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.
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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