Cow/Animal Health Management
Risk Category 2
This is part of an 11 category program to help farmers learn to identify and manage the unique risks on their farm. This may help them to grow a food safety mindset, that may enable them to write their own food safety plans for the production of raw drinking milk. In Australia raw milk from cows for human consumption, is only allowed if you own the animal, but that doesn't stop farmers from becoming acquainted with practises that are delivery great results overseas. Farmers may need to read the introduction first before continuing on this page: Introduction to the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program
Animal health is the number one priority of the raw dairy farmer, otherwise the animals will not produce milk that is suitable to be consumed raw/unpasteurised. It is that simple. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of where their food comes from, how it was produced and who takes responsibility for the well-being of the animals. Ethical farming is an 'animal first' approach, based on allowing animals to express their natural characteristics. Cows function in a herd - they want to mate naturally, calve naturally, develop maternal instincts, elect leaders and choose what they eat. The role of the farmer is that of caretaker. This page touches on a few animal health issues but please remember that animal health is discussed in all 11 risk categories because it is so important.
The marvel of four stomachs
Cows are ruminants. They are designed eat grass and other plant-based material in their environment. They digest foods that humans are unable to, and metabolise them overnight with the help of microbial action, to produce a nutrient-dense food called milk. This fermentation vat is highly efficient. Animals are very dependant on the beneficial microbes in the digestive tract to process the food on their behalf, and make the nutrients available to them. For these animals to produce raw milk suitable for human consumption, the rumen's function has to be understood and respected. Cows digest pasture well but grain poorly.
The rumen of an adult cow
British farmer educator and raw dairy producer Christine Page recently wrote a beautiful description of the rumen of the adult cow as part of her new series on cow-calf dairying. Her micro-dairy Smiling Tree Farm is part of the Pasture for Life program in the United Kingdom, which means the animals live on a 100% pasture-based diet.
"In an adult cow, the rumen is, in effect, a very large pillow-sized bio-digester, full of a delicate balance of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, yeasts, methanogens and other microfauna. Just to blow your mind, it’s estimated that in just 1ml (a fifth of a teaspoon) of her rumen fluid, there are between 10-50 billion bacteria and 1 million protozoa!
"When a cow takes a bite of grass or browses the hedgerows, she is not really feeding herself, but all the microbes in her rumen. In fact, most of the cow’s nutrition comes from the by-products of the microbial fermentation of what the cow eats, plus the rapidly reproducing microbes themselves (some bacteria in the rumen live for just 15 minutes). All this fermentation, digestion and reproduction produces vast amounts of heat, so the rumen is also the furnace that keeps the cow warm in winter."
"A healthy well-functioning rumen is absolutely critical to the effective and efficient fermentation of a cow’s food, and this is vital not only for her health and her productivity, but also for the nutrient value and flavour of her milk (or meat in the case of a beef animal)."
Old Fashioned animal husbandry show promising results
Gazegill Farm in Lancashire, United Kingdom has been certified organic since 1999. The farm has been in the Robinson family for over 500 years. They are just one of many farms who is seeing the benefits of organic farming as a way of safeguarding their future. The farm also produce raw drinking milk (RDM). According to this article they would rather focus on looking after their soil and animals, than rely on new technologies and chemicals.
The Gazegill herd has been antibiotic free for two years. Before this time the use of antibiotics was minimal, but the cows are now healthier than they've ever been and producing excellent quality raw milk. One of the owners Ian O'Reilley said in an interview with the farm's organic certifier OF&G that they believed that if they stopped using antibiotics, a natural immunity would built-in the herd. They are now seeing precisely that. They are concerned about the use of antibiotics, heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides with almost complete abandon on many farms. "Agriculture land is becoming toxic and it’s getting into the food chain. It’s a real worry." Fortunately, there are many like-minded farmers in the movement who farm for habitat and for nature.
Some studies show that grazing cows on growing grass, and limiting grain and silage appear to reduce the incidence of the unique and rare O157:H7 subtype of E.coli. This is rarely found in the manure of healthy, pastured animals. Ian said in this video, that he likes organics because cows eat what they are designed to eat in nature.
Some overseas dairies supply to both the raw milk market and to a processor or co-operative, like this New Zealand example. This seems to be common practice in countries like the U.S.A., U.K. and also New Zealand. We believe there are missed opportunities here to increase food safety. There are benefits in keeping a separate herd producing raw drinking milk (RDM) because these animals need a lot of care and attention. If cows milked for RDM are part of, for example, a 300 strong herd, where is the attention to detail? A smaller herd for RDM is also easier to manage and keep on a 100% pasture diet of grass and hay for more robust health. Experts have noticed that when cows become stressed, their digestive systems are affected and they may produce more pathogens in their manure. This is just one of many risks that can be reduced with a separate herd. There are also many online articles about stress reduction methods.
In addition, keeping a separate herd for RDM reduces the risk of cross-contamination when the dairy is also processing pasteurised dairy products. It is imperative to have the appropriate barriers between these two operations because if not, a shutdown and recall of one, can affect the other.
A closed herd means not introducing new animals to an existing herd. It keeps the biology of the herd stable. It limits environmental or biological exposure from other farms. Maintaining a closed herd is one the best management policies for keeping infectious diseases out of the herd and have proven to reduce risk considerably. Also see Biosecurity. Keep reading for more information on unique strategies to mitigate the risks of bacterial infections...
High Risk Animals and a hospital area
The most high risk and vulnerable animal in the closed herd is the cow that have just given birth to a calf. She can shed pathogens in her manure or have in-udder infection during this vulnerable time. This milk is best left for the calf for the first four days or so, as she produces colostrum that her calf needs for it to grow strong. Colostrum is the immune system food that the next generation heifer calves need. It can be a good risk reduction strategy to watch the animal closely for a few weeks for signs of mastitis. Check for general indicators of bacterial infection and test for Somatic Cell Counts.
It is very important that animals be disease-free. They are required to be tested for Tuberculosis, Brucellosis and Q fever. Zoonoses are infectious diseases of animals that may be transmitted to humans. According to page 42 of Tim Wightman's Raw Milk Production Handbook there are conflicting beliefs around some of these. "There was in the past considerable debate as to whether the bovine form of TB is transmissible to humans by drinking milk from an infected cow. Most who have carefully looked into this problem have concluded that it is not, see this article. However, most agriculture officials believe that humans can contract TB by drinking milk from a TB-contaminated cow. Therefore, if you are producing raw milk, maintenance of a TB-free herd is an absolute necessity."
Please note the Australia has been TB free for over two decades. Brucellosis was eradicated 28 years ago.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand's Guide to the requirements for raw milk cheese production in Standard 4.2.4 page 8 says that programs in Australia have successfully eradicated bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis and Brucella melitensis (cause of brucellosis in sheep and goats) has never been reported in sheep and goats in Australia. Ongoing surveillance and biosecurity requirements ensure ongoing management of these zoonoses (information available from Animal Health Australia).
For more information on how these are managed in regulated systems in other countries, who have these problems, see the following article: Raw dairies keep farming and show resilience. In the article you will discover evidence that some of the current regimes for dealing with zoonoses are problematic or inaccurate. It may be best for authorities to focus on new and emerging technology instead, that actually work without being a backdoor for introducing side effects that may be harmful.
A healthy animal, with healthy microbes in the rumen, is going to be less susceptible to common diseases, as evidenced by farmers in the Farm and Land Conditions and Feed risk category pages. Research into the human microbiome show beneficial bacteria in large numbers are protective of their host. They fight invaders and defend their turf. 80% of our human immune system lies in the gut. It is critical that farmers encourage the conditions that promote rumen health in cattle. Growing this strong immunity may discourage or even prevent intestinal bacterial infections like Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, which causes Johne's Disease. A particular kind of bacteria causes the following three zoonoses:
- Bovine Tuberculosis - Mycobacterium bovis
- Brucellosis - Brucella abortus, B. melitensis, B. suis, and B canis
- Q Fever - Coxiella burnetii
Research for the US reported in the magazine AcresUSA in 1992 showed that a lack of manganese allied to a shortfall of copper, cobalt and iodine predisposes animals and humans to Brucella abortus infections, and also TB and Johne's Disease. Increasing the health of the cows in the RDM herd with the following strategy will help:
This article and other sources in the 11 risk categories discuss how chemical-free and regenerative farming systems can increase organic matter, microbiology and diversity of grass species, allowing plants to access more minerals, trace elements and nutrients in the soil. Cows can get all the nutrients they may need from what they graze when regenerative farming and nutrient cycling is functioning, which can restore health. Robust health and increased immunity is going to make them less susceptible to zoonotic bacteria. Keep reading...
Other bacterial infections like Mycoplasma Bovis
New Zealand MPI says they are culling over 152,000 cattle over 2 or more years to try and eradicate Mycoplasma bovis. This is not the same as Bovine Tuberculosis. According to this article, the possibility of contracting the bacteria Mycoplasma Bovis from eating meat and drinking milk from infected cattle has been dismissed by food safety experts as a 'low risk'. Professor Nigel French, director of the New Zealand Food Safety Science & Research Centre at Massey University, said other diseases such as campylobacter and salmonella were of much more concern. According to this New Zealand article: "Since the disease arrived in Australia farmers have been using a PCR test, which detects evidence of infection in bulk milk."
Turn up the volume and watch the video below for a better understanding of why these bacterial infections are risks worth mitigating for the benefit of humanity. Find the full story here. In addition, many see this culling as senseless killing of healthy cows, since none of these cows tested positive for Mycoplasma Bovis, see this petition. Also see the Biosecurity risk category for more information.
Remineralisation of the food supply and the animals for better health via sequestering carbon and nutrient cycling
Minerals are the basis of the plant, animal, and human health. Two times Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling stated that in terms of human health:
"One could trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency."
Humans, beef- and dairy cattle all need to get their minerals from their food. Many decades ago animals were able to graze and move around according to their needs. There was no need for supplements, mineral bars or licks. Today many pastures and soil on farms are depleted altogether. This affects the health and immune systems of the animals and their suitability to provide RDM. Mineral deficiencies can make cows susceptible to common diseases or bacterial infections, prone to infertility problems or prone to premature births, weak calves or prenatal deaths etc.
Animals producing for the RDM market have to be in excellent health to produce disease-free milk. An unlikely ally can provide the essential services to help achieve that; biological farming. Microbes like Mycorrhizal fungi, protozoa and nematodes in healthy, chemical-free, organic soil make more carbon and minerals available to plants, which then provide a source of minerals, in the right proportions, to the animals. Read more about the amazing ability of pasture grass to sequester carbon here. Healthy soil means a healthy body, more here.
One teaspoon of soil contains more microbes than there are people on earth.
It makes sense to utilise the symbiotic relationship and nutrient cycling between microbes and plants to meet the animal's nutritional needs, instead of supplementing a specific mineral artificially, which may result in a mineral imbalance or toxicity if done incorrectly. This article shows that farmers may already have identified that stock requires a specific mineral like, for example, selenium, but "many know little of the difference between inorganic and organic forms and what is actually available to the cow." Too much selenium can be toxic to cows, for example. According to this WA agriculture website: "Selenium is found in the soil and taken up by plants at different levels depending on plant species, fertiliser application and rainfall. Cattle consume selenium with the plants they eat. It is stored for a short period in the body, mainly in the liver, so a continual dietary supply of selenium ensures the best possible production."
There are risks to supplementing minerals like trace elements artificially because they can be toxic in the wrong proportions. It's a good risk reduction strategy for farmers to start with regenerative agriculture as soon as possible to rectify mineral deficiencies in the natural, biological way. Once ecosystem processes are restored in the soil and plants, it may be easier to remedy any remaining mineral deficiencies, if any. As balance is restored, the land is better able to support healthy animals, diverse ecosystems, and thriving communities. See the Farm Conditions category to learn more about nutrient cycling for more minerals in the plants from Dr Christine Jones and Dr Elaine Ingham. Many farmers are now using compost or compost tea, cover crops and high plant diversity to rapidly regenerate soil. It is essential for raw dairy farmers to implement these on the farm to mitigate health risks to animals.
The remineralising of the land with high diversity plant species, more carbon and soil microbiome is essential to restore the health of the animals! If you are practising regenerative farming and are getting results, add this to your RAMP food safety plan as a risk reduction strategy that works. There are visible signs to trace element deficiency, like copper, cobalt, selenium and iodine, see this article, however blood tests can determine if a trace element deficiency was rectified via nutrient cycling, which restore minerals to the pastures. Test results may vary at different times of the year, depending on the growth of various grasses. If all the records are kept it will be easier to identify a pattern over a long period of time. If a considerable improvement is evident, the information can be useful for research purposes; to show that the farming practices are making a significant contribution to animal health.
As discussed in the Farm and Land Conditions risk category, the Savory Institute is working to provide scientific understanding and acceptance of the role animals can play in regenerating depleted soils. Paul Griffiths, who teaches Holistic Management in Australia said that through the Environmental Outcomes Verification research farmers will have independent, long-term, scientifically verified evidence that they are ‘doing the right thing’. The EOV will show that the farmer's land is indeed regenerating, more here. The Land to Market Australia program involves providing both farmer support and environmental monitoring to achieve biodiversity, soil health and ecosystem function, more here.
British low-input dairy farmer Ben Mead did a study tour of three countries, including Australia, and wrote a brilliant document: Improving Pasture Quality for Animal and Ultimately Human Nutrition and Health. In it, he describes how the most successful farmers focussed on only three key areas: soil chemistry, pasture species diversity and soil micro flora and fauna. One of his conclusions were:
Grass and plants in the paddocks are not the only feed that needs mineral and trace element restoration. Farmers also need to focus on how grains are grown. Grain is often grown in fields that are heavily tilled and treated multiple times with various chemicals. Some herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilisers have antibiotic properties that kill soil micro-biome. Research scientist Dr. Kris Nichols says: “tilling can start to erode the diversity of the fungi in the soil over time. So you’re going to start getting the loss of certain keystone organisms for providing amino acids and antioxidants that can be very important for human health," even in organic systems. She says the diluted nutrient content in our food “basically drives our bodies to have to consume more. Our gut micro biome essentially signals to our brain that it’s starving, and says, ‘eat more food.’" If food lacking minerals has this effect on humans, what effect will it have on animals?
According to this article Australian soil scientist Dr. Christine Jones claims that over the last 150 years, many of the world's prime agriculture soils had lost between 30 and 75 per cent of their carbon. These losses have contributed to the profitability of farming. Farm debt is at an all time high and farmers are making less money every year, while the suppliers of farm inputs were earning 98 per cent of the total revenue generated by agriculture. Dr. Christine says that many of today's farming practises had compromised soil microbial communities. She believes all the minerals and trace element plants were there in the soil, but they could not access them (minerals) because "networks of beneficial microbes were either not working or had been killed of by chemicals". She shares her solution in the second half of the article.
At the 11 minute time marker of this video, she shows Australian data that shows no real improvement of milk production with the application of more inorganic nitrogen fertiliser, yet farmers tend to keep adding more. Farmers tend to expect results because inorganic nitrogen fertiliser visually grows grass taller. She says the application of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser decreases the ability of the grass to uptake minerals and trace elements. The grass may grow a great deal, but it is not necessarily nutrient-dense because the communication (nutrient cycling) between plants, carbon and microbes are diminished. These plants are fed mostly water and nitrogen. Photosynthesis of plants is skipped in this process.
Turn up the volume to watch the UC Davis video below. The article accompanying the video explains: "soil sequesters carbon through a complex process that starts with photosynthesis. A plant draws carbon out of the atmosphere and returns to the soil what isn’t harvested in the form of residue and root secretions. This feeds microbes in the soil. The microbes transform it into the building blocks of soil organic matter and help stabilise the carbon, sequestering it." Kate Scow, a microbial ecologist and director of this experimental farm at the University of California, Davis says:
This article shows how nutrients pass from soil rich in microbial life to grass, cover crops, grain and then to grazing animal and eventually increasing human health. Research from soils and agronomy researcher Jill Clapperton of Montana said that "various cover crops showed an affinity to put more of some nutrients than others. For example, a cover crop of pea, hairy vetch and oats produced high levels of manganese, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and sulfur in a follow-up crop of hard red spring wheat. In comparison, a cover crop of crimson clover, chicory and oats produced strong levels of phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. A cover crop of faba bean, peas and oats produced in the wheat the highest overall levels of everything except iron. A mix of lentils and phacelia, however, produced the highest iron content in the follow-up wheat crop."
The article reiterates what was said about Gabe Brown's farm in North Dakota in the Farm and Land category about building healthier soil. Data from 2016 shows regenerative farming and high-stock-density grazing together dramatically increase the basic elements of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as water-extractable organic carbon, see the chart in the article. The article also mentions soil scientist William Albrecht who was a big advocate of soil health as a precursor to human health. For more information on cover crops, see the Feed category.
Antibiotic and antimicrobial use in farming
We have established that cows can be healthier when they can get their mineral needs from diverse species pasture, a healthy soil microbiome, and an Intense Rotational Grazing Program. Cows in an organic system can be successfully weaned off from the requirement for antibiotics, as demonstrated by the information from Gazegill Farm at the top of this page. Many experienced raw dairy farmers don't use antibiotics anymore and if they do, they manage it carefully by isolating the animal for observation and testing, or even removing these animals from the milking herd completely. As a risk reduction strategy, they also tend to hold back the milk from these animals. Antibiotics can upset the balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive systems of all mammals. In this video a microbiologist confirms that antibiotics can remove beneficial gut flora from both humans and dairy animals. At the 44 minute time marker, she explains how Staphylococcus Aureus can react to antibiotics by producing an enzyme (beta-lactamase) which breaks down antibiotics and now have developed MRSA (Methicilin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). It's called it the master of resistance.
In addition, agrochemicals with antibiotic properties can also be introduced to the rumen via feed. See this article for an in-depth exploration. According to this article wheat and other grains are illegally sprayed with herbicides with antibiotic properties in Australia by a "large percentage" of farmers. Research from New Zealand shows that some of these chemicals can also cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Cows are dependent on the microbes in their rumen to digest their food and to stay healthy. A slow microdose introduction of these agrochemicals over a long time via feed, can be cumulative and may be altering or killing these microbes and have consequences that affect animal- and human health, in a variety of ways...
An article published recently reported that health officials confirmed at least a dozen people in Colorado developed drug-resistant Campylobacter jejuni infections after drinking unpasteurised milk in 2016. Herd sharing is legal in the state of Colorado and is carefully monitored by the Raw Milk Association in Colorado (RMAC). Public health authorities investigated the outbreak and identified 12 confirmed and 5 probable cases of C jejuni infections in individuals who drank milk from the program. One person was hospitalised. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System tested 5 bacterial isolates from confirmed human cases and found that all were resistant to ciprofloxacin, tetracycline, and nalidixic acid. Today there are multiple areas in farming where chemicals with antibiotic properties are used, with antibiotic-resistant microbes as a result. Even if health officials consider the raw milk to be the source of these infections, should we not weed out the cause instead of fingering the raw milk?
According to this Herald Sun article, more than a third of nursing-home residents are carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, while at least half of common infections like urinary tract infections are being wrongly treated with antibiotics. Melbourne researchers will be tackling the overuse of antibiotics in nursing homes. 14 Nursing homes across Melbourne and Sydney will be monitored to ensure they are treating infections properly and not overprescribing antibiotics. This comes after previous work by Infectious diseases and microbiology Professor Anton Peleg, that uncovered that superbugs was made worse by the overuse of antibiotics. Prof Peleg said: “We know that being exposed to antibiotics and high use of antibiotics drives superbug infection.”
Antibiotics kill microscopic life, but some microbes respond to the attempt on their lives by adapting and surviving. It's not hard to see why the elderly in Australia are so vulnerable. They may have a gut packed with potentially harmful microbes, and not enough good microbes, or a diversity of beneficial microbes via the diet to counter them. Antibiotic use is rampant and often overprescribed for both humans and animals, with harmful microbes in the gut as result.
Cows and Stress
It is evident to people who are skilled at reading animal body language that cows like a certain amount of space around them. They can rapidly progress from a state of calm, to a state of anxiety if pushed into small, confined spaces or dark areas. They seem to prefer to be able to predict and establish for themselves whether a situation is suitable for them or not. They like routine. They become visibly stressed when they find themselves confined with other animals, who may also be trying to establish their personal space. When they have to endure stressful situations regularly or for extended periods of time, it can affect their health. Cows are very vulnerable to stress.
Stressed cows have higher levels of hormones that suppress immune function in their blood.
Cows with consistent low somatic cell counts tend to be the best cows to select to join the milking herd for RDM production. The Somatic Cell Count tests can indicate the following:
- the general health condition of the udder,
- levels of infection of the udder (mastitis)
- and the environmental factors affecting the animal.
SCCs can also be seen as a measurement of the animal's immune system. The SCC test results are also an indication to the dairyman if the measures they take to reduce infection are working. The lower the SCC, the fewer white blood cells in the milk. It means the animal is less stressed and have less invading microorganisms. A herd with lower stress levels will have a better immune function; which is an essential risk mitigation strategy for the dairy producing RDM. The Somatic Cell Count device is the raw dairy farmer's best friend, see the Documentation category for more.
Natural therapies and homeopathics
ARMM have been reading and publishing articles about the practices of overseas raw milk dairies since the start of 2015. We have seen many examples and testimonies about farmers who have successfully incorporated alternative natural therapies for a wide variety of animal ailments. We make no recommendations in this section but we do want to show that others have been able to get great results. The animals in many international RDM systems tend to be very healthy and disease-resistant because many are 100% pasture-raised on grass and hay. Some natural therapies seem to be capable of making a big difference for these animals.
Farming Secrets is an Australian website that sells a DVD titled Homoeopath Saves Farmers Time & Money Spent On Animals. Ron and Bev Smith's farm in South Gippsland is the result of over 20 years of careful observation and tuning in to the needs of their animals and their soil. According to the page they are "early adoptees of natural practices, they are a shining example for fellow farmers of how to farm healthily, naturally, simply, profitably and happily".
Multi-species raw dairy
Raw goat milk is legal to sell in four Australian states: Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. There are a few well-established dairies who are doing very well. We are concerned about the fact that no RDM from other species are allowed. If farmers can demonstrate that they are providing camels, goats, cows, buffalo or sheep with the appropriate food that contributes to the healthiest state possible, then there is no reason to discriminate between species. Victoria and Tasmania do not allow the sale of RDM from any species, despite the other states not experiencing any concerns with goat raw milk supply. There is no sound reason to believe that the farmers or dairy regulators in the states that don't allow raw milk, are less capable than their interstate counterparts.
Another anomaly is that Standard 4.2.4 of the regulations allow the sale of soft raw milk cheeses from all species, but doesn't allow for the sale of other raw dairy products. Raw cheesemakers in Australia are already producing raw milk cheese from cows, goats, sheep and it is understood that buffalo is in the pipeline. We have yet to add camel milk to the list. This cheese can only be produced safely if the raw milk was safe in the first place. There is no scientific reason why this milk could not have been sold as RDM.
Information from the Food Standards Agency in the UK show that in January 2018:
- 139 producers were registered to produce raw drinking milk from cows,
- 27 from goats,
- 3 from sheep and
- 2 from buffalo.
See this article for more information. Many US states with raw milk regulation also allow multi-species and we can provide more information about those dairies on request. In Germany there are about 30 mare's milk producers and more scattered around Europe. That is milk from a horse. Siegfried Dörge has a farm outside Berlin. He follows the same German regulations for producing certified raw mare's milk as he does for raw milk from cows, goats and sheep.
Latest Australian research say high temperatures and humidity are prompting questions about farm animal's production, along with their welfare. AgResearch scientist Dr. Karin Schutz says when the animal starts to drool and open-mouth pant, it’s a sign it is in distress from the heat. Research show cow prefer shade to sprinklers. They can determine for themselves which shade provides more shelter from the rays of the sun. The will naturally seek out 'micro-climates' in the shade or close to water. They also stand upright more to allow air circulation around the body.
According to the Cool Cows website cows eat 10-20% less when air temperature is more than 26'C and can drink double the normal intake of water which can be 200-250 litres per day. A heat stressed cow makes less milk for one to two days afterwards. If she’s heat stressed for two days in a row, milk production can be affected for a fortnight. If water is not available, cows will reduce feed intake, thus negatively impacting their rate of gain and causing potential health risks.
Stress can cause the suppression of the animal's immunity thus allowing bacterial or viral diseases to show up in a variety of ways. A stressed cow can produce more pathogens in its manure so it is a good risk reduction to make sure the physical need for shade and water are taken care of with good management. The Farm and Land Conditions risk category explores why introducing more trees is beneficial for the RDM herd. Do not underestimate cattle's need for protection from the rays of the sun. Trees are a perfect solution.
Below zero temperatures
The occasional cold spell in Australia can also pose risks to the operation. Hypothermia and frostbite are directly related to frigid temperatures. Hypothermia occurs when the animal's body temperature drops well below normal levels. Frostbite most often affects teats, ears and testicles. It can help to ensure that the animals are in North East facing paddocks in the morning to benefit from the warming rays of the sun. It is good practise to provide adequate clean shelter areas at times of severe weather events.
Animal performance in different systems
Raw dairies don't push cows to produce beyond their limits because they need the animals to be very healthy as the number one priority. Grass-fed cows in healthy regenerative systems can be expected to provide milk for 9 - 10 lactations. In contrast, some sizeable commercial dairy herds can dispose of a cow after her second lactation at around 36 months of age. According to this European documentary titled Too much Milk in Europe, in the 'old days' a dairy cow would give milk for 15 - 20 years (1955) and now the 'turbo cow', the typical black and white holstein, is ready for the slaughterhouse in 4 - 5 years (2017). It, therefore, makes a lot of financial and common sense to put animal health and wellbeing before profit. The advantages of animal welfare include reduced mortality, less disease, improved fertility, product quality, food safety and farmer contentment. Farmers in ethical food production systems are more understanding of the needs of the animals and how to manage their instincts and comfort to increase health and wellbeing. When animals live long lives in humane systems; it means fewer risks for farmers because they get to build a good relationship with the existing herd.
Perceptions on the health of cows in large industrial systems
Farmers are allowed to drink their milk in Australia if they own the animal. There may be many dairy farmers who desire to convert to producing RDM, but there are concerns about the health of cows who have been part of large industrial systems.
Generations ago Australian dairy cows consumed only natural pasture. Farms had good pastures, the herd was smaller, and the pressures were less. The common feeds of today and their risks, as explored in the Feed risk category did not exist. Today we have a very different scenario with the feeding of all sorts of weird and cheap 'food' that may encourage pathogen proliferation, health problems or immune system challenges. If farmers don't test for microbes in their milk, how can they be sure what is in the milk? There are two kinds of raw milk, and on the opposite ends of the spectrum, the milk is produced very differently. The expectations and outcome are also very different for each.
Some industrial dairy farmers may experience shock when reading the 11 categories of risk in the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program. Some long-held beliefs may be severely challenged or even shattered. Australian soil scientist Dr. Christine Jones work with farmers every day and acknowledges that it is hard for farmers to change deeply-held beliefs. We can also respect and be compassionate about this.
We need dairy farmers to go through the 11 risk categories slowly and allow themselves to open up their perception to new ideas. Some cows may not be suitable to produce RDM. They may need some time on remineralised pasture in order to encourage a large amount of good rumen microorganisms to dominate and crowd out pathogens. In the Farm and land category, Dr Elaine Ingham shows that it doesn't have to take a long time to remineralise pasture. The use of her compost tea to restore microbes to the soil, can achieve some good root growth in a matter of weeks. Within a few short months there may be significant visible changes in pastures as grass varieties, clovers and other diverse plant species return to provide minerals and trace elements to the plants, and then to the animals.
Only the healthiest pasture-raised animals will do for the RDM system in a risk averse Australia. Farmers need to learn about the risks that feed supplied to dairy cows in industrial systems, can pose to cows producing RDM, see the Feed category.
Trace Elements for Pastures and Animals in Victoria - Agriculture Victoria