Are organic dairy farm cows healthier and happier than conventional dairy farm cows?

CORNELL (US)—As demand for organic dairy grows, a team of researchers is asking: Are those grass-grazing cows healthier than their grain-fed counterparts?

The $1 million project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture will explore the health and well being of dairy cows on organic dairy farms. The four-year investigation will unfold on 300 dairy farms in Wisconsin, New York, and Oregon—200 of which are organic, with the remaining operating as conventional dairy farms.

“This is one of the largest, if not the largest applied research project on organic milk production on U.S. dairy farms,” says Linda Tikofsky a co-principal investigator and senior extension associate at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “The study allows for a comparison between conventional dairy farms and organic farms and will provide enough information to look at herd factors within the organic farms that are associated with disease and well being. An important part of the project is to provide feedback in the form of benchmarking to the farmers, both conventional and organic, who participate in the study.”

Organically managed farms graze their cows during the grazing season and do not use antibiotics, pesticides, or hormones in their day-to-day management of cows and calves. One of the potential consequences of the pledge not to use these registered animal treatments is a potential problem with the cows’ health and welfare.

Scientists from Cornell, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oregon State University, and the Organic Centre in Oregon are involved in the project.

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