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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care May 2013

Hi Folks,

Over the past year I’ve been enjoying giving CowSignals® presentations and workshops throughout the US to an estimated 500+ farmers so far. The information combines basic cow biology and behavior with feeding, grazing and barn management, with the goal to enhance milk yield by removing obstacles to health. I’m signing up to take a follow-up training course on Transition Cow Signals at the end of June. As we all know, the transition time for cows, from dry-off to 3 weeks post-fresh is incredibly important. Most veterinary work occurs around calving time or shortly thereafter. Farmers know that managing cows correctly before freshening can make or break a cow’s next lactation. Learning to see signals associated with potential problems should come in handy.

In addition to the CowSignals® work, I’ve also begun to add in nutrition evaluation and ration formulation, specifically pasture-based nutrition. I measure how much feed as dry matter is available in the pasture, then size paddocks according to what dry matter you want from pasture. I’ve also been sampling pastures for quality in terms of fiber, energy, protein and minerals. With pasture coming first, we then figure out how much feed should be fed in the barn. Combining CowSignals® with a nutritional perspective gives me a broader picture of cows - from prevention and feeding to treatment.
But as I add new avenues to working with cows, I can sense farmers wondering how I can be getting into things other than “fixing broken cows” – because that’s what veterinarians are “supposed to do”. Indeed, fixing broken cows is my passion – it always has been and always will be. It’s always satisfying to work intensively on a cow and see her starting to eat or able to rise after I am done treating her. Everyone is happy: cow, farmer and me. But let’s be honest – organic and grazing cows don’t need much veterinary work. And since I’m trying to take better care of my heart by no longer running to get to emergencies lickity-split, I’ve been open to methods of working with cows in addition to the non-emergency cases I still see. When talking about nutrition with a farmer the other week, he asked if I was now “a feed man”. No – but doesn’t it make sense to have veterinarians involved with nutrition work in order to help prevent problems in the first place? I’ve heard so many people say they would love to have their human doctor know more about nutrition. I would hope that kind of thinking extends to the herd veterinarian for the cow nutrition as well. After all, health is holistic: prevention by good feeding, awareness of obstacles to health, and the occasional hands-on natural treatment of medical cases.

I’m really glad I’ve been in “the trenches” as a clinician for so long as it’s allowed me to see which treatments work and which don’t - both my own treatments and other company products. It’s become second nature to treat serious medical cases without antibiotics. While treating cows medically is my most preferred method of interacting with farmers and cows, I enjoy the opportunities of giving invited lectures to groups anywhere who want to know how to treat illness without antibiotics. I don’t think those opportunities will ever run out.  It seems that there is a never ending interest in rapidly effective natural treatments for serious illness.

Especially gratifying is working with human doctors who have asked me as a veterinarian to be part of studies to see how well certain alternative approaches to illness may work for people - with organic dairy cows being tested since the physicians know we can’t use antibiotics in organics. This direct interaction between veterinarians and physicians is a global initiative called “One Health” due to all the intertwined life on this planet – especially nowadays with rapid transit times between countries. Doctors have been interested in the hyper-immune plasma antibodies I use against bacterial disease; on the flip side they have tested new vaccines with organic cows to enhance colostrum antibodies against human disease and also want to try naturally occurring organisms against mastitis. Most recently, researchers have contacted me to adapt some user-friendly information management tools made initially for conventional farms to organic farms. Within bovine veterinary research, there is continuing work on Phyto-Mast®, the botanical intra-mammary tubes I developed many years ago. So if you are by chance one of the people that has already participated in a project or maybe one that will, thank you for helping advance medicine!

While it may seem that as a veterinarian I’ve jumped around while working with cows, in actuality every single thing I’ve done over the last 25 years has in some way been for the benefit of organic dairy cows: from when I was a herdsman using homeopathy and colostrum-whey products (both of which I still use and recommend), to going to veterinary school to learn the “real thing” while quietly studying alternative medicine on the side, to working directly in the trenches in southeastern Pennsylvania, to the 5 years on the National Organic Standards Board, to teaching small groups of farmers during field days, to completing a certificate program in clinical research from the Penn medical school, to working with veterinary researchers interested in organics, to interacting with doctors who are looking to organic veterinary medicine for answers to human problems, or to visiting organic farms across the US and beyond - I feel I can provide a better depth of care and knowledge for organic cows due to my varied experiences. I’m truly grateful for all the opportunities organic dairy farming has given me, whether it’s in the trenches doing hands-on work or discussing “big picture” topics like the US organic sector prohibition on antibiotics and how that impacts decision making. Just like farmers can be flexible in solving problems with organic dairy cows, veterinarians can be flexible working within the veterinary profession. But to be sure, for me it has always started with attention to detail of the individual patient – for it is God’s creation that we are charged to care for and to care for well.  

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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