This past week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the decline of tail docking in the dairy industry. It cited the recent resolution by the National Milk Producers Federation to alter its position and oppose routine tail docking except in cases of traumatic injury to the animal.
The NMPF now recommends the practice be phased out completely by 2022, giving producers time to implement on-farm management changes to address udder hygiene, parlor design, worker safety and other reasons commonly cited for tail docking. The American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Bovine Practitioners already oppose tail docking, and the practice has been banned in California; other states will surely follow.
Activists undoubtedly see the decline in tail docking as a victory. However, the NMPF resolution also represents a victory of sorts for the dairy industry by taking control of the issue, and shaping it to minimize its impact on producers. In a letter to NMPF members, President Jerry Kozak wrote, “Rather than give the animal rights community a tool with which to beat on dairy farmers, it’s more prudent to be proactive, and use our heads to handle this ourselves.”
What does this mean for dehorning? It means the industry may soon need to take control of this narrative – as the NMPF has done with the issue of tail docking – and shape it so it not only aligns with changing welfare standards, but allows producers time to adjust for minimum negative impact on their operations.
What do you think of the new NMPF resolution opposing tail docking?
For the first time, dehorning is included among animal welfare standards published by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) which represents more than 600 heifer growers in the United States.
The DCHA introduced its “Gold Standards III” at last fall’s American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference in St. Louis. Developed by a committee of heifer growers, veterinarians and industry representatives, the guidelines include updated recommendations for calf housing, handling, transportation, elective medical care and other practices with an emphasis on animal welfare. They were reviewed by the Animal Welfare Committee of the AABP and a panel of university experts.
On the subject of dehorning, the Standards specify disbudding as the “preferred” method for horn removal, recommending “cautery” at less than one month of age with local anesthesia. Dehorning at least than three months of age is also acceptable with local anesthesia and sedation. You can read the complete Gold Standards III here.
Gold III also supports the “Five Freedoms” developed in the United Kingdom by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, now the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, one of which is freedom from pain. Of the two “cautery” methods, disbudding with caustic paste has been shown to be less painful than hot-iron dehorning, even when a local anesthetic is used.
For its next incarnation of guidelines, perhaps the DCHA will specify caustic paste disbudding for horn removal that has “the animals’ best welfare interests in mind”, according to DCHA board member and Gold Standards III committee chair Vance Kells.
What do you think of the DCHA’s Gold Standards III?
Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, http://www.calfandheifer.org/
Jim Dickrell. “Gold Standards III: Heifer growers set welfare guidelines.” Dairy Today, Nov. 1, 2011. http://www.agweb.com/article/gold_standard_iii/
Vickers, K.J. et al. Calf Response to Caustic Paste and Hot-Iron Dehorning Using Sedation With and Without Local Anesthetic. April 2005. J. Dairy Sci. 88:1454-1459.
We were happy to provide Dr. Aurora Villarroel, an Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University, with 250 laminated copies of her paste dehorning poster for her presentation at last week’s conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) in St. Louis, MO. We were even happier to learn all 250 copies were snatched up by attendees.
“The veterinarians and students at AABP loved the posters” said Dr. Villarroel. “I just was sorry I didn’t have more copies to hand out.”
Dehorning.com readers may remember Dr. Villarroel from her guest blog last April about her experience with dehorning paste, and from her November 2010 article in Hoard’s Dairyman, Dehorn Calves Early. She was one of several experts invited to speak on a range of topics related to cattle health at the AABP’s 44th Annual Conference. Her presentation, part of a Practice Tips series, emphasized the ease, effectiveness and economics of disbudding with caustic paste.
“I showed several videos that demonstrated the minimal reaction of the calves,” said Dr. Villarroel, “and how easy it is to apply the paste.” She also addressed timing (“before two days of age” and “after a bottle”), the amount to use (“the size of a dime”) and follow-up care (“don’t let calves get wet for 24 hours”). Dr. Villarroel noted that producers who have switched to paste report great success with no complications, and only minor head shaking in response to application.
Dr.Villarroel’s paste dehorning poster has been promoted in numerous industry publications and websites, including Bovine Veterinarian Magazine and Dairy Herd Network, and features step-by-step application instructions in both English and Spanish. You can download the poster here or contact Dr. Villarroel for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org