1992 - Volume #16, Issue #1, Page #26[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
They dock tails and clip dewclawsTail Docking
Cows with docked tails stay cleaner, have lower somatic cell counts and are easier to work around, say farmers who've made tail docking a regular practice on their dairy farms.
Cows without tails are cleaner and the attitudes of milkers is better when working around the cows - especially when milking from behind - because they're not dreading being hit in the face with a wet, dirty tail. Their improved attitude often results in calmer animals that milk more.
The biggest argument against tail docking, according to veterinarian Gordon A. Jones of Oconto Falls, Wis., who's currently conducting a study on tail docking, is that cows need their tails to switch at flies. But researchers argue that the flies that bother cows most are around their faces where tails can't reach anyway.
Docking is a relatively simple procedure. Most farmers use "elastrator" rubber bands used to castrate bull calves. Researchers recommend docking the tail about two hand widths below the vulva, which leaves enough tail to hold onto when the cow becomes unruly and enough to prevent vaginal infections and contaminations. It takes about 4 wks. for a tail to fall off and for the stub to heal completely. The best way to dock tails, however, is to do it within two weeks of birth because it causes the least amount of stress. (Hoard's Dairyman)
Sandy Foss, a Sandstone, Minn., dairy farmer, has started clipping off inside dewclaws on the back feet of dairy cows to minimize hoof damage to teats that can result in mastitis or even ruined udders.
Foss had her vet show her how to remove the dewclaws on baby calves with a pair of surgical scissors. Now it has become a normal part of her calf routine along with dipping navels and feeding them colostrum. She ties the back legs to a stanchion so the calf is laying down and can't kick. Once snipped, she applies a disinfectant and tapes the feet for a day or so. She cuts where the joint is "wiggly".
Foss also decided to experiment on just-fresh heifers by banding the dewclaws with elastrator rings normally used to castrate bull calves. It worked but Foss says it took a few tries to get it right. The key is getting the band off the homed area and onto the soft tissue just above it. In 3 to 4 weeks, the claws drop off. All that remains is a smooth bump. After her initial experiments, she decided to remove the dewclaws from all the cows in their 39-stall barn.
She says some cows had a lot more swelling than others which resulted in a drop in milk production so she recommends not attempting removal until cows are approaching the end of their lactation but early enough so they're all healed up before calving. One precaution she takes is that when the band starts sinking into the flesh - usually during the second week after application - she sprays the area each day with an iodine solution. (Jane Fyksen in Agri-View)
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