Journal of animal science

Effects of tail docking on health and performance of beef cattle in confined, slatted-floor feedlots.

PMID 24987071


Tail docking of feedlot cattle is a management practice used in some confined, slatted-floor feedlots of the midwestern United States. Justification for tail docking in these management systems is to reduce tail injuries and their sequelae and improve performance, but limited evidence exists to support these claims. The primary objective of this study was to determine the effect of tail docking on performance, carcass traits, and health parameters after tail docking in feedlot cattle raised in slatted-floor feedlots. Three separate trials were performed. Trial 1 consisted of 140 Angus-cross (370-kg) yearling steers that spent 144 to 160 days on feed (DOF). Trial 2 consisted of 137 Angus-cross (255-kg) weaned steers that spent 232 DOF. Trial 3 consisted of 102 Holstein steers (370 kg) that spent 185 to 232 DOF. Cattle were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 treatment groups: docked (DK) or control (CN). All steers received an epidural following surgical preparation of the sacrococcygeal area and postoperative intravenous flunixin meglumine. Approximately two-thirds of the tail of DK calves was removed and an elastrator band was placed near the tail tip for hemostasis. Performance parameters collected included daily gain, final weight, feed intake, and feed efficiency. Carcass data included HCW, subcutaneous fat thickness, LM area, KPH percent, marbling, USDA yield grade, and USDA quality grade. Morbidity, mortality, incidence of lameness, and incidence of tail lesions were recorded. Across all 3 trials, there was no significant effect (P < 0.05) of treatment on performance parameters, carcass traits, or health parameters. In all 3 trials, tail tip injuries occurred in 60 to 76% of undocked (CN) calves, developed while living in the slatted-floor environment, compared to 100% of DK calves, whose injuries were a result of the tail docking procedure. We were unable to identify a performance or significant health advantage to tail docking. However, tail tip injuries still occur in cattle raised in slatted-floor facilities. Because of the animal welfare issues associated with tail docking and tail injuries, we recommend pursuing alternative solutions to reducing the incidence of tail tip injury in feedlot cattle housed in confined slatted-floor facilities.