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Natural Treatments for Dairy Cows
From an article written by Hubert J Karreman, VMD
There is increasing interest in treating the common, daily problems in dairy cows with
remedies other than the traditionally used antibiotics and hormones. There is a new class of
farmer emerging who tends to keep cows healthy by grazing them as much as possible, reducing hi-tech inputs to minimize expenses, and learning to become self-reliant in the treatment of sick cows. If electing to use alternative treatments in dairy cows, the animal care giver must develop a heightened sense of awareness to abnormal signs in an animal, no matter how slight or seemingly trivial. The animal care giver must jump on a problem at the beginning, not let the problem go on for a few days while potential irreversible effects take hold. This approach holds true no matter what avenue of medical treatment is selected. Of course, certain conditions need immediate veterinary attention and conventional techniques, such as (but not limited to): calving problems, prolapsed uterus, broken bones, cut teats and milk veins, milk fever, grass tetany, etc. Dairy Cows are Herbivores! The cow, like all ruminant creatures, has a specialized fore-stomach system. Ruminants have developed a digestive tract well adapted to processing plant materials. Their digestive system was not made to handle any carnivorous material (except for ingesting of the after-birth, an instinct derived from the wild in order to hide evidence of calving from predators). Dairy cows thrive best when fed fresh grasses, via grazing, and dried grasses (hay) as well as grains. Fresh grass analyzed in a lab is usually high in protein, but low in energy. Grains are energy dense and help provide a balanced diet. Corn silage, a fermented, chopped form of the whole corn plant, also provides energy as well as fiber. Until recently, these feeds, as well as added minerals, supplied the vast majority of dairy cows with their daily nutritional requirements. At some point, nutritionists began adding in virtually any type of ingredient that was economically profitible, regardless of source. These included: blood meal, rendered cattle parts, chicken feather meal, candy wrappers, etc. Perhaps profitable, but quite a distortion of the way nature intended the cow's digestive process to be.Also profitible, and quite in line with bovine biology, is the practice of feeding cows by intensive, rotational grazing. This is an environmentally logical way of feeding the herd as well. It emphasizes continuous improvement of pastures and thus reduces soil erosion into nearby drainage ditches and streams. The pastures are generally not sprayed with herbicides and insecticides and this is the reason many organic dairy people switch to intensive grazing. In addition, the cows are the ones harvesting the crop rather than the farmer harvesting the feed, bringing it to the cows and cleaning up after them. It also allows the cows to exercise and be out in the sunlight (required for the internal production of vitamin D). The labor involved in installing a water pipeline, watering troughs, fencing, and moving the cows among the paddocks beats by far the labor and machinery involved with conventional cropping systems. Almost all of the graziers I know would never switch back to conventional feeding routines.I also think that grazed cows probably respond better to natural types of treatment, since their systems are generally in a healthy equilibrium over the long run. Fresh grasses also have biochemically active compounds that dairy nutritionists probably never take into account or analyze using standard lab techniques. These compounds help to keep the animals vigorous compared to those being constantly fed cured, stored feeds. Old-timers know that the early spring flush is loaded with health giving minerals and nutrients. Some people advocate over-seeding pastures or boundaries with herbs known to have medicinal value. This lets the cows nibble on them if they feel the urge. Without going into specifics, I believe there is good reason animals instinctively seek out technically non-nutritious plant materials. All this said, it is important to keep an eye on body condition so that animals don't fall into a negative energy balance, since this can hamper reproductive health as well as milk production. There certainly is a place for cured, stored feeds and that is during winter feeding. But, generally in temperate climates, many people can easily graze their animals for eight months of the year. This will keep their overall feed and labor costs down, improve soil quality, and maintain vigorous, healthy milking cows. Common Cow Conditions Keeping in mind certain cautions and the ability to know when to seek specific veterinary advice, there are many conditions encountered daily by a herdsperson that respond favorably to natural treatments and supportive care. My own experience is with homeopathic remedies, vitamins, refined colostrum products, and nutritional supplements—all used with success in the correctly selected cases. The idea is to stimulate the animal's immune system, the fundamental source of the individual's vitality, to overcome problems. Typically, conditions such as digestive disturbances, mastitis, reproductive problems, and fevers can respond nicely if they are well attended. This may mean dosing the animal with the appropriate homeopathic remedy many times daily, maybe even every 15 to 30 minutes in certain conditions. MASTITIS: This all too common problem is best treated by continual stripping of the affected quarter. This is the time honored way and still is the conventional treatment of choice for coliform mastitis. Appropriate homeopathic remedies may include phytholacca ("stringy" mastitis), bryonia (cow that likes to lie on the affected side), belladonna (for sudden "hot," painful quarters), and hepar sulph (for "thick milk"). As support, I usually recommend Vitamin B-complex, Vitamin C and a colostrum-whey type product for three milkings in a row. A cow with severe mastitis and sunken eyes needs immediate veterianry attention and probably IV fluids to address dehydration.If bulk tank somatic cell counts are high, there's a good chance that an infectious organism is present (one that is passed from cow to cow at milking time). Culture mastitis cows. Infectious types of mastitis, Strep ag and Staph aureus, will stay in a herd unless hygenic measures are taken. Milk infected cows last, dip the milking unit into a dilute chlorine solution before putting it onto the next cow, wash and dry teat ends thoroughly, strip out milk to check it (this foremilk also carries the largest amount of bacteria), and dip the cows teats when done milking her. There are many commercial teat dips available. An alternative would be to use Calendula tincture in saline.Environmental mastitis bacteria include coliforms, Strep non-ag andActinomyces among others. These bacteria live in the cows' bedding, soiled udders, and sometimes the water system. Cows producing large quantities of milk are usually subject to coming down acutely with this type of mastitis. These bacteria hit fast and hard, usually finding their way into an udder by a damaged teat or a leaky teat. These cows will run high fevers, go off- feed, and have a watery discharge from the affected rock-hard quarter. Veterinary attention should be sought immediately, since a cow can die within a day if not treated appropriately for circulatory collapse, dehydration and shock. There is a vaccine available that greatly reduces the severity of symptoms if there is a herd problem. FEVER: Always take a cow's temperature if unsure about her well being. Never let a fever (>102.5) go more than a day without calling a veterinarian. Homeopathic Belladonna, given frequently, is appropriate for most conditions. Pyrogenium is good for putrifying conditions, such as a retained placenta. Echinacea would also be appropriate, and good old aspirin should also be considered. OFF-FEED: Homeopathic Nux vomica and Lycopodium are usually helpful for a fresh cow milking well and a little "slow," along with Vitamin B-complex for a couple days. Give a rumen stimulant containing live Lactobacillus cultures. Increase hay, reduce grain, and feed no silage. Allow the animal to exercise and graze if possible. If recently fresh, consider supplemental calcium, either IV or as an oral paste. REPRODUCTION: Infertility in cows is a constant source of consternation. Icelandic kelp added to the ration provides some 54 vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients, which can stimulate a cow's level of health and should be considered especially when reproductive performance is lagging. Many conditions also respond well to homeopathic intervention. All cows should be given Sepia at 21 days after calving to promote a healthy reproductive state. Cows with a creamy discharge can be given Pulsatilla, followed by Sepia. If in mid- lactation and showing some off-color discharge, try Ustilago. Cows not cycling, yet having normal ovarian structures, can be nudged into heat with Ovarian. A herdsperson must look for the slightest hints of heat when using natural treatments. For example, a cow not letting her milk down quite right on the expected day of heat should probably be bred, even though not obviously standing to be mounted. Ovarian cysts can respond to Apis (right-sided), Vespa or Lachesis (left-sided), and if cystic and showing frequent heats (nymphomania), try Lillium tigrinum. Obviously, veterinary diagnosis of reproductive condition is necessary. There are some promising glandular treatments for cows cycling but not showing heats; however, these are not yet well described. VACCINATION: Vaccination should also be practiced, since this helps prevent bad situations from occurring in the first place. Many organic farmers are surprised that they are allowed to vaccinate. All certification agencies that I know of actively encourage it. Vaccines help to stimulate the body's defense system to rally if an actual, hotchallenge occurs (as when bringing in new cattle). I would strongly recommend all herds to actively vaccinate against BVD, Lepto and IBR.These are but a few topics worthmentioning. The feeling of success is much greater when winning the battle by using natural treatments. The other nice thing is that, if needed, you can always reach for the conventional treatments. But by not relying on them, you allow the cow to overcome the condition on her own. This will hopefully


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