A Tail of Two Tails

Image Source: The Herald Business Journal

This piece was orginally written for Dairy Herd Managment.

Like many dairy producers who pride themselves in always looking for ways to improve their farms, our family first started tail docking in the 1980s, when it became increasingly popular as a means to keep both cows and workers clean—or at least cleaner than before.

Over time, however, we compared notes with our colleagues, who had cows that were just as clean and had just as low SSC, even with their tails intact. We looked at the veterinary science, which said tail docking didn’t really help.

We also saw what was happening in other sectors of livestock agriculture, where production practices have been under the microscope for more than a decade. Reading the articles about colony housing for chickens and pigs, we would breathe a sigh of relief, thinking at least we didn’t face the challenges the egg farmers and the pork producers were confronting.

Here in the northwest, as a co-op director, I have seen firsthand the customer-driven challenges in food sourcing and production that eventually make their way to other parts of the country. The prevailing winds of change in food trends seem to move from the West coast to points farther East. In recent years, these changes have meant additional scrutiny of both our environmental and animal care practices in general and, in particular, this issue of tail docking.

As a progressive milk producer, a few years ago we had to reexamine what was the right thing to do in the area of animal care. Fewer and fewer farms were relying on tail docking. The practice was banned seven years ago in California, yet they are still producing plenty of milk. And we have been getting more questions about it from our cooperative’s major customers.

In 2014, we stopped tail docking.

It wasn’t a unanimous or necessarily popular decision in our family, but we decided to make the change (to switch trimming). This has created an interesting laboratory for our farm, as we still have some docked cows in the herd and the younger stock with the full tails. In comparing the milk production, SCC levels and hygiene of the older cows with the newer ones, we found the differences aren’t meaningful.

Our management practices had to evolve, especially because we have sand-bedded stalls. When the manure is flushed from the alleyways, it creates a messy environment for those tails. But we are managing that issue.

My wife and I recently returned from a visit to our ancestral homeland in the Netherlands. Dairy farmers there are thinking hard about the future of the global dairy market and their position in it. They know they have to compete with fellow farmers elsewhere in Europe, those in New Zealand and with us in the U.S.

Dutch dairy farmers stopped tail docking about 20 years ago, knowing it could give them a competitive edge in world markets. We need to do the smart thing, once again, and think about our future as well.

Editor’s note: Jim and his wife, Dolores, farm in Monroe Washington, in a partnership with Jim’s brother Andy, and his wife, Gloria, where they milk 1,200 cows. He serves on the board of the Northwest Dairy Association cooperative.

The Importance of a Good Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship

This piece was originally written for the American Association of Bovine Practitoners.

There has been much talk with the anticipated rollout of the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, about the increased importance of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). While the perception may be that the VCPR is receiving new attention from the FARM Program, the truth is that the critical relationship between a producer and their veterinarian has always been highlighted as one of the most important tenants of FARM.

Since the Program began in 2009, the VCPR has been the first question asked during the FARM Program Second-Party Evaluations, highlighting just how critical this relationship is. The Program looks for producers to have “evidence” of a valid VCPR and often seek out the name and information for their Veterinarian of Record. Our FARM Animal Care Manual states: “A robust and intimate relationship with the farm’s veterinarian is crucial to safeguarding animal care.”

In the next version of the FARM Program, Version 3.0 which is due out January 1, 2017, the requirement will be that producers and their Veterinarians of records sign a VCPR form annually, or more often as needed. It has been a slow build to this point, but all of our technical advisors who help write the Program felt it was crucial to have a VCPR relationship be one that is documented and formally affirmed. The FARM Program is creating sample form for producers to utilize to meet this new guideline, which will be available on the National Dairy FARM Program website.

Beyond a Veterinarian of Records’ signature on the official VCPR form, however, the FARM Program will continue to look to veterinarians to provide more comprehensive and exhaustive services to help producers in meeting the new guidelines of FARM, and in ensuring the best animal care is provided on their dairies overall.

Specifically, the FARM Program requires written protocols on a number of critical animal care topics including pain management, euthanasia, calf care and non-ambulatory cow movement/management. Writing out these protocols—and training to them—can be a task that is done in partnership with a farm’s veterinarian. Producers will need the valuable perspectives on animal health and welfare that veterinarians have to help shape, and make stronger, these critical farm management protocols.

Beyond having in place strong, written protocols, producers will also be looking for experts to help provide training, or insights into how to conduct proper training, to make sure such protocols are followed. This is also an excellent, and much needed, role that the veterinarian can help play. Providing trainings for producers and their employees on key animal health and wellbeing topics will help to ensure that all producers are up to speed on the most relevant best management practices while also helping them meet a new FARM Program requirement: having all employees with animal care responsibilities trained in basic stockmanship as well as their assigned area of responsibility.

To the FARM Program, the VCPR goes so much further than the piece of paper with the required signatures. A familiar, collaborative and cohesive relationship between a farm owner/manager that their veterinarian of record is key to ensuring that animals on dairies nationwide remain healthy and well-cared for. Moreover, a good VCPR will ensure that producers are able to meet the latest requirements of FARM with ease. It is our hope that veterinarians will look comprehensively at the needs to dairies—beyond the prescription pad—to really help ensure that farmers are assuring responsible management in all aspects of herd health and animal care.

To learn more about the changes in the next version of the FARM Program, review sample protocols and the VCPR form, visit the FARM Program website at or contact dairyfarm@nmpf.org.