While participating in #AgChat tonight, one of the tweeps asked what tail docking was and why it was done. I explained that tail docking (in lambs specifically, I don’t know so much about cattle) is done to prevent disease and infection forming under the tail where manure and bugs can gather. This was what I had learned early on and I was glad he asked, instead of just assuming.
Following the chat, another of my tweeps DM’d me saying that there was no research supporting tail docking as a method of disease prevention. Really? Well, this was news to me! Later she mentioned that she was talking about cattle and she didn’t know about lambs, but I decided to do some research anyway.
A 2000 article in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics by M.C. Morris reports that tail docking has traditionally been used to prevent fly strike. Fly strike is “a painful condition caused by live maggots eating at the flesh of sheep”. Despite this, they found that fly strike can be prevented without the use of tail docking with careful and frequent inspection of your flock.
It’s also important to remember that tail docking has visual reasons, too. In the show ring, tail docking is utilized to make lambs appear longer and more level. Showmen are learning, though, the importance of retaining length on the tail as tails that are too short often lead to prolapsing, which is not desirable for the producer or the non-ag audience.
Now, see what I learned just from double-checking my previous thoughts? Sometimes we get so set in our belief system that we forget to watch research and listen to others. Next time someone challenges your practices, don’t get defensive–get back-up! It’s always great to learn something new 🙂