Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Docking cow tails

Until I read that California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just signed a bill banning docking the tails of any of the 1.5 million dairy cows in the state, I wasn't even aware that this was done. The practice - painful, because it is usually done without anesthetic - is to snip off the tail with a sharp pair of shears or to band the tail, cutting off the blood flow, which causes it to die and drop off. It developed in New Zealand in the early 20th c. and has now spread to other countries (although it is banned as animal mutilation in the U.K.). Tail docking is said to benefit milking personnel by reducing the incidence of an infection caused by coming into contact with a urine-soaked tail, and to be beneficial for the cattle by enhancing udder cleanliness, reducing the incidence of mastitis, and improving milk quality and hygiene, all by eliminating the spread of pathogens via a soiled tail. But all the evidence is anecdotal. In scientific studies, no significant differences were shown between docked and intact cows. On the other hand, the procedure has been proven to cause continued physical distress, increased infection rates, physiological stress, and possible displacement behavior (overeating) and the equivalent in humans of phantom limb pain. What's more, the poor cows can't shoo the flies away.

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