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Cow health on organic dairy farms – Audio

Pamela Ruegg, Professor, Extension Milk Quality Specialist
Department of Dairy Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 263-3495

The animal health practices of organic dairy farms

3:04 – Total Time

0:20 – No surprises on organic dairies
0:40 – What the research looked for
1:06 – What the research found
1:29 – Organic management of infections
2:10 – Organic farm mastitis management
2:55 – Lead out

Sevie Kenyon: Pam you recently surveyed organic and conventional dairy farms. What surprises did you find?

Pamela Ruegg: Well, I think the surprise is we didn’t find too many surprises. In this particular project we enrolled two hundred small or typical for Wisconsin organic dairy farms and we match them with approximately one hundred conventional herds of the same sizes and same geographic locations.

Sevie Kenyon: And what were you fishing for with this study?

Pamela Ruegg: You know the organic health regulations that dairy farmers have to follow in the US are unique for the whole world in that no antibiotics can ever be administered on organic dairy farms if you want to keep that animal in organic production. So this study was funded by the USDA with an attempt to make sure that everything that’s going on on these dairies is going well with these cows.

Sevie Kenyon: What did your survey tell you when you got all done?

Pamela Ruegg: We did find some differences in how the cattle are managed. There are issues I’d say relative to infectious disease that are difficult for the small organic, for any organic farm to deal with without antibiotics. And you know, the organic dairy farmers in general are doing the right thing.

Sevie Kenyon: What kinds of things do they do when they have those infections?

Pamela Ruegg: If a veterinarian working with the organic farm, or an organic farmer believes that the animal health is going to be adversely affected by not giving a treatment, then the organic regulations actually specify that that animal must receive the appropriate treatment. And if it’s an antibiotic for say pneumonia or a bad case of mastitis then that antibiotic does need to be administered. Most organic dairy farmers would do that. What happens then however is as soon as that animal returns to health, they have to leave the organic production system, they can’t stay in that herd. So there’s a strong disincentive to using antibiotics.

Sevie Kenyon: How do organic dairy farms manage something like mastitis?

Pamela Ruegg: All of the data pretty much everywhere, about organic farms everywhere, indicate that the amount of cases of clinical mastitis is usually a little less on organic dairy farms. And that’s probably because milk yield is about a third less on organic dairy farms as compared to conventional dairy farms. However the amount of subclinical mastitis, the kind of mastitis that gets spread from cow to cow, that’s pretty equivalent on these small farms, and the way it’s managed is they simply dry off more quarters, and they discard more milk from high somatic cell count quarters. So it’s kind of nursing care, good husbandry, and diverting more milk from the tank is a strategy that’s used a little more frequently on the organic farms.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Pamela Ruegg, Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.