U of M Leads $1.4 Million Project to Advance Animal Health on Organic Dairy Farms

October 6, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL — The University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences have received a $1.4 million collaborative grant to develop novel animal health care practices for organic dairy farms. The U of M researchers are leading the collaboration with veterinary researchers from the University of Colorado, Iowa State University and The Ohio State Veterinary Colleges.
The $1.4 million grant is sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (USDA-OREI 2016-51300-25734).

The collaborative effort, led by Ulrike Sorge, D.V.M, M.S., Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Bradley Heins, M.S., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Animal Science, will generate new data about effective preventive and curative animal care practices and build an online resource for veterinarians about effective alternative treatment.

Sorge explained the basis for these research projects: “Veterinarians need evidence-based therapies to ensure animal welfare and an unadulterated food supply. Unfortunately, good data about the efficacy or withhold times of alternative therapies is often not easy to find.”  
During this 3-year research project, the team will evaluate alternative therapies and prevention strategies for common cattle diseases on several large organic dairy farms in Colorado and New Mexico, as well as at the West Central Outreach and Research Center in Morris, Minnesota. The collaborative effort will assess innovative, preventive and curative approaches for mastitis, lameness, reproductive disorders, calf health and fly management under field conditions on organic dairies across the nation.
Upon completion of the trials, organic dairy farms in the Upper Midwest will test the feasibility of interventions on smaller farms and will serve as demonstration sites to their peers. Parallel to the on-farm research efforts, an extensive literature search will be conducted to evaluate existing information. Data about alternative therapies and treatment protocols will be made available to veterinarians in a searchable online database. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners strongly supports the project and called the database an “exceptionally valuable resource” for its members.
"One of the most frequent questions I get is in regards to organic dairy herd health," said Heins. “Organic producers and veterinarians across the United States have repeatedly expressed the need for evidence-based preventative care when it comes to treating organic dairy animals."
Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of agriculture in the United States and the University of Minnesota has a proven track record of strong commitment to organic agriculture. It has 700 acres of organically certified land and an organically certified dairy herd at the West Central Research and Outreach Station in Morris.  The organic dairy herd milks on average 125 cows and is the largest of its kind among land grant universities in the U.S. This is the second USDA-OREI project that Heins has received from USDA-OREI. The previous $1.9 million grant also aimed to provide more information to ensure animal health and well-being on organic farms in the Upper Midwest.