Bulletin #1024, Risk Management for Organic Dairies: Health-Care Principles & Practices for Organic Dairy Farms

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Developed by Diane Schivera, Organic Livestock Specialist, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

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Health-care principles for organic farms

dairy cows; photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA

Health care on organic dairy farms begins by managing with these principles in mind:

Healthy soils

Healthy soils begin with soil tests to monitor soil fertility. You must first correct the pH to enable plants to utilize nutrients in the soil. From there you can address other deficiencies. It’s a good idea to get assistance from a soil consultant, your local University of Maine Cooperative Extension office, or your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

Healthy feed

Healthy soils produce healthy feed. The best feed for dairy animals is pasture during the season. Pasture quality and quantity is partially determined by the species growing in the pastures. The different grasses, legumes, annuals, and perennials all affect the nutritional quality of the feed. Pasture rotation will also affect the quality and quantity of feed that the pastures produce. Learning when and where to move the animals will help you get the most from your pastures.

A varied diet is beneficial to animals. You can achieve this by having different types of plants in the pasture—for example, dandelions that are full of minerals — as well as different forages and hay crops.

Grains are usually included in the diets of dairy animals. Organic grain production practices ensure that organically grown grains are grown on healthy soils, producing grain with good nutrient value.

It is hard to achieve the required level of nutrition simply with feeds. Minerals, vitamins, and kelp are important additions to your animals’ diets. Selenium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are important macro minerals to add, while boron and sulfur are important micros, or trace, minerals. Kelp is a great source of these and other micro minerals. In general, macro minerals are needed in larger amounts then micro minerals. You should always add salt to the diet.

Clean water is a rarely mentioned nutrient. Sources can vary, from natural water bodies (by pumping and piping) to tested well water.

Healthy environment

A healthy environment for your animals results from sound management practices. This entails providing the animals fresh air, sunshine, freedom for natural behavior, and shelter as needed.

Good sanitation and manure management are essential for healthy animals: this cannot be emphasized too strongly. Consider grooming your cows to get rid of those dried manure spots. This is also the least expensive way to control flies.


Biosecurity means keeping the number of possible sources of disease to a minimum. Limit the traffic in your barn and farm. If folks come to visit, ask them to either wear clean boots, or to disinfect the ones they have on. Always isolate any new animals brought on to the farm for at least two weeks.

Minimal stress

Happy, healthy animals are most likely to thrive, with the least intervention. Adhering to the above practices will minimize the stress on your animals, improving their health. This will calm your state of mind, reducing stress for you as well.

Healthy immune systems

Studies have shown that farm practices affect the immune systems of livestock. Following the above principles and practices will produce animals with healthy immune systems. An animal with a healthy immune system will do a better job at resisting diseases that may enter the barn.

Health-care strategies for organic farms

Adjusting your cultural practices or management strategies should always be your first choice in trying to fix a problem. For example, an internal parasite or worm problem might be eliminated by using the correct pasture management, e.g. not pasturing your just-weaned heifers after your cows. Combining species is another great way to reduce the parasite load in a pasture.

Yet even with good management practices, things still can go awry. So there are a number of different treatment approaches that you should learn about, including

Nutritional supplements

Regular nutritional supplements are part of a healthy feed regimen. In addition, you can supply specific supplements to address symptoms and stress that an animal is experiencing. If an animal is having trouble breeding back, try adding selenium to the diet. Pinkeye can be relieved by kelp and zinc. Extra B vitamins in the winter can help reduce cold stress.

Herbs and botanicals

Herbal and botanical supplements are plants that are given in higher concentrations than feed in order to correct a health problem. For instance, garlic is a particularly effective botanical. It works as an antibiotic for respiratory problems, and will kill some internal parasites.

Give the supplement three to four times daily, depending upon your management practices. Here are general suggested dosages (depending on the condition and the botanical):

Preparation Goat Cow
Decoction* 4 oz 12 ox
Extract powder 1 tsp 2 Tbsp
Extract tablet 3-5 10-15
Freeze-dried granules 1 tsp 2 Tbsp
Tincture 1 tsp 2 Tbsp
Fresh herb 2 tsp 4 Tbsp

* A decoction is created by brewing an herb in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Homeopathic remedies

Homeopathy is based on the theory that like cures like. For instance, if a patient exhibits symptoms similar to those caused by poison ivy, a homeopathic remedy made from an extremely minute, highly diluted amount of poison ivy extract can stimulate healing. Homeopathic remedies, which are manufactured according to strict requirements, are available in most health-food stores and many drugstores.

There are many resources available to help you determine which remedy to use (see resource list below). Once you have selected a remedy, use these suggested dosages:

  • Calf: 5 pellets
  • Cow: 10 pellets

In general, depending on the condition and the remedy, use a “30C” potency two to four times a day until you see a change. For acute conditions, give the remedy every one-half to one hour until you see a change.


Biologics are preparations made from live organisms. Vaccinations are an example of biologics. (All vaccines are permitted in organic production.) Other examples of biologic products include the following:

  • Probiotics — Fastrack, First Defense (or yogurt containing live and active cultures)
  • Colostrum whey products — Impro, Fresh Start, Biocel CBT
  • Nonspecific immunostimulants — Immunoboost
  • Serum products — these products are disease-specific and must come from a veterinarian.

Please remember it is your responsibility to ASK YOUR CERTIFIER and receive approval before you use products. Any name-brand products must be evaluated based on their ingredients. The list of generic ingredients is included in the National Organic Program Regulations & Guidelines and the Organic Materials Review Institute Generic Materials List.

Where do I go from here?

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOGFA). Raising Organic Livestock in Maine: MOFGA Accepted Health Practices, Products and Ingredients (PDF)Unity, Maine: MOFGA, 2006. (Contains treatment suggestions for specific conditions, as well as sources for materials and other helpful resources.) 207.568.4142

Odairy list at Yahoo Groups

Karreman, Hubert J. Treating Dairy Cows Naturally. Paradise, PA: Paradise Publications, 2004.

Detloff, Paul. Alternative treatments for Ruminant Animals. Austin, TX: Acres USA, 2004.

Sheaffer, C. Edgar. Homeopathy for the Herd. Austin, TX: Acres USA, 2003.

Padgham, Jody, ed., for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Organic Dairy Farming. Gays Mills, Wisconsin, Orang-utan Press, 2006.

Levy, Juliette de Bairacli. Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1976.

MacLeod, George. The Treatment of Cattle by Homeopathy. Essex, England: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd, 1981.

Coleby, Pat. Natural Cattle Care. Austin, TX: Acres USA, 2001.

Northeast Center for Risk Management Education
USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service
Maine Organic Farmers & Growers Association logo


This publication is sponsored by the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education under USDA/CSREES award #2004-49200-02254.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2007

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