9 , 2004: Here at long last is a comprehensive resource
book for farmers and veterinarians alike on the treatment
of health problems in dairy cattle, from an organic perspective.
The author is a practicing vet in Lancaster County, PA, where
60 of his 90 client dairy farms are certified organic. The
book contains a wealth of information drawing from homeopathic,
herbal and conventional methods, among others. There’s
also plenty of straightforward advice on nutrition and good
general management practices.
As indicated by the book’s title, Dr. Karreman’s
“thoughts” figure almost as prominently as his
“strategies”, and this is by no means a weakness!
He opens the book with discussions on the different approaches
to dairy farming, contrasting the low-input grass-based methods
favored by most organic farmers with the high-input, grain-based
approach common on conventional dairies. From the start, he
shows his holistic stripes by discussing not just the fact
that well-managed grazing cattle are healthier than their
confined sisters, but that grass-based farms confer social
benefits in terms of more sustainable use of resources (less
reliance on the oil industry for growing grain) and a family-friendly
as opposed to cheap labor-reliant infrastructure. There is
a section on grazing basics, sprinkled with the author’s
insights on certain grazing practices as they relate to cow
health and environmental quality.
Next comes a discussion on certified organic dairying, and
I, for one, am delighted with the author’s balanced
treatment of this subject. He takes a look at some of the
advantages of going organic before stepping firmly on his
well-earned soapbox to expound upon the “health care
dilemmas” of certified organic dairies, particularly
under the new rules of the National Organic Program. Simply
put, when a certified organic cow gets sick (believe it or
not, this happens!), the natural therapies allowed for organic
producers can often be effective. BUT, in some cases, a cow
can be so completely overwhelmed by an acute illness that
to refrain from using the organic-prohibited conventional
drugs would likely lead to permanent injury or death. Dr.
Karreman explains that although the NOP directs certified
farmers and their vets to take such emergency measures when
needed, there is virtually zero incentive to do so, because
once the cow has received that antibiotic, she may never produce
organic milk on that farm ever again. She must be sold. (Before
the NOP took effect, there were very long withdrawal times
for dairy cows that received certain drugs – up to a
year – but at least a farmer could hold onto a very
special cow if he chose to.) He points out that the total
ban on antibiotics was a consumer-driven change, but he believes
that if consumers were to stand there in the barn along with
vet, farmer, and suffering animal, many consumers would reconsider
the cow’s mandatory permanent banishment from the herd.
The chapters listing particular disorders toward the end
of the book are worth their weight in gold. Even a beginner
with little time can look up a specific concern and understand
what the condition means as well as the options for treating
it. I was impressed by the thoroughness of this section, which
contains everything from calving to flies to immunizations.
Several relatively obscure disorders that I have seen in practice
but never had occasion to read about are discussed here as
well. Likely they are not written about in mainstream farm
journals (which are sent “free” to farmers because
they are bought through advertising) because there is no lucrative
cure to sell. Even farmers with no intention of “going
organic” can benefit from this book.
While most of the book is geared toward farmers, there are
some in-depth sections on homeopathy and herbs, which strike
me as more for an advanced practitioner. It is, in fact, a
book I plan to lend to my conventionally trained vet, if I
think I can do without it for a month! For new family cow
owners, this book is an excellent resource, but doesn’t
replace the Grohman or Van Loon books and the help of an experienced
neighbor. As far as readability goes, if phrases like “displaced
abomasums”, “toxic metritis”, and “hypertonic
saline” leave you without a clue, it could be a challenge
to slog through this one. On the other hand, for those of
us with ten or twenty vivid memories about every kind of illness
mentioned, this book (with its detailed descriptions of all
manner of odors and discharges) does emphatically not make
good mealtime reading!!
Dr. Karreman ends the book with a short discussion on the
production and regulation of raw milk. He remains balanced
and reasonable as always, neither overlooking the dangers
of poorly produced raw milk, nor throwing the proverbial baby
out with the bathwater. He proposes a new set of standards,
like the organic standards, which could be used to identify
“Pure Milk” as a nutritionally superior product.
“Pure Milk” would have to pass multiple tests
of its bacteriological quality, similar to what is done in
most raw milk licensing states, but that’s not all.
“Pure Milk” proponents also recommend annual testing
of the whole herd for a number of communicable diseases, more
extensive water quality tests, and a minimal amount of grain
fed, to list just a few items. It is good to see a vet whose
vision of health encompasses not just the animal being treated,
but also the wider society of people who reap the benefits
(or detriments) of that animal’s health.
So there you have it, three thumbs up for Treating Dairy
Cows Naturally. Unless I missed something big, this book is
by far the best of its kind yet published. So much information,
perhaps a bit chaotically organized, but the index works fine.
Dr. Karreman is not married to the dogma of any one school
of medicine or farming but makes use of sound reasoning and
considerable expertise to help the farmer choose a wise course
of treatment. That’s just the vet I’d want to
have beside me in the barn.
Gina Robinson is a dairy farmer in Hardwick, Massachusetts,
and a member of the NOFA/Mass Raw Milk Campaign.