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February 13, 2009

Happy Cows in California?

Last year, thanks to an HSUS investigation that exposed the gross mistreatment of spent dairy cows too sick and injured to walk at a California slaughter plant, we were again reminded that California is not the land of happy cows, despite the multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Well today, we’re blowing the whistle on another industry practice that makes cows very unhappy in the nation’s leading dairy state.

I just left the press room in the California State Capitol in Sacramento after joining Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez and my HSUS colleague Dr. Michael Greger where we announced the introduction of Florez’s bill, S.B. 135, to ban severing the tails from dairy cows without anesthesia.

Cows in field
© SXC/pnijhuis

Tail docking is an archaic and inhumane form of amputation, still in wide use in the dairy industry. The producers either cut off the tail with a sharp instrument, or they attach a ring around the tail that cuts off blood flow and results in its atrophying and eventually falling off. Typically, they amputate two-thirds of the tail. It’s not only painful, but also debilitates the cows and prevents them from using their tails to ward off fly attacks. And at the major dairies, where cow manure is voluminous, there are scads of biting flies, and the tails serve a critical function in allowing the animals to protect themselves. That’s one reason why they have a tail in the first place. Some years ago, the state of California made it a crime to remove the tails of horses, and it’s our aim here to extend that anti-cruelty prohibition to cows with S.B. 135.

The practice is one of several forms of mutilation still used in modern agribusiness operations, although this one comes with few defenders. Not only does The HSUS oppose the practice, but so do almost all major veterinary organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association. Some dairy producers claim the severing of the tail prevents the cows’ udders from being contaminated by the flicking of a dirty tail, but there is no scientific evidence to support the claim. It’s clear to me that the practice continues simply because of inertia.

We hope to work with the dairy industry to move the legislation to enactment soon. And addressing the issue in the nation’s number-one dairy state—there are more than 1.8 million dairy cows in California, more than 20 percent of the nation’s herd of 9 million—we hope will spur an end to the practice nationwide.

Sen. Florez is chair of the newly constituted Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, and this is part of his plan to address animal welfare issues in a pro-active way. He’s bringing more balance to the work of the committee than his predecessors ever have, and for that, we are very grateful to him. If he succeeds with S.B. 135, there are sure to be many happier cows in the state.

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