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Stackyard News Oct 07

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Lameness Lower on Organic Dairy Farms

An SAC study has shown that the incidence of lameness is lower on organic dairy farms compared to non-organic farms. The lower incidence was associated with longer periods that the cows spent at grass and the higher age at which they first calve. The levels of hock lesions was also lower on organic farms.

friesian cow

The three-year study was sponsored by Defra at a cost of £300,000 and ran from 2003 to 2007. SAC was supported in the design of the project and in farmer recruitment by The Soil Association, Kingshay Farming Trust, OMSCo, the Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics Research Unit (VEERU) at Reading University and the Royal Agricultural College. The study compared forty organic farms and forty non- organic farms across Great Britain, and assessed lameness, mastitis, ketosis, somatic cell counts, fertility and cow behaviour.

Other than foot and leg health, there was little difference between the health and welfare of Holstein Friesian dairy cows on organic and non-organic dairy farms. Organic farms have restrictions on the use of veterinary medicines and use of concentrate feed, but this does not appear to affect most aspects of health and welfare in the cows. There was more competition for fresh feed amongst cows on organic farms with open feed-faces, indicating that they may be hungrier. However, there was no other evidence that organic cows might be nutritionally compromised, as there were no differences between organic and non-organic farms in the levels of ketosis or in cow body condition.

Farmers on the organic farms reported treating fewer cases of mastitis, but they also reported that they would often wait to see if a case would resolve itself, rather than treating immediately, which was the most common practice on the non-organic farms. The study also compared levels of somatic cell count, calving interval, cow cleanliness, internal parasites and behaviour, but few differences were found.

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