies lay their eggs in a moist, warm tissue somewhere on the body of a newborn calf. It can occur in older animals, but generally that requires some sort of injury, or widespread skin inflammation before fly strike would become a serious problem in an older animal. Usually, they are capable of licking, rubbing or scratching and physically removing the fly eggs or larva from their bodies.
“In the newborn calf however, flystrike becomes a potentially life threatening condition. The flies lay their eggs, usually around the anus, where there is a buildup of soft, milk-manure, or around the umbilicus that may still be moist as it hasn’t healed from birth yet.
“The eggs hatch into tiny larva, or maggots, that feed on organic matter until they pupate. These larva are tiny specks when they are first hatched, but rapidly grow into inch long, fat grub-like maggots. While they do not feed on living tissue, like the screwworm, the inflammation and irritation that they cause contributes to necrosis or death of the tissue they are on. The inflamed, oozing tissue attracts more flies, which lay more eggs, and on and on. The intense dermatitis causes discomfort, infection, fever and dehydration. Untreated, this becomes a death sentence for the calf.”
Eww and ouch.
Things had been proceeding smoothly, with the state’s House committee approving the bill to go to the floor. Then for some reason, one of the sponsors of the bill asked to delay further consideration of the bill until the next legislative session, when it may or may not be revived.
The brouhaha is hard to understand given that only two farms in Colorado dock cows’ tails. But the state’s farmers are presenting a united front. Rather than embrace progress, the rest of Colorado’s dairy farmers have banded together to protect the two laggard farms. Around half of the dairy farms in the U.S. amputate cows’ tails.
One farmer who does not dock his cows’ tails, Chris Kraft, complained that “we’re starting to be made criminals on our farms. It’s just outrageous.”
Kraft needs to brush up on his civics. People can already be made into criminals in their own homes if they hurt others, like abusing their partner or children. The Colorado bill would have extended a small measure of physical protection to helpless cows. Besides, the penalties the bill provided were minimal: a violation would be a “petty offense” and the wrongdoer would be subject to a fine of up to $500. It’s not like Kraft or any tail cutter would be tossed into the big house.
Another illustration that Colorado’s farmers are overreacting to the bill: its requirements are hardly onerous. It would allow tail docking only for therapeutic purposes; a licensed veterinarian would have to perform the procedure in a way that would minimize the cow’s pain and suffering; and anesthesia would have to be administered to the animal.
Even without Colorado’s law, the end is nigh for tail docking. The National Milk Producers Federation urges farms to phase out tail amputation. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes it. The farmers also don’t have science on their side. Peer-reviewed studies have found no benefits to the health of cows or humans from amputation, and have concluded that the procedure causes chronic, long-term pain.
One way or another and despite this setback in the Colorado legislature, the end is in sight for amputating cows’ tails. Help move things along by signing this petition for a national ban on tail docking.
Photo credit: Ingram Publishing