Adapted with permission from: Mendenhall, K. (ed.) 2009. The organic dairy handbook: a comprehensive guide for the transition and beyond. Northeast Organic Farming Asociation of New York, Inc., Cobleskill, NY. (Available online at: http://www.nofany.org/organic-farming/technical-assistance/organic-dairy, verified 18 July 2012).
Complementary and alternative veterinary medicines (CAVM) are treatments not currently considered part of conventional medicine. The term "complementary" defines treatments that are used in conjunction with conventional therapies and the term "alternative" indicates those that are used instead of conventional medicine. CAVM includes most common botanical (herbal) medicines, homeopathy, acupuncture, and chiropractic medicine.
The goal of this article is to give the reader a general overview of therapies commonly used on organic dairies, but it will not go into specific details. There are several excellent texts by Drs. Karreman, Sheaffer, and Dettloff, among others that should be in every transitioning dairy farmer’s library (see the list of citations at the end of this article). Additionally, many organic groups organize workshops and meetings with experts in these fields. These meetings should be a priority if you wish to become skilled in alternative medicine.
Botanical medicine uses plants and plant substances as medicines. These are some of our most ancient treatments and are still in use as primary medical therapies in many parts of the world. Many modern, conventional medicines have their origins in botanical therapies.
Botanicals can be administered in a number of ways. The most common forms are tinctures (alcohol extractions), tisanes (hot water extractions), essential oils topically applied, or the consumption of whole or parts of dried herbs. Dried herbs may also be administered in gelatin boluses or capsules. Table 1. lists commonly used botanicals.
Potential hazards of botanical medicine include the following.
- Not inherently safe and dose is important. May be a narrow line between beneficial effects and toxicity.
- Difficult to standardize dose. Growing conditions vary by location and year, and affect the concentrations of medically active substances in plants.
- Production methods may include impurities.
- Milk and meat withdrawals have not been established.
- Few botanicals have been critically evaluated in ruminants. Since we produce food (milk and meat) we need to be cautious of potential residues from plant medicines just as conventional farmers are careful about residues from conventional medicines.
|Common and Scientific Name||Parts Used||Uses||Toxicities|
|Aloe vera |
|Leaves||Topically: rashes, cuts, burns |
Internally: Digestive aid, antispasmodic,
|Digestive upset, |
|Black cohosh |
|Black walnut |
|Hulls||Intestinal parasites, diarrhea||Laminitis, seizures, |
|Leaves, flowers||Immune stimulant, bone pain, fever||Diarrhea, skin irritation|
|Root, leaves||Blood cleanser, diuretic, skin disease||None known|
|Flowers||Incorporated into salves or ointments for abrasions, eyewash, mouth ulcers, skin irritations||None known|
|Ground fruit||Stimulate local circulation, pain, antimicrobial||Irritation|
|Leaves, twigs||Topically for warts, chronic skin problems, upper respiratory problems||Abortion, digestive upset|
|Flower heads||Digestive disorders, mild sedative||None known|
|Leaves, root||Bone healing, commonly used as a poultice for wounds, acute mastitis, teat injuries||Internal uses can be extremely toxic: liver toxicity and failure; liver cancer|
|Leaves||Used to stimulate estrus||None known|
|Leaves, root||Cleansing tonic for liver, udder edema||None known|
|Seeds, leaves||Stimulate milk production||Muscle disease, anemia|
|Leaves, roots, seeds||Heart disease||Extremely toxic: 6–7 oz. of fresh leaves can kill a cow; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, slowed/abnormal heartbeat, hallucinations|
|Bulb, cloves||Antibiotic, antifungal, dewormer||Bleeding, anemia|
|Root||Immune stimulant, increase fertility, mastitis||None known|
|Whole plant||Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, laxative, digestive disorders, increase bile flow||Diarrhea, seizures at high doses|
|Root||Digestive and urinary disorders, diarrhea, chronic coughs||None known|
|Milk thistle |
|Seed, leaves||Liver damage, giardia, ketosis prevention||None known|
|Pau d’arco |
|Inner bark||Antibacterial, antifungal, immune stimulant||Skin irritation|
|Berries, root||Most commonly used homeopathically: tumors, mastitis||Extremely toxic: colic, diarrhea, respiratory failure, weakness, death|
|Purple coneflower |
|Root||Immune stimulant, antiviral||None known|
|Leaves||Indigestion, decrease lactation||Large doses: dizziness, increased heart rate|
|St. John’s wort |
|Flowers, plants, stems||Antidepressant, nerve pain||Restlessness, confusion, depression, circling; skin irritation; abortions, reduced milk production|
|Tea tree oil |
|Oil from leaves||Antimicrobial, skin infections: bacteria, fungal, yeast||NOT FOR ORAL USE|
|White willow |
fever, injuries, pain
|Wolfbane or leopard’s |
|Leaves||Bruising, inflammation||NOT FOR ORAL USE, |
most commonly used
|Leaves||Dewormer, insect repellent||Digestive disorders, |
Homeopathy, developed in Western Europe, bases treatments on the Law of Similars or "like treating like." The concept is similar to conventional medicine vaccinations where small amounts of dead or live bacteria or viruses are introduced into the body to stimulate the body’s immune response, helping the body do the real disease fighting.
In homeopathy, substances that would create adverse symptoms in a human or animal are extremely diluted and shaken, or succussed (a homeopathy term), at each step of dilution. These dilute remedies (10X = diluted 1:10 ten times; 30C = diluted 1:100 thirty times; 10M = diluted 1:1,000 ten times) are used to treat symptoms that the original product would have created. The more dilute a remedy, the greater its potency. These dilutions are administered as a liquid or by lactose spheres onto which homeopathic companies have sprayed the remedy. The liquid or tablet homeopathic remedies are placed in contact with mucous membranes (mouth, nasal passages, or vulva). Typically, remedies are administered more frequently (up to six times a day) early in the disease and then tapered down as symptoms regress.
A basic philosophy of homeopathy is that each animal is unique and so there are no "one size fits all" recommendations. Successful homeopathic treatment relies on fully assessing or repertorizing (a homeopathy term) the animal, taking into account not only the symptoms present (fever, diarrhea, cystic ovary, etc.), but the location (e.g., cystic right ovary) and the animal’s behavior. Once all of these conditions are noted, you can look up the appropriate therapies in the Homeopathic Materia Medica (Macleod, 2004).
Organic dairy production and the integration of soil and crop health with animal health enhances the animal’s immune system. As a standard, try to increase the cows’ immunity through holistic methods: reducing stress, proper nutrition, considering comfort and welfare, vaccinating, and good husbandry. On occasion, organic farmers use other products to stimulate the immune system, including some of the following.
These products are produced from the colostrum of hypervaccinated cows. These pasteurized products contain antibodies (immunoglobulins) and other immunologically active proteins (lymphokines, cytokines, lactoferrin, and enzymes) that attempt to generally stimulate the immune system. These products are available from a variety of companies and some are more specific than others (e.g., Strep specific, Staph aureus specific). You must ensure that the colostrum-whey product you use comes from cows managed organically.
This product is a biological stimulant produced from the cell wall of dead mycobacterium. The USDA licenses it to treat calf scours due to E. coli. Some veterinarians use this product off-label as a general immunostimulant.
Nosodes are the "vaccinations" of homeopathy created from a diseased organ or discharge (e.g., mastitis culture) in the same dilution and succussion process described earlier. Commonly, they are administered before anticipated exposure to a disease or as part of a treatment regimen. Currently there is no scientific evidence in conventional veterinary literature proving that nosodes confer the same amount of immune protection as conventional vaccinations.
These products provide passive antibodies and are most often used to combat diseases (pneumonia and scours) caused by gram-negative bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, and Pasteurella) or by clostridial diseases. Companies produce these products by hypervaccinating adult cattle for the target diseases, harvesting their blood, and removing red and white blood cells to create a serum. They are administered to treat a disease when symptoms are apparent.
Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Treatment Regimens
Most alternative treatments presented to organic dairy producers have not been subjected to extensive testing under controlled circumstances and may only be accompanied by testimonials. What works on one farm may not work on every farm because of differences in climate, management, genetics, and nutrition. It is necessary that you critically evaluate whether a new product’s potential benefits on your farm outweigh the cost of the product. Table 2 provides questions to ask yourself and the company representatives about a new product. If most of your answers are "no," think twice before writing that check!
|__||Does this product fit a need or disease you currently have?|
|__||If you have a disease on your farm, have you evaluated management deficiencies so that you can make changes to prevent the disease?|
|__||Can the company provide you with the published results of independent research (not done or funded by the company) on the product?|
|__||Does the company have safety data on the product and information on milk and meat withholding?|
|__||Will the company share information with or take the time to consult with your veterinarian?|
|__||Does the company have sufficient contact information so that you can contact it for support in the event of a bad reaction to the product?|
|__||Have you contacted other farmers who are familiar with the product?|
The National List
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) prohibits most synthetic substances from use in organic livestock production so always check with your certifier when evaluating a product for use with your animals. The basic rule of thumb is that the NOP prohibits all synthetics unless specifically allowed and allows all natural substances unless specifically prohibited. Some "natural" products, however, contain prohibited substances as carriers or additives. Send a product label to your certifier to be sure! It is necessary to review products with your certifier before you need them and definitely before you use them. All products you use on your farm must be listed in your organic systems plan.
NOP Rule §205.603 contains a list of all substances allowed for use in organic livestock production, provided in Table 3. for your convenience. Over time, there may be additions or deletions to the National List so check the most current version at the National Organic Program website (http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/). Your certifier may also provide an allowed products list.
|Ethanol||As disinfectant or sanitizer; NOT as a feed additive.|
|Isopropanol||As disinfectant only.|
|Aspirin||Allowed to reduce inflammation.|
|Butorphanol||Veterinary use only. 8-day milk withdrawal, 42-day meat withdrawal.|
|Chlorhexidine||As a teat dip when other germicidal agents or barrier have lost effectiveness. Allowed for surgical procedures performed by a veterinarian.|
|Chlorine materials: Calcium hypochlorite, Chlorine dioxide, |
|Allowed to disinfect and sanitize facilities and equipment. Residual levels in water must meet limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.|
|Electrolytes||Allowed as long as they do not contain antibiotics.|
|Flunixin||Allowed with twice the withdrawal period.|
|Furosemide||Allowed with twice the withdrawal period.|
|Glycerine||Allowed as a teat dip ingredient, but must be produced from hydrolysis of fats and oils.|
|Hydrogen peroxide||Allowed. Used as a disinfectant, sanitizer or medical treatment, and on the NOP crops list for plant disease control and as an algicide, disinfectant and sanitizer, including to clean irrigation lines; however, it may not be allowed under milkhouse sanitation requirements.|
|Iodine||Allowed as disinfectant and topical treatment.|
|Magnesium hydroxide||Veterinary use only.|
|Magnesium sulfate||Allowed; used for treatment of grass tetany.|
|Oxytocin||Allowed for postcalving emergencies; NOT allowed for milk letdown. Some processors will not allow it because it is a hormone.|
|Fenbendazole||Only for use by or on the lawful written order of a licensed veterinarian. Prohibited in slaughter stock, allowed in emergency treatment for dairy and breeder stock when organic system plan-approved preventive management does not prevent infestation. Milk or milk products from a treated animal cannot be labeled as provided for in subpart D of this part for 90 days following treatment. In breeder stock, treatment cannot occur during the last third of gestation if the progeny will be sold as organic and must not be used during the lactation period for breeding stock.|
|Ivermectin||Prohibited in slaughter stock, allowed in emergency treatment for dairy and breeder stock when organic system plan-approved preventive management does not prevent infestation. Milk or milk products from a treated animal cannot be labeled as provided for in subpart D of this part for 90 days following treatment. In breeder stock, treatment cannot occur during the last third of gestation if the progeny will be sold as organic and must not be used during the lactation period for breeding stock.|
|Moxidectin||For control of internal parasites only. Prohibited in slaughter stock, allowed in emergency treatment for dairy and breeder stock when organic system plan-approved preventive management does not prevent infestation. Milk or milk products from a treated animal cannot be labeled as provided for in subpart D of this part for 90 days following treatment. In breeder stock, treatment cannot occur during the last third of gestation if the progeny will be sold as organic and must not be used during the lactation period for breeding stock.|
|Phosporic acid||Allowed as an equipment cleaner as long as it does not contact livestock or land.|
|Poloxalene||Allowed for emergency treatment of bloat.|
|Copper sulfate||Allowed as topical treatment, hoof treatment.|
|Lidocaine/Procaine||Allowed as local anesthetic. Milk withdrawal is 7 days, meat withdrawal is 90 days.|
|Hydrated lime||Allowed as external pest control; NOT allowed as a bedding agent.|
|Mineral oil||Allowed for topical use and as a lubricant; NOT FOR INTERNAL USE.|
|Tolazoline||Used to reverse effects of xylazine; veterinary use only; 8-day meat withdrawal, 4-day milk discard.|
|Trace minerals||Allowed as feed additive as long as they are FDA approved.|
|Vitamins||Allowed as feed additive as long as they are FDA approved.|
|Xylazine||Tranquilizer; veterinary use only; 8-day meat withdrawal, 4-day milk discard.|
Also in This Series
This article is part of a series discussing organic dairy herd health. For more information, see the following articles.
- Organic Dairy Herd Health: General Concepts
- Youngstock Management
- Effect of Housing and Cow Comfort on Health and Disease
- Reproductive Management from Breeding through Freshening
- Udder Health and Milk Quality
- Hoof Health and Lameness
- External and Internal Pests and Parasites
- Managing Disease in the Organic Herd
References and Citations
- Animal Welfare Information Center Bulletin [Online]. USDA National Agricultural Library. Available at: http://awic.nal.usda.gov/publications/animal-welfare-information-center-bulletin (verified 15 June 2012).
- de Bairacli Levy, J. 1991. The complete herbal handbook for farm and stable. Faber and Faber, London.
- Dettloff, P. 2004. Alternative treatments for ruminant animals. Acres U.S.A., Austin, TX
- Fraser, A. F. 1997. Farm Animal Behaviour and Welfare. CABI Publishing, New York, NY.
- Grandin, T. 2011. Outline of cow welfare critical control points for dairies [Online]. Grandin Livestock Handling Systems, Fort Collins, CO. Available at: http://www.grandin.com/cow.welfare.ccp.html (verified 15 June 2012).
- Karreman, H. 2006. Treating dairy cows naturally: Thoughts and strategies. Acres U.S.A., Austin, TX.
- Macleod, G. 2004. A veterinary materia medica and clinical repertory: With materia medica of the nosodes. Random House: UK.
- New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program Welfare/Cattle Care Module [Online]. New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program. Available at: http://www.nyschap.vet.cornell.edu/module/welfare/welfare.asp (Verified 15 June 2012).
- Sheaffer, C.Er. 2003. Homeopathy for the herd: A farmers guide to low-cost, non-toxic veterinary care for cattle. Acres U.S.A., Austin, TX.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2009. Grade "A" pasteurized milk ordinance. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration. (Available online at: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafety/NationalConferenceonInterstateMilkShipmentsNCIMSModelDocuments/UCM209789.pdf) (verified 15 June 2012).
- United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. National organic program: Final rule. Codified at 7 C.F.R., part 205. (Available online at: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=1&SID=f8b2967603d1a188e3b2b1ce9afbee3c&ty=HTML&h=L&n=7y220.127.116.11.32&r=PART) (verified 7 Feb 2013).
- Verkade, T. 2001. Homeopathic handbook for dairy farming. Homepathic Farm Support Ltd., Hamilton 3240, New Zealand.
- Whole Foods Market Animal Welfare [Online]. Whole Foods Market. Available at: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/meat/welfare.php (verified 15 June 2012).
- Wynn, S. and B. Fougere. 2007. Veterinary herbal medicine. Mosby-Elvesier, St. Louis, MO.