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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Tail-Docking Alters Fly Numbers, Fly Avoidance Behaviors, and Cleanliness But Not Physiological Measures

Authors
item Eicher, Susan
item Morrow, Julie
item Albright, J - PURDUE UNIVERSITY
item Williams, R - PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Submitted to: Journal of Dairy Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 18, 2001
Publication Date: August 1, 2001
Citation: EICHER, S.D., MORROW, J.L., ALBRIGHT, J.L., WILLIAMS, R.E. TAIL-DOCKING IN DAIRY CATTLE INCREASES FLY NUMBERS AND FLY AVOIDANCE BEHAVIORS. JOURNAL OF DAIRY SCIENCE. 2001. V. 84 (SUPPL.1). P. 1822-1828.

Interpretive Summary: Tail-docking of dairy cattle is a sensitive, controversial issue. Not only is there a possibility for acute and chronic pain, but distress caused by inability to resist flies during fly season. To address the question of fly numbers and fly avoidance behaviors that may be altered by tail-docking, 16 cows that had been assigned docked or intact (non- docked) treatments in a previous experiment were used. Cows were housed in tie-stalls, with a grate covering the gutter behind them. In the morning, at noon, and in the late afternoon, fly numbers were counted on legs and fly avoidance and maintenance behaviors determined. Cleanliness scores were assessed, and some physiological indicators of stress determined. Fly numbers were greatest on the rear legs of docked cows, although the sides and back of docked cows were cleaner. The greatest behavior differences occurred at the noon observation for maintenance behaviors and at the p.m. observation for fly avoidance behaviors. No differences were detected between treatments for any of the physiological measurements. This data demonstrates that if tail-docking is necessary, a conscientious fly program must be in place. This study will be useful for producers considering the benefits and disadvantages that accompany the practice of tail-docking.

Technical Abstract: Tail-docking of dairy cattle arouses animal well-being concerns during fly season. To address this, we used 8 cows which had been tail-docked in a previous experiment and 8 non-docked cows matched by stage of lactation. Physiological, immunological, and behavioral measures were used to evaluate well-being of cows housed in tie-stall barns during fly season for 5 consecutive days. Behavior was observed with 5 minute instantaneous scan samples for one hour each at 0800, 1200, and 1600 h. Flies were counted prior to behavior observations. Blood samples were taken daily for plasma and leukocyte separation. Cows were scored on d 5 for cleanliness on a 5 point scale. Lymphocyte phenotypes, acute phase proteins, and Immunoglobulin G concentrations did not differ. Docked cows were cleaner (P<0.05). Fly counts of docked cows were greater for total fly counts (P<0.01) and rear leg counts (P<0.01), but not for front leg counts. Behaviors are reported as percentage of observations. Control cows were observed with more tail-swing (P<0.05) at 0800h, but docked cows tended to ruminate more (P<0.10). Non-significant differences were detected for standing (38.9 vs 49.8, P<0.10) at the 1200 h observation. The 1600 h observation detected more fly avoidance behaviors (skin flicks, tail-swings, foot stomps, and head tossing) for all cows. Although tail-swings (42.1 vs 32.2, P<0.10) were not significantly more frequent with docked cows, foot stomps occurred only in the docked cows (P<0.05). In conclusion, although docked cows were cleaner, as the fly numbers increase throughout the day, fly avoidance behaviors also increased and foot stomping appeared as an alternative method for fly avoidance by docked cows.

Last Modified: 10/20/2014
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