cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, February, 2011

Robust and practical discussions about frustrations related to differing certifier interpretations; the health of conventional versus organic herds; treating mange; managing purchase contracts; and more.

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Producer Representative and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added February 6, 2011. There was quite a bit of frustration aired last month over different certifier interpretations of various organic regulations. We have all been there -- a neighbor uses a product that is OK with their organic certifier, but you are not allowed to use it. Or a product that you have used for years suddenly comes under scrutiny, and is no longer allowed for organic production. Iodine teat dips were discussed; although most of them are allowed, some do contain additives or excipients that are not allowed. A certifier reported that he felt that the agencies are "getting more and more on the same page".

A farmer mentioned that Resorb, an electrolyte mix for scouring calves, was no longer allowed. A synthetic agent, glycine, was determined to be prohibited. This took many farmers by surprise on the list; several have used the product in the past and did not realize that the product's status had changed. In response to a question about homemade electrolytes, a helpful vet offered his recipe: To 1 gallon water, add 8 Tblsp honey, 2 tsp baking soda, and 2 tsp salt. He said some of his clients add an egg for good measure. This remedy works well.

A vet shared his research comparing organic to conventional herds, which showed basically no difference in milk quality and reproduction. He concluded that organic cows were basically as healthy as conventional cows without the "crutches". In the following discussion, one farmer explained that he believed that grazing was the key factor in making organic cows healthy.

Another producer suggested that it is the feeding of a high forage diet, and most of that coming through grazing, that makes for a healthy difference. A farmer who had transitioned his conventional herd from a free-stall confinement to an organic intensive rotational grazing model agrees that grazing has given him the longevity in the herd that he did not have before.

Another farmer believes that the answer lies deeper, in the relative health of the soils. He believes that the real jump in cow health was when they switched from conventional to organic production in their crops. He felt that as the soils improved, so did the health of the cows. He feels that the dead soils caused by the application of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides affects the quality of the crops fed to the cattle. He further suggests that while many farmers see improvements in cow health when they graze their herds due to the fresh air, exercise, getting off the concrete, and exhibiting their natural behaviors, the real difference comes from the soil in the pasture. In conventional farms, the pasture tends to be healthy; it
has generally had few applications of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or herbicides. Another farmer observed that cow health goes up a notch when the cows eat the crops off the farm that has been fertilized with their own manure and saliva.

A farmer had a cow give birth to a large bull calf, and was found one cold morning with cold ears, unable to get up. She was lying on wet concrete; the farmer covered her with a blanket and gave a bottle of calcium. She was alert and eating, but shivering and her temperature was 100 F. Suggestions from other producers included to roll her on to some dry bedding with barn grit under it, give arnica and hypericum frequently (it was suggested to alternate them, dosing at least once per hour) if she appears to have a pinched nerve, continue to give calcium under the skin, and topdress her feed with a warm solution of molasses and apple cider vinegar.

A producer asked for effective treatments for mange. Crystal Creek's Lice and Mange Wash was suggested. Rubbing elemental sulphur on the skin was also suggested (but the farmer was unsure if this would be allowed for organic). Other considerations would be nutritional -- check that your ration contains sufficient sulphur, and consider adding Vitamins A, D, and E and calcium sulfate (gypsum) for additional sulphur. Another producer suggested that a shortage of good minerals and kelp contribute to outbreaks of mange.

A young farmer was ready to purchase some young heifers and asked for advice about heifer raising prices and contracts. Among the suggestions he received about contracting were: Make sure the incoming heifers receive an intranasal vaccine like Nasalgen, Inforce-3, or TSC-2 for shipping fever; if you do not feed grain, Holstein heifers will not be calving at 24 months; if you can buy quality animals for what it will cost to raise them, it's probably a better idea to just buy them -- less risk and no death loss; outwintered cattle need more feed when it's cold, bedding when it's wet, and a windbreak.