cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, February, 2013

By Liz Bawden, Organic Dairy Producer, NODPA President

Added February 6, 2013. There was an energetic discussion on the merits and consequences of the NOP’s temporary variances granted last fall. These variances in the pasture regulations were granted due to the widespread drought conditions last summer to operations in certain counties throughout the U.S. There was an additional variance for non-irrigated operations in New Mexico, where the prolonged drought led to significant pasture deterioration. Some producers were surprised that the New Mexico dairies were given such a variance, and they brought up the very touchy subject that certain areas of the country just may be unsuitable for organic production.

One commenter suggested that if dairies in the desert cannot meet the requirements, then they should not exist there. Another producer asked that we look at what is extreme in an area, and what is normal. The process of adapting regulations to truly extreme and unusual weather conditions is a benefit to all; but if variances occur regularly, then perhaps the climate there makes organic production too precarious. There were other farmers who felt very affected by the drought, but were not included in the list of affected counties.

A farmer asked for suggestions about software others might be using to manage their herds. He was looking for something not “crazy expensive”. Another producer suggested Tamboro, an online system for organizing herd information.

Half of a 65-head herd was infected with Staph aureus. Since it can only be controlled, not cured, the farmer asked of a way to kill off a quarter using allowable substances. A farmer suggested that iodine will do the job, but proposed that the certifier be questioned about this method. A veterinarian on the list suggested that the problem is really not how to kill off a quarter, but how to clean up the herd. He recommended that producers with this problem should “honestly look at yourself, your facilities/equipment, management and milking procedures, cleanliness, etc and put together a team (vet, nutritionist, extension/university, specialists, industry, etc) to build a plan. In reality, and with a holistic view, culling is the only answer.” For all of us, culling half the herd is just not a reasonable option. Make culling choices based on age, chronicity, stage of lactation, physical palpation (lumpy quarter), and other factors such as lameness, demeanor, difficult to breed, etc.

Another farmer has battled Staph aureus for years. She began by leg banding all the positive cows so they could always be milked last. Then all the milking equipment was washed and sanitized before the next use. They became aware of different strains of the bacteria, and now mark the cows with another color leg band -- one for new cases, and one for chronic cases (had it for a year or so). They milk the new cases before the chronic cases as some of these new cases will self-cure. Cows are sampled and cultured at dry-off and at freshening, and the whole herd is sampled and cultured twice a year. They use a separate dip cup for Staph cows.
A farmer reported that there are vaccines available for Staph aureus, and asked if they work. One producer put her herd on the vaccine schedule recently, and it is a bit early to say if it is a great success. Her vet believed it to work as long as the farmer is committed to following the schedule of shots. Her vaccination protocol is as follows: Heifers - vaccinate at 6 months with a booster 4 weeks later, then vaccinate again at 18 months. Vaccinate cows and heifers 2 to 3 weeks before freshening. Vaccinate cows at dry off.

In a summary, it was recommended to “leave no stone unturned” in the vigilance required to keep a Staph aureus problem in check. Change inflations every 90 days. Check procedures, equipment, facilities, nutrition, stray voltage, vaccination, mycotoxins, fly control, water quality, etc. The organism can become sequestered in multiple organs. It is the environment and management practices in which the animal lives that allow organisms like this to get settled into the animal.