Many people wrongly assume that organic dairy producers aren't able to successfully treat their sick milk cows because they are prohibited from using some of the antibiotics and other medicines regularly administered by other farmers.
Valerie Dantoin Adamski, who owns and operates Full Circle Organic Dairy Farm along with her husband, Rick, says as organic producers they have more ways to keep animals healthy than most conventional producers.
"We don't rely so heavily on just one or two things like antibiotics or hormones," she remarked. "We have nine different classes of products we use to treat our animals."
Rather than waiting for an animal to become ill, the Adamskis and other organic producers take extra measures to keep their cows healthy. "We feed them some kelp with trace minerals in it, like iodine and other minerals that help support good health," she said.
Cows are given vitamins at critical times such as dry-off and prior to calving and just after calving. These include vitamins A, D and E.
"We also include some selenium and vitamin B complexes," she said. "These help the cow have a strong immune system. We know she's going to face challenges when she's dried-off or calving, so we try to get her ramped up in really good health."
If an animal becomes ill, organic producers have several effective herbal medicines that can help restore them to health. One of the most effective is garlic.
"We apply garlic to the animal in several different ways, she explained. "Mostly it's done as a tincture after we crush a garlic clove and put it in alcohol, which extracts allicin, one garlic's active ingredients. We like to use the whole plant rather than in pill form because we feel there are different classes of compounds in garlic, and we want all of them to be extracted into the alcohol tincture.
"We can put an ounce or two of the alcohol tincture into a drench that we would give a cow," she explained. "The other thing in the drench would be aloe juice, and that also helps an animal build up antibodies in its immune system, so the cow is going to have just what she needs to strengthen her defenses."
Homeopathy is another option that's widely used in Germany but not as highly regarded in the U.S., according to Adamski. "The illness you're trying to treat is done by giving the animal a small dose of the disease, which is supposed to help create an immune response in the animal," she said.
Organic dairy producers are also able to use many of the medicines used by other farms. "We can give aspirin, dextrose solutions; we can treat for ketosis and we can treat for milk fever with a calcium solution just like other farmers," she explained.
"There's a misperception by many people that we can't do anything to treat a sick animal," Adamski said. "We're actually required by the rules of our organic cooperative (Organic Valley) to treat an animal if she's sick; we can't leave her untreated.
"In cases where a cow might develop an infection that we can't clear up with garlic, we'll treat her with penicillin, and when she gets well we'll sell to someone else who wants a good milk cow because we can no longer put her milk in our bulk tank."
Whey products are a key part of their organic mastitis treatment protocol. "We treat with a whey solution that's been extracted from a cow that's had mastitis," Adamski said. "We inject that into the tail head three days in a row to develop an immune response. We use several herbal oils to effectively treat minor wounds and lacerations."
She noted that Organic Valley Cooperative also has a veterinarian on staffs who's available to help them. "Anytime we have a question, we can just pick up the phone and call our organic veterinarian, and he can make recommendations about products or things we can try to solve our problem. That's a really great resource to have."
When the Adamskis became certified organic dairy producers in 2003, one of their primary concerns was being able to treat animals that might become ill.
"Just about the time we were getting started, Crystal Creek, a mail order company in northwestern Wisconsin, was also getting started," she said. "The owner of the company is a nutritionist and has several veterinarians who serve as consultants."
According to Adamski, the company has an excellent product line and fast delivery service. "We can order anything we need and have it here in one day," she said. "These products are on the pricy side but that's part of organics because we're using these essential natural oils that are organically derived."