Should Dairymen Give Up Tail Docking Voluntarily?

Fresh off a ballot box victory in California, the anti livestock farm organization the Humane Society of the United States (which has nothing to do with your local Humane Shelter) is after dairymen again. After their success in passing Proposition 2, which basically outlaws traditional veal calf stalls, sow gestation stalls, and poultry cages, the radical activists are pushing a legislative initiative to ban tail docking of dairy cattle.



I have mixed emotions on this one, but not because I support docking dairy cow’s tails. This reminds me of the Colorado gestation stall issue, when the pork producers of Colorado decided to “unilaterally disarm” and give up the use of sow gestation sows preemptively. In that case, those producers gave up the safest, most proven method of handling these sows to avoid a fight they might have lost, or that they might have won. I’m sure they had good reason for doing so, but I still question that decision.



This situation, on the other hand, is different. I don’t know what percentage of dairy producers dock tails on their cows, but I suspect it is less than 50%. Perhaps much less. I’ll put it this way: I’ve never been on a dairy that docks tails.



So, is this the time to “unilaterally disarm” in the dairy biz? The reason I’m conflicted here is that few farmers take part in the practice, and more importantly, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) concluded that routine tail docking, quote “provides no benefit to the animal…and can lead to distress during fly seasons”. AVMA policy opposes the routine tail docking of cattle.



On the other hand, of course, is the concept of negotiating with terrorists. The United States, as a rule of war, does not negotiate with terrorists. Should we in agriculture adopt the same philosophy? Given that we are in a war against the radical anti-meat eating HSUS, should we simply let this situation play out to its own conclusion? Or, should we take the moral high ground and voluntarily abandon the practice of tail docking entirely?



The pros and cons are interesting, because on one hand if we stand our ground there are few conceivable benefits other than the warm and fuzzy feeling of defeating HSUS and their allies. On the other hand, by walking away from the practice of docking, we avoid the messy PR of a battle in the California legislature that may very well be stacked against agriculture regardless. The Golden State, while a major agriculture player, isn’t necessarily known for being a repository of good judgment in the policy arena, after all.



I’m curious to know your thoughts on the issue. Docking not being the issue, really, but what to do politically in this situation: walk away to fight another day, or dig in and see how the chips fall?