A Tail to Tell

tail scoring dairy cow

Tail Scoring: What is the purpose?

Tail breaking is one of the most common cattle-related welfare complaints that go through court in New Zealand. It is a breach of the Animal Welfare Act and likely constitutes serious misconduct.

Tail damage is painful for cows and research shows an average of 20% of dairy cattle in New Zealand, approximately one million cows, have abnormal tails. Some of these have been shortened for medical reasons or it was performed before it became illegal, some have been damaged, and some have a dislocation or break.

Currently, there are limited data on the causes of damaged tails but it has been suggested that it may be caused by mechanical damage in the milking shed or collecting yard or inappropriate handling. Overseas, tails may also get damaged in cubicle sheds and by scrapers.

Tail purpose

Tails of different animals have different functions; from balancing and gripping, to attract mates, to showing happiness and communicating other emotions.

As with other animals, a cow's tail is an important signaling device that has a purpose. Tail damage is not only painful, it can also impact how a cow communicates with her world.

Alternatives to handling tails

Many of us use tails to ‘steer’ cows and push them forwards. It can also quieten cows down who are irritated.

But perhaps we should think about what we’d do if she didn’t have a tail? It might be tempting to handle tails when restraining or moving cows, but there may be other ways to handle and move cows or quieten them.

To minimise damage, there are several other things you can try before handling tails. Check out more info on DairyNZ’s website.

Tail Scoring

Tail scoring is a good start to reducing the incidence of tail damage on-farm and should be carried out at least annually. We don’t monitor because we think there is a problem, monitoring allows farms to create a benchmark and identify any handling issues. It also allows us to track whether tail damage occurs on-farm or at off-farm grazing for example.

Tail scoring involves a vet or technician visually inspecting and palpating the tail, following the Standardised Tail Scoring System developed by the Dairy Industry. They will record any visual tail deviations, palpable traumas or swellings and any shortening, amputations or dockings in separate categories.

After a tail score, if you have any concerns, your vet can help you put a plan in place to reduce any damage or injuries that may be occurring whether they are from the infrastructure or the handling techniques.

Tail scoring information can be captured within the WelFarm programme, which provides a benchmark to allow farmers to assess any new damage occurring and have assurance they have detailed records should any issues arise in the future.

Talk to your KeyVet about tail scoring and the wider WelFarm programme.

- Samantha Tennent


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