The backside of Colorado's dairy cows was the focus of a contentious debate Thursday in a state House committee, which ultimately postponed a vote on a bill that would prevent farmers from cutting cattle tails for sanitary reasons.
The bill before the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee would ban so-called docking except when performed by a veterinarian using anesthesia.
The most common way to dock a tail is to use a tight rubber ring to cut off circulation, said Tom Parks, a cattle veterinarian in Yuma. The ring remains for one to two months until as much as two-thirds of the tail falls off.
By cutting off the part of the tail, some farmers believe they protect workers from disease and helping to keep cow udders — and milk — clean.
That's the reason Norm Dinis of Empire Dairy in Wiggins docks the tails of his herd. Dinis, whose farm has 5,500 cows, said his family started docking young cows' tails to promote hygiene.
"We found on our farm that long tails spread debris on cows' backs, which in turn attracts flies," Dinis said.
Dinis said he intends to continue docking tails, assuming state law allows it, even though the National Milk Producers Federation has denounced the practice and recommends dairies phase it out by 2022.
The milk producers federation, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and others have come out against tail docking because research has found it doesn't make milk or workers safer. The groups also argue tail docking robs cows of their built-in fly swatters and causes pain.
California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have banned tail docking. Ohio will stop the practice in 2018.
As many as half of U.S. farms cut the tails of at least some of their cows, said Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation. But in Colorado, no more than a handful of farms dock tails, said Holly Tarry, state director for the Humane Society.
The committee's debate Thursday largely focused on whether Colorado needs legislation banning docking, when so few farms use it as a method.
Rep. Amy Stephens, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said the bill seemed almost like bullying.
"He's the only one you're going after," Stephens said to Tarry, referring to Dinis and his farm, which is the largest known to dock tails.
Though Tarry objected to claims that the Humane Society was targeting a particular farm, it became clear that relations between the Humane Society and the agriculture community are strained.
"There's a lot of fear in dairies from these groups based on some of the undercover work and the exploitative stuff that's put out there," Dinis said.
In 2010, a video posted by the nonprofit group Mercy For Animals showing a farmer lopping off a cow's tail prompted increased scrutiny of tail docking.
The Humane Society has tried to work with the agricultural groups to implement industry regulations instead of legislation, Tarry said, but she described the process as filled with angst. Still, when a member of the committee asked if passing a bill would further damage relations between animal rights groups and farmers, Tarry replied, "It will keep them from getting far, far, far worse."
The committee could reconvene as early as Tuesday to vote on the bill.
House Bill 1231: http://bit.ly/108Ic4y