Friday March 8, 2013

DENVER (AP) -- The backside of Colorado’s dairy cows will be the focus of a bill up for debate Thursday in a state House committee that would prevent farmers from cutting cattle tails for sanitary reasons, called docking.

Though the practice is common elsewhere because it keeps the tail from dragging in manure, it is rare in Colorado. And for that reason, dairy farmers said the bill, backed by several Democrats, is an unnecessary government intrusion.

"We’re starting to be made criminals on our own farms," said Chris Kraft, of Fort Morgan, who does not tail dock his herd. "It’s just outrageous."

The bill before the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee would ban tail docking except when performed by a veterinarian and when using anesthesia. The bill might not make it past the committee, but sponsor Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat from the Denver suburb of Thornton, said he might put the issue on the 2014 ballot if it fails to clear the Legislature.

The most common way to tail dock is to use a tight rubber ring to cut off circulation, said Tom Parks, a cattle veterinarian in Yuma. The ring remains for one to two months until as much as two-thirds of the tail falls off.

By cutting off the part of the tail, some farmers believe they protect workers from disease and helping to keep cow udders -- and milk -- clean.

But research has found tail docking doesn’t make milk or workers safer, and the practice has been denounced by the National Milk Producers Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among others.


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They argue tail docking robs cows of their built-in fly swatters and causes pain.

California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have banned tail docking. Ohio will stop the practice in 2018.

Parks said it’s hard to measure pain in cows but the animal tends to switch its tail more than usual when the ring is attached, indicating discomfort. Cows without tails will stomp their feet when surrounded by flies, another sign that they’re unhappy, Parks said.

As many as half of U.S. farms cut the tails of at least some of their cows, said Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation. In Colorado, at least two farms, including one with a large herd, dock tails, said Holly Tarry, state director for the Humane Society.

Last year, the milk producers group urged farmers to phase out the practice within 10 years, allowing them time to upgrade housing or milking facilities that don’t work with long tails. An immediate policy change would burden farmers, Galen said.

Farmers said the federation’s action makes Lebsock’s bill moot, and could keep dairy farmers out of Colorado.

"We believe farmers and ranchers listen to consumer concerns, apply the latest scientific research, and utilize generations of experience in care for livestock," said Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. "We think adding it into state statute can create confusion."

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Online:

House Bill 1231: http://bit.ly/108Ic4y