Is organic farming better for animal health?

Pamela Ruegg (Photo: University of Wisconsin)

Pamela Ruegg (Photo: University of Wisconsin)

Are organic farming methods better for animal health? A study being conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture is looking for the answer to that question.

One aspect of the study is being lead by Pamela Ruegg, a professor and extension milk quality specialist in the Department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin. The study, slated to last for 18 months, will examine the impact of organic farming methods on livestock. Researchers expect to conduct at least 300 visits to organic dairy operations throughout the country.

“The most important focus is to identify practices that help farmers optimize animal health and well being,” Ruegg said in a story that appeared in Dairyreporter.com. “Control of mastitis, production of high quality milk and management practices that contribute to enhanced animal well being are all of interest to us.”

Ruegg has done extensive work in mastitis causes and treatment. Mastitis is an infection of the udders that poses an ongoing and expensive challenge for dairy farmers. The infection sets in when cows’ udders become irritated due to rough treatment during milking or other injuries. Cows which are injected with the synthetic growth hormone rBGH are more prone to mastitis, as well.

More narrowly focused studies have been conducted in Europe and have found that dairy cattle on organic farms fare better when it comes to mastitis infection overall, but one study noted that dairy cows treated with conventional methods actually did better during dry periods when they were not being milked. Another study from Sweden suggests that conventionally managed cows subject to high milk production are also more prone to mastitis.

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