Organic farms tend to let calves nurse longer, study shows
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Milk production in organic dairy herds averages 31 percent less than in conventional herds, according to a new study.
"This is probably related to feeding management more than anything else," said Mike Gamroth, an Oregon State University College of Animal Sciences professor.
Organic producers use about half the grain conventional producers use, he said.
Gamroth's report was based on results of a three-year study that involved dairy producers from Oregon, Wisconsin and New York. The study was conducted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Cornell University and OSU.
Researchers used a nearly $1 million grant from the USDA's Integrated Organic Program to collect and analyze the data, Gamroth said.
The study also showed organic dairy producers average less than one cow per acre, compared to more than two cows per acre for conventional producers.
"There is a significant difference in the amount of land set aside for grazing on organic farms," Gamroth said.
The study showed that organic producers generally were satisfied with disease treatments, except when it came to infectious diseases, like pneumonia.
"Then there was an expression that: 'We need a little help. Our calves don't get out of this easily.' Or: 'Our cows don't recover well. We need better pneumonia treatments,'" Gamroth said.
The study also showed organic producers tend to allow calves to nurse longer than conventional producers.
"Age of weaning was older in organic calves, because what is your option? A fairly expensive starter-drink mix," Gamroth said.
"So, yeah, the milk is expensive, but they like to get them off to a good start and let them go further," Gamroth said.
The study also showed organic herds had more cross-bred cows and fewer Holsteins than conventional producers.
Gamroth's report was one of several research updates provided to dairy producers at the Oregon Dairy Farmers annual convention, Feb. 20-21 in Salem.
Aurora Villarroel, OSU Extension veterinarian, advised producers to watch cows for signs of lameness and keep records.
Lameness is the third leading reason for culling cows.
"You need to know what is in your farm so you can tackle it, and the way to know is through records," she said.