Switch trimming not tail docking

Tail docking of dairy cows is a painful procedure that may also increase irritation from biting flies and cause long-term nerve damage. Tail docking of cattle is already banned in some Australian states, except when undertaken by a veterinarian.

Industry goal: No farmers practice tail docking except for therapeutic reasons

The Australian dairy industry has for many years promoted alternatives to tail docking and supported legislation to ban tail docking under proposed new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines: Cattle (to be finalised). Tail docking should only be done under veterinary advice or to treat injury or disease.


The majority of farmers have now adopted alternatives such as switch trimming (the removal of hair at the end of the tail), effective dairy design, fly control programs and milking practices that enhance cow and operator comfort.

More information

Dairy welfare, we care - Animal Husbandry Survey (2014) (PDF, 957KB)

This survey found that:

  • More than 85% of Australian dairy farmers do not dock the tails of any of their cows. Tail docking (including routine or selective) is carried out on only 13% of dairy farms.
  • Tail docking is still more prevalent on farms in higher rainfall areas (Tasmania- 20%, Western Victoria – 13% and Gippsland – 21%).
  • Of those who dock tails, 15% indicated that they are unlikely to still be dairying in three years.
  • Almost half (49%) of those who dock tails say they are aware the incoming Animal Welfare Standards will ban the practice of tail docking.

Myths about tail docking (PDF, 636KB)

Tail docking in the dairy industry is largely based on habits, attitudes and tradition, rather than good science or real need. Increasingly, farmers are giving away the practice and discovering that cows with tails are just as easy to manage as those without. However tail docking can cause short-term (and possibly long-term) pain. It also leads to a compromise of cattle welfare through increased levels of irritation from biting flies and increased efforts by cows to remove these flies. This fact sheet discusses the main myths around the practice. 

Alternatives to tail docking (PDF, 698KB)

This fact sheet looks at several alternatives to tail docking, including switch trimming, fly control, and tail clips. 

How to trim a cow’s tail (PDF, 988KB)

Trimming tails is usually required twice a year. Dirty tails are more problematic during the wet times of the year, so it makes sense to trim the cows’ tails once before the onset of the wettest season. Just before calving (when freeze brands are clipped) is also another good time to schedule trimming. This fact sheet shows you the simple steps to trim the tail using clippers.

For more information, contact enquiries@dairyaustralia.com.au or call (03) 96943777.

Quote: Switch trimming not tail docking

Colac dairy farmer Garry McNamara

Colac dairy farmer Garry McNamara stopped tail docking 11 years ago and trims the tail hair instead. He says switch trimming is a piece of cake. Coming from someone with a 1000-cow herd, that’s saying something!

It was a conscious decision to stop tail docking.

“Over summer I’d become very aware of flies annoying cows in the paddock. Without tails, they had no way of getting rid of flies. It would have been very irritating. And that can’t be good for production.”