AABP opposes routine tail docking

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The American Association of Bovine Practitioners has adopted a policy opposed to routine tail docking of cattle.

Dr. M. Gatz Riddell, executive vice president of the AABP, said the decision was based on a lack of evidence that the procedure provided benefits to cattle. The decision was difficult and followed hours of discussion, and members who work with dairy cattle have had differing opinions of the change.

Because the policy opposes only routine tail docking, it allows for procedures such as amputation of damaged tails to avoid infection, Dr. Riddell said.

The AABP's previous policy opposed tail docking except under certain conditions, which included the supervision and instruction of a veterinarian. Dr. Riddell said the procedure had been seen as a means to keep cattle's quarters and udders cleaner and, as a result, produce better milk and improve udder health.

Dr. Riddell said tail docking has also been believed by some to reduce the risk of workers becoming infected by leptospirosis shed in urine, but investigation has shown that such shedding is not a substantial human health concern. While people who work with cattle also want to avoid being hit with dirty tails, he said "that in and of itself is not a justification for performing tail docking."

Prior to the board's decision, the AABP Milk Quality and Udder Health Committee recommended maintaining the then-existing policy and studying tail docking's benefits for handling animals, human health and comfort, and reduction of human eye injury risk.

Dr. Roger L. Saltman, AABP president, said in a column to members published at www.aabp.org and in an association newsletter that the AABP board of directors considered extensive literature that indicated there was no udder health advantage from tail docking and some literature that indicated the procedure can have negative effects on the animals. The board members decided that "there was simply no plausible way to defend the practice based on science" and overwhelmingly voted in favor of the new position.

The AABP's position is similar to the AVMA's policy "Tail Docking of Cattle," which states that the AVMA opposes routine tail docking because current scientific literature indicates the procedure provides no benefit to the animal and can lead to distress during fly seasons. Moreover, it states that amputation, when medically necessary, must be performed by a licensed veterinarian.