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How Different are Conventional and Organic Dairies?

26 August 2014

US - According to a USDA-funded study carried out at the University of Oregon (OSU), cows raised on organic dairy farms do not significantly differ from those raised on conventional farms as far as health and nutritional content of their milk is concerned.

The study was carried across three regions of the United States - New York, Wisconsin and Oregon. A total of 292 farms participated in the study. Many organic and conventional dairy farms did not meet standards set by three commonly-used cattle welfare programmes.

According to Mike Gamroth, co-author of the study and professor emeritus in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, while the way cows are treated on organic farms differ from conventional dairies, the health outcomes are similar on both farms.

"Few dairies in this study performed well in formal criteria used to measure the health and well-being of cows," Professor Gamroth said.

The project studied various aspects of dairy cow health - nutrition, lameness, udder cleanliness included. Samples of milk were screened for bacteria and common diseases. Farmers were also asked about their operations.

The study came to the following conclusions:

  1. Ten per cent of the herds met standards for hygiene,
  2. 30 per cent of herds met criteria for body condition,
  3. 26 per cent of organic and 18 per cent of conventional farms met recommendations for pain relief during dehorning;
  4. Four per cent of farms fed calves recommended doses of colostrum,
  5. 88 per cent of farms did not have an integrated plan to control mastitis,
  6. 42 per cent of conventional farms met standards for treating lameness,
  7. Cows on organic farms produced 43 per cent less milk per day than conventional non-grazing cattle and 25 per cent less than conventional grazing herds.

"Our data shows there is room for improvement in dairies and sets a benchmark to measure progress in the industry," said Professor Gamroth. "We believe adopting animal welfare standards is part of the solution, as are increases to educational efforts to improve the care of cows."

Further Reading

You can view the article Organic and Conventional Dairies Show Few Differences in Cow Health and Milk by clicking here.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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