From the May/June issue: Practices focused on prevention could apply elsewhere.
Like most veterinarians managing the heath programs for large dairies, Juan Velez, MV, MS, ACT, wants to see good, solid clinical data before adopting any practice or product. But as executive vice president of Aurora Organic Dairy, he needs to avoid some proven products and seek alternatives, with an intense focus on disease prevention.
The same applies to Guy Jodarski, DVM, who serves as supervising veterinarian for Organic Valley, a cooperative of organic farms in 34 states. He stresses management-based prevention rather than unproven natural remedies, while testing practices that could fit within the various sizes and environments of cooperating dairies.
Focus on prevention
Aurora Organic Dairy began in 2003 with one dairy near Platteville, Colo. The operation since has expanded to include two more dairies in Colorado and one in Texas, milking a total of 18,000 cows.
Organic dairies must focus on prevention, Velez says, adding that good conventional dairies use many of the same preventative measures.
In organic production, Velez says, the veterinarian needs to adopt a different mindset and encourage the same priorities with the herdsman and other crew members. Instead of developing standard operating procedures for antibiotic treatments, for example, he works with the crew in establishing cleanliness scores and locomotion scores, and in using those scoring systems to conduct routine internal audits. These audits allow him to track the overall well-being of cattle and make appropriate decisions based on trends.
These types of consulting functions, he says, offer opportunities for veterinarians to apply their skills and become more involved in the total management of the operation.
Grazing, outdoor access and forage-based nutrition
The USDA organic program requires a minimum of 120 days on pasture, and both veterinarians believe the more grazing the better. Nutrition plays a critical role in animal well-being and disease prevention, Velez stresses. With restrictions on a number of feed additives, he says, the key is to provide a well-balanced forage-based diet year-round.
During the growing season at Aurora, from late April until September, the cows move to irrigated grass pastures surrounding the dairy, where they move through a series of paddocks in an intensive grazing system.
During the cold season, cows reside in free-stall open drylot barns with deep sand bedding, all with access to exercise lots the cows can use any time. Velez believes these facilities help minimize incidence of lameness. Rations include grass hay, alfalfa, sorghum or corn silage, and a grain mix including wheat, soybean meal, corn and soy hulls and a mineral package.