The Docking Truth

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Before I moved to D.C. a few weeks ago, my family had just finished lambing out our ewes for the 2014 show season. With each set of lambs come a flutter of excitement, potential, and the possibility of raising the “one”, which is very sought after in the stock show industry. At a few weeks of age the lambs receive a combination vaccine against overeating disease, tetanus and black leg which are all common diseases that effect ruminant livestock .Vaccine time also means time for castrating the rams and tail-docking.

Growing up surrounded by livestock, tail-docking has always been a familiar practice. In fact, it is such elementary husbandry that my 5-year-old niece could explain its purpose just as plain as I could. Simply put, if we were not to dock the lamb’s tail it would create a prime environment for flies to breed and cause an infestation of maggots and infection.Capture

Tail-docking is essential throughout the animal agriculture industry. As a part of my family’s agritourism business, we raise over 125 Percheron draft horses. Each work horse’s tail is docked at a young age to keep long tail hair from getting caught in the chains of harnesses.

In the dairy world, docked tails mean cleanliness. Without a tail to swish manure and dirt onto her udder or farm workers, farmers can ensure less chance of mastitis in a cows’ udder and greatly reduce the prevalence of contaminants entering the bulk tank.

Similarly, hogs’ tails are docked a day or two after birth. This is to prevent the piglets from biting the tails of fellow pen mates. This practice greatly reduces risk of infection and abscesses of the tail improving the welfare of the livestock.

No matter the species, agriculturists conduct the tail-docking process with the utmost precaution. Farmers, advised by licensed veterinarians, consider the livestock’s health and always have the animals well being in mind to assure quick healing.

We, as producers and those most intimately connected to agriculture, are all too familiar with ill-conceived legislation passed by those who do not understand the proper care of animals. Sadly, the same organizations are at it again.  Animal rights groups, those who have no real world experience in our industry, are pushing for a variety of legislation that would ban tail-docking.

Currently, legislation banning tail docking has been passed in California, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In Vermont a bill is sitting in the Committee of Agriculture, while in Wisconsin and Colorado activist are striving to create a bill and introduce it during the next legislative session.

It is crazy how someone could justify labeling tail-docking as unnecessary yet, see no problem with a human cosmetic painful procedure like ear piercing. Now don’t get me wrong, I love earrings as much as the next girl but I understand it was not necessary.

We in agriculture must continue to build relationships with those who pass legislations related to our industry. Meet with your local, state and federal legislators, stay up to date with legislation through commodity groups and personal research; welcome those individuals on your farm. Remember that if we do not tell our story, someone else will and we’ll be forced to live with the consequences. And sadly, so will our animals.

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