Thursday, August 27, 2020

Hey, Doc, waddaya got for Mastitis?

“Hey, Doc, waddaya got for mastitis?” is a question posed by dairymen everywhere. I wish I had a good answer. Treatments range from frequent stripping out of the udder to the newest antibiotic or immune stimulant. Fortunately, many treatments are successful. But some treatments only suppress the symptoms and when the effect of the treatment wears off the symptoms return with a vengeance. Unfortunately, any success with treatment often interferes with the need or desire to address the actual cause of the problems. Holistic veterinary medicine may have some insights into this problem, insights that are often overlooked by today’s dairymen.

I think holistic practitioners approach problems with a different mindset. They try to look beyond the immediate symptoms and look for and remove any predisposing cause or causes. They view the patient not only as an individual but also as a part of the ecosystem in which it lives. Finally, a true holistic practitioner will emphasize holistic animal health management (proactive) in addition to just treating the symptoms (reactive), whether the treatment is holistic or conventional. All dairies have constraints imposed on them by natural principles and the innate nature of the cow. One can either manage according to these principles and enhance animal health and profit or disregard these principles and reap the consequences of impaired herd health. Holistic vet medicine is not about new, high technology or old, low technology, but it is about appropriate technology. It is definitely not the conventional system, minus the drugs, nor is it just the replacement of a conventional treatment with a natural remedy.

Let me give you an actual example. I recently received a phone call from a veterinarian who has been working with an organic herd that has a mastitis and high SCC problem. Milk cultures consistently revealed strep bacteria. Since this was an organic herd his treatment options were limited. He had tried various treatments including herbs, tinctures, homeopathy and colostrum whey products … all had little effect. He had consulted with an “organic” vet at a university and received the standard conventional recommendations; identify the problem animals, milk them last, sell the really bad ones and treat the rest with whatever their certifier allows. Good advice, but only a Band-aid. It manages the symptoms but not the cause. As our conversation proceeded, I asked him a couple of questions .
  • Have you checked for stray voltage?
  • How long after prepping begins are the units attached?
He had not checked those items but he did his homework and later reported that their electrician did not find any stray voltage. However, he had timed the interval between initial prepping and putting on the units to be somewhat over 4 minutes … way too long!

Most good dairymen know how important it is to properly prep cows. The best stimulus to the "let-down" reflex mimics the suckling of the offspring … warmth, moisture, some pressure or massage, and removing milk. When these or similar stimuli are applied as the cow is being prepared for milking, oxytocin is released. Within about a minute, myo-epithelial cells surrounding the alveoli contract, thus forcing milk out into the duct system. If milking is delayed much past one minute oxytocin begins to clear the system and the oxytocin reflex does not proceed to completion. If one does not "prep" adequately and does not begin milking within one minute, milk yield decreases and "residual milk" increases. As a general rule, anything that interferes with the initiation or completion of the oxytocin reflex results in excess residual milk in the udder. Residual milk is not milk that could be removed by extra stripping but milk that has not been fully expressed from the alveoli.

Residual milk provides an ideal medium for the growth of bacteria. If culturing reveals, streptococcus as the predominant bacteria there are two main areas that need to be checked … stray voltage and improper milking procedures especially prep time.

If there is stray voltage present and the cow anticipates getting shocked when she enters the milking area or when the units are attached she will be stressed and fearful. The resulting release of adrenalin interferes with the initiation of the oxytocin reflex, the animal does not ‘let-down” her milk, production goes down and residual milk is increased. If cows are jumpy in the barn or have a high incidence of strep mastitis it is wise to check for stray voltage. If you can measure it, then take steps to get rid of it. The results will speak for themselves.

If milking procedures are not choreographed to insure that milking units are attached to the cow and taking away milk within about 60 seconds after the start of prepping the oxytocin reflex will be impaired, residual milk will increase and thus ‘open the door’ for strep mastitis.

Here’s another example. An older couple was milking cows in a double 12 parlor that had been built when the kids were helping with the dairy. The kids were now gone and the dairyman fed and cared for the cows and his wife did the milking. They were plagued with strep mastitis. They had tried a multitude of antibiotics and many natural products without much success. I visited the dairy at milking time and watched the milking routine. With only one person milking they would load only one side of the parlor with 12 cows. Then this wonderfully meticulous lady would thoroughly wash and prep all 12 cows before attaching the unit to the first cow prepped … about 12 minutes later. I was able, after a time, to convince her to adjust her routine so that each cow had a unit attached in about 60 seconds after prep started. In only a few days their strep problem was much abated.

Many factors are involved in managing and treating mastitis. In the above instance the overriding predisposing cause was failure to understand and conform to the basic physiological makeup of the cow. When that was corrected the problem corrected itself. In addition to the most obvious predisposing factors, we also need to consider anything that puts the animals under stress or depresses the immune system. No treatment will be really effective until the cause is removed or reduced.

“So, Doc, waddaya got for mastitis?” Oddly enough, if the cause of the problem has been removed, the same natural therapies that did not work before will probably now be effective. Colostrum whey products, acupuncture, tinctures, herbs and homeopathy are all effective when applied by knowledgeable practitioners in herds reasonably free from stress.

The thoughts expressed here are my opinions based on almost 50 years of experience in veterinary medicine, both as a conventional veterinary practitioner and as a holistic dairy consultant. I know some folks will disagree. That is their privilege. I only try to explore options from a holistic mindset and then look for confirmation from the real experts … in this case the animals in our charge. If we are attentive in our observations and interpret what we see with a holistic mindset we can learn a lot from cows. And always remember,
“No problem can be solved until all it’s causes are understood.”

Originally printed in the June 2007 issue of the Progressive Dairyman. Used here by permission.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Adaptation Curve

On one of our recent trips, we drove past a large confinement dairy. My wife, Ruth, opined that those poor cows probably never had the chance to eat grass in a pasture. She was correct. Organic dairies require some access to pasture but others do not. Some dairy cattle can spent their entire short lives eating only the ration prepared for them.

It’s a funny thing, though, if cows that have never grazed are suddenly turned out on pasture, they generally do not do well — at least for a while. The cows have to go through what Dr. Provenza calls an “adaptation curve” — a variable time period of higher stress and lowered productivity while they adjust to the new situation. In other words, it takes a while for them to learn how to eat grass.

I believe recognizing adaptation curves is an essential part of a holistic outlook. Here are a couple of examples.

Feed flavors derived from what Mom eats are present in the amnionic fluid surrounding unborn calves and in the colostrum milk consumed by newborn calves. Newborn calves are slow to eat feeds that do not match these previously encountered flavors. If a dairyman wants to get his baby calves off to a good start, he should make sure the mother cow’s ration in late pregnancy contains some of the ingredients - feed flavors - that will be present in the ration first offered to the calves. This avoids the unwanted effects of the adaption curve.

Individual cows and groups of cattle that are moved from one farm to another experience an adaptation curve. The stress of moving can exacerbate dormant health and production problems. Anticipation of these effects and timely remedial action can be of great benefit.

This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc Holliday's blog on June 4, 2016

Monday, August 17, 2020


In 1951 I had the good fortune to study the rudiments of soil science at the University of Missouri under the late Dr. William Albrecht. I must confess that at the time I took his course, I did not fully appreciate the correlation between soil fertility and animal health. I wanted to get on with the real veterinarian’s job of treating sick animals. It was only after I had completed my animal disease education in Veterinary school and began to receive my animal health education from some dedicated “organic farmer” clients that I came back to Albrecht’s work and finally began to understand his wisdom.

His book “Soil Fertility and Animal Health” 1 is still a classic, and should be required reading for anyone aspiring to be a holistic herdsman. As one could guess from the title, his premise is that it takes a fertile healthy soil to grow healthy nutritious crops to sustain healthy productive animals or people. Incidentally, soil vitality and crop or feed vitality, as well as animal vitality can be plotted on the “Vitality Chart” discussed in the previous issue.
Stated another way, an animal can only be as healthy as the feed it eats and the feed can only be as healthy as the soil upon which it was grown and the soil to be healthy must be highly fertile and biologically active. Within the broad framework of this concept, in this article I would like to illustrate four main points.
  • Good nutrition can prevent disease.
  • Good nutrition can cure disease.
  • Nature is a better judge of nutrition than nutritionists.
  • Healthy production is the most profitable.

Good nutrition can prevent disease
.. most of the time, but not always!

Another candidate for a required reading list is the book “An Agricultural Testament” by Sir Albert Howard, published in 1940.2 Sir Albert was formerly the Director of the Institute of Plant Industry in Indore, India and the British Agricultural Advisor to States in Central India and Pajutana. This book is the summation of decades of his work to improve soil fertility and plant and animal health by composting agricultural residues and returning them to the soil. It is also reputed to be one of the sparks that inspired J. I. Rodale to begin publication of the great magazine “Organic Gardening and Farming”.
Most of this work is related to soil fertility and the intricacies of composting, but I would like to quote one paragraph that forever changed the way I looked at animal health and disease.

My work animals were most carefully selected and everything was done to provide them with suitable housing and with fresh green fodder, silage, and grain, all produced from fertile land. I was naturally intensely interested in watching the reaction of these well-chosen and well-fed oxen to diseases like rinderpest, septicaemia, and foot-and-mouth disease which frequently devastated the countryside. None of my animals were segregated; none were inoculated; they frequently came in contact with diseased stock. As my small farm-yard as Pusa was only separated by a low hedge from one of the large cattle-sheds on the Pusa estate, in which outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease often occurred, I have several time seen my oxen rubbing noses with foot-and-mouth cases. Nothing happened. The healthy well-fed animals reacted to this disease exactly as suitable varieties of crops, when properly grown, did to insect and fungus pest -- no infection took place.”

Once my mind was opened to the possibility that good nutrition could prevent disease I found evidence of it almost every place I looked.

Good nutrition can cure disease
... often but not always!

Eugene M. Poirot wrote a book in 1950 called “Our Margin of Life”. 3 This book details his experiences in the restoration of soils and the health benefits to animals when fed crops grown on high vitality soils. His son-in-law, a veterinarian who practiced in the same town as I did, confirmed the accuracy of this account, here quoted from Poirot's book.
"Once Bang's disease, which causes abortion, was so serious, and the blood test showed so high a percentage of infected cows, that the entire herd was threatened with liquidation. Fourteen years later, another test of all animals, including both the old infected cows and their offspring, more than four hundred head, failed to show a single reactor or suspect. When Bang's disease is transmitted to humans by cows or their products it is called undulant fever. In this case it was controlled at the soil level in some yet unknown way, long before it had a chance to reach a human as undulant fever.
A significant part of this story is that early in the restoration period this disease was eradicated by blood-testing cows and selling all reactors and suspects. The herd was clean for a period of three years. Then the infection hit again in January, when an immediate blood test disclosed only six head of reactors or suspects. These were sold at once, but by June the infection had reached eighty percent of the cows!
So none were sold, and soil restoration was continued. In two years calf crops became normal again.
Later, blood testing became required by law, but no reactors or suspects were found in any of the tests, nor has the disease reappeared after thirty-five years, even though all animals are offspring of infected cows, born on once infected pastures and living in an area where Bang's disease was present on other farms before blood testing eradicated it.
I don't know how to "cure" these many diseases - but Mother Nature does. That is why I like to give her the "tools" and keep her on my side."

Nature is a better judge
of nutrition than nutritionists
... if the proper choices are available!

My good friend and client Carl lived down the highway about 3 miles from our home. He was a good farmer and dairyman who milked about 30 cows. My vet calls to his place were mostly for routine jobs like dehorning or vaccinating with an occasional milk fever or dystocia. His cows were well cared for and healthy. For many years he supplied our family with fresh milk right from the bulk tank. One year inclement weather made planting and harvesting hay and grain crops a great gamble with the result that feedstuffs that fall and winter looked good but had low nutritional value. By late winter Carl consulted me with two seemingly unrelated problems. One, his cattle were eating almost 2 pounds of a mixed mineral per head per day! Two, about 10 days before they were due to calve, his heifers would abort a live calf. The calf, with some care, would live, but in spite of all we could do the heifer would die within two or three days. After the third one in a row had died, I did what every smart vet would do ... I passed the buck and sent a dying heifer to the University Vet School for autopsy. Their diagnosis came back as starvation! Carl took good care of his animals and was feeding them almost all they could eat. This diagnosis was like an insult to Carl and difficult for either of us to accept. We could have accepted a diagnosis of malnutrition because of the poor crops that year but starvation seemed a little too harsh.
We then turned our attention to the mineral consumption problem. Available in that area at that time was a “cafeteria” mineral program in which each mineral was fed separately on the theory that each animal could then eat only what it needed to balance it’s own needs. Carl decided to try this program. His mineral feeder was in the middle of his cow lot and he had to carry each bag of mineral through the lot to empty into the feeder. Things went well for the first few trips and then suddenly several of the normally docile cows suddenly surrounded him, tore a bag of mineral from his arms. chewed open the bag and greedily consumed every bit of the mineral, the bag and even some mud and muck where the mineral had spilled out ... astounding behavior for a bunch of tame dairy cows!

What was in the bag, you ask? … a source of the trace mineral, zinc. During the next several days they ate several bags of this zinc source while completely ignoring all other minerals. Gradually they began eating normal amounts of the regular mineral. From that day on his heifers calved normally and things gradually returned to normal.
Apparently, the difficult growing season had resulted in crops that were deficient in zinc or perhaps high in zinc antagonists. The basic mineral mix had a small amount of zinc in it but to get the zinc they needed, they had to consume large amounts. This gave them too much calcium. Calcium interferes with zinc absorption, which in turn increased their need for zinc. Even though their quest for zinc impelled them to eat the mixed mineral, every mouthful they took increased the imbalance. Inevitably, symptoms began to show up in the most vulnerable group ... young heifers, still growing and in the last stages of pregnancy. Finally they just gave up and checked out ... all for want of a few grams of zinc. The decrease in feed conversion associated with zinc deficiencies coupled with the poor quality feed would result in malnutrition even when feed intake appeared to be adequate. I realize that other secondary factors may have been involved here, but the main factor was a zinc deficiency as evidenced by the remission of symptoms when zinc was supplied. (See "Zinc" side bar).
Carl had done as good a job as he could with the knowledge that was available at the time. When the essential ingredients were finally provided so that the animals could make their own choice, they picked out what they needed to regain their health. For me this incident epitomizes the concept that, given the chance, animals can balance rations better than computers or nutritionists can.
Many nutritionists tend to discount the ability of animals to balance their ration, asserting that by the time they feel the need to eat a certain item they are already in a deficient state. From their point of view, I suppose they have a point. The fallacy in their reasoning may be that they expect the animal to choose for the level of production that man desires while the animal chooses only what it needs to be healthy.
Healthy production is the most the long-term,
if not in the short-term!
Many years ago I was associated with a feed company that formulated and sold premixes for dairy cattle. It was a good feed, based on “natural” ingredients and principles. Many of the users commented on the superb health experienced by the animals on this program ... better reproduction, less mastitis, low cull rate. healthy calves, low vet bills etc.

The down side was that production, although profitable, did not reach the high levels they had come to expect when feeding a more “conventional” ration designed mainly to increase production. Many dairymen who switched to such a feeding program often saw their production increase dramatically.
Unfortunately, in most of these cases, it wasn’t very long and problems began creeping back into the herd ... cows didn’t come in heat like they should, conception rate when down. There were more cases of mastitis, calves didn’t do as well, vet expense increased, more cows began leaving the herd for health reasons. Eventually even production began to slide. The short-term higher production had been gained only at the long-term expense of lowered herd health, proving that old saying “there is no free lunch”.
There does seem to be a level at which animals can maintain health and have profitable production. The animals on the “natural” feeding program had achieved this happy state and the overall financial benefit associated with good health more than overcame the lower production and slightly higher feed costs. When a herd like this is switched to a “conventional” program concerned mostly with high production the increased production and slightly lower feed costs usually do not make up for the increased costs of poor health.
See everything you look at!
The above experiences, along with many others, confirmed for me what Dr. Albrecht, Sir Albert and Mr. Poirot had discovered years before. Building on the foundation they had provided, I subsequently learned a lot about nutrition and animal health just by paying attention to what animals ate and the effects on their health. You, too, can prove these things to yourself, by doing the same thing. I remember Dr. Albrecht saying, “Study books and observe nature, if nature and the books do not agree, throw away the books.” I agree.

1. Albrecht, Dr. William Albrecht,  Soil Fertility and Animal Health. Fred Hahne Printing Company. Webster City, Iowa. 1958, Has been reprinted as Volume 2 of a 4 volume set, "The Albrecht Papers", available from ACRES U.S.A., P.O. Box 8800, Metairie, LA. USA (505) 889 2100.
2. Howard, Sir Albert, An Agricultural Testament. Oxford University Press 1940
3. Poirot, Eugene M. Our Margin of Life. Acres, U.S.A. Raytown, MO 1978

Stress (including parturition) appears to increase the zinc requirement of animals.
Zinc is required for the incorporation of cystine into keratin and thus plays an important role in maintaining hoof, horn and skin integrity.

Zinc plays an important role in wound healing, immune function and disease resistance. Some studies indicate that the first symptoms of a zinc deficiency is a decrease in immune function and a decrease in feed conversion.

Zinc plays a role in vitamin A transport and utilization and appears to play a role in vitamin E absorption. Reproductive performance after parturition improves with both zinc and vitamin E supplementation in late pregnancy.

High calcium and iron intake (including Ca and Fe in water). will increase the zinc requirement.
Deficiency symptoms may include general listlessness, poor growth, stiff joints and unthrifty appearance, hair loss, general dermatitis of head and neck and failure of wounds to heal properly.

Thursday, August 13, 2020


Almost everyone is aware of the basic management practices that are the the oundation of animal health in general and udder health in particular. In this article I would like to explore several often overlooked principles and procedures that have a strong influence on udder health.


Drying-off is a critical time for udder health and any extra care given at this time will pay big dividends throughout the next lactation. Prepare the cow for the stressful transition from lactating to non-lactating by using your favorite herbs, homeopathy preparation, colostrum products, acupuncture, or others to boost her immune system and help relieve stress.

After this period of preparation, just quit milking her. She must have a tight udder for about five days for her hormonal system to get the message to quit producing milk. Milking her out to relieve the pressure and discomfort before this time is up only prolongs the process.

After about five or six days, when the udder swelling begins to recede, sanitize the teats and milk out some milk. Normal appearing milk indicates a healthy udder. If this is the case, completely milk-out the udder, sanitize the teats and rejoice in the knowledge that for now at least the udder is healthy.

Occasionally at this time the milk will show abnormalities such as chunks, clots, watery, slimy, bloody streaks or anything that does not look like normal milk. In that event, milk out the udder, begin your treatment of choice and rejoice that you have discovered the problem before it gets worse. Continue the treatment, check the milk and strip out the udder every few days for as long as necessary to clear up the problem. If you let her go completely dry while she has an infection, she will almost certainly have the same problem when she freshens.

If drying-off was accomplished successfully, the next critical time for the udder begins about two weeks before freshening and continues until a week or so afterwards. When she begins to “bag-up“ and has a tight udder, sanitize her teats, milk out some milk and examine it. Early in the "bagging-up" phase, normal secretion will usually resemble a clear amber fluid somewhat like honey and progress from that to regular milk as she gets closer to calving;. If normal, be happy.

If the secretion is not normal … chunks, clots stringy, slimy or bloody … milk her out completely and begin your favorite treatment. Continue to milk her twice a day until she freshens. This "Pre-milking" procedure will save many udders that would normally be lost if the infection was allowed to go unchecked all the way to calving.

Colostrum is produced shortly before calving. Save the milk right before and after calving and give it to the calf. It will provide all the protection they need even though the volume will be less.

These procedures provide a way to check the status of the udder at key periods during the dry period and allow you to begin remedial action if and when a problem occurs. If you follow these procedures you will know 100 percent more about udder health than those that only infuse with antibiotics at dry-off and then wait until freshening to see if it worked or not.

The best stimulus to the "let-down" reflex mimics the suckling of the offspring … warmth, moisture, some pressure or massage, and removing milk. When these stimuli are applied as the cow is prepared for milking, oxytocin is released. Within a minute, myo-epithelial cells surrounding the alveoli contract, thus forcing milk out into the duct system. If milking is delayed past one minute oxytocin begins to clear the system and the let-down reflex does not proceed to completion. If one does not "prep" adequately and does not begin milking within one minute, milk yield decreases and "residual milk" increases. Residual milk makes great food for bacteria. The more you leave in, the higher the chance for infection. (see Streptococcus below)


One of the best way to evaluate udder health is routine culturing (bacteriologic examination) of milk from any animal either showing mastitis or lower than normal milk production. Over time, these reports will allow you to arrive at a herd profile of the type infection present. Results interpreted on a herd basis rather than on an individual basis are of great value in managing the herd for maximum health.

Culture reports will not be meaningful if the samples are contaminated. If the germ that ends up in the tube comes from your hand or from a teat that was not properly cleaned, you could be misled into thinking it was the organism causing your problem. Contaminated samples are worse than no sample at all. Results of culturing must always be correlated with symptoms. If an animal has been treated with antibiotics in the previous 10 to 14 days as the results will usually be negative.


Almost any bacteria can cause mastitis under certain circumstances, but most mastitis is caused by Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Escherichia coli and Enterobacter (Aerobacter) aerogenes. It is not known why at times these bacteria become virulent but stress is certainly a factor. If a high percentage of samples reveal the same pathogen, this is presumptive evidence of a cause and effect relationship between the pathogen and a specific environmental influence. These relationships are not absolute but they do provide clues about where to look first for answers. The following guidelines may help you match your problem to it’s cause.

STAPHYLOCOCCUS  bacteria have the ability to invade living tissue. Any physical damage, however slight, to body tissues opens the door for Staph infection. Of all the bacteria, Staph seems to have the greatest ability to quickly become resistant to antibiotics. Confirmation of this lies in the high incidence of post-surgical, antibiotic resistant, staph infections in humans. This condition is even known as ”a hospital staph infection”.

In dairy situations, two common causes of injured tissue that may lead to a Staph infection are improperly adjusted milking equipment and the use of irritating teat dips. Frostbite, stepped-on teats and other injuries may also be predisposing factors. Don’t overlook the possibility of trauma just because you milk by hand. Hard stripping or milking entirely by stripping with wet hands can also damage the teat lining and open the door for Staph infection.

If you have an ongoing problem with Staph infection, look for anything that causes injury to the teats or udder.

are not generally invasive but live on the surface of the udder tissue and in residual milk that is always present in varying amounts in the udder. Strep infection is generally seen when good milking techniques are lacking. It can also be associated with stray voltage or any other problem that interferes with milk let-down.

If you have an ongoing problem with Strep infection, look first for anything that interferes with “let-down”, “milk–out” or anything else that increases residual milk.

ESCHERICHIA COLI  … known as the manure bacteria … is found in all feces. Thus, mastitis caused by this bacteria is usually associated with unsanitary conditions. Some observations seem to indicate a higher incidence of E. coli when the ration contains excess protein, high levels of nitrates in feed or water or the addition of urea or other NPN’s to the ration. If you have an ongoing problem with E. coli infection, look for anything that causes unsanitary conditions and check the water for nitrates and the feed for nitrates or excess protein.

ENTEROBACTER  (formerly Aerobacter) aerogenes is often related to contaminated drinking water especially if animals have access to unsanitary water tanks, ponds, streams or puddles in the barnyard. If you have an ongoing problem with this infection, first check for the possibility of a contaminated water supply.

Some laboratories report E. Coli, Enterobacter and other Gram-negative simply as “coliforms”. If a culture report lists any of these, I would strongly suggest culturing the water if you have not already done so. If the water is contaminated, remedial action should be taken at once.

Corynebacterium mastitis is sometimes seen in herds that have a problem with abscesses.

After spending so much time on bacteria, I should point that it is a mistake to approach mastitis strictly as a bacterial problem. There is no question that bacteria are part of the problem, but I believe their role to be more of an effect rather than the actual cause.

Simplistic medical thought encourages us to treat the bacterial infection …the effect, while holistic principles would have us zero in on the cause, which is usually a stress induced immuno-suppression.

I question whether anything should ever be infused into the udder, except possibly as a last resort. Even under the most sanitary conditions, the risk of introducing pathogens into the udder far outweighs any anticipated benefit. If one must infuse the udder, use a blunt infusion cannula and only insert it about one-fourth inch (just past the teat sphincter). Inserting the cannula to the full depth … almost an inch in some cases … is known to cause internal damage to the teat lining. Never use an injection needle.

Also consider this, any foreign substance (honey, egg-whites, lactobacillus cultures, other folk remedies and antibiotics) introduced into the udder will act as an irritant and cause a non-specific inflammatory response (NSIP), with a concurrent increase in white blood cells. The common result is that the NSIP will sweep away any mild mastitis infections along with the foreign substance that originated the NSIP. I believe it is a mistake to speak of these irritants as “cures” when actually the relief from the symptoms of mastitis is a secondary effect of the body ridding itself of the foreign substance. This is not to say that these therapies are not often effective, but I believe it is helpful to know the actual mode of action and the great risk of causing a more severe infection.

One of the best ways to treat mastitis is to strip out the affected udder as often as you can … even as often as every 15 to 30 minutes if possible. This has the effect of removing bacteria and their toxins, reducing swellings and improving blood supply. You can augment this procedure with your favorite alternative immuno-stimulant such as homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture, refined colostrum antibodies, massage with warming liniments, hot or cold compresses, etc.

Whatever the nature of the treatment used, it will usually be unsuccessful until the adverse predisposing factors are removed. When that is accomplished the incidence of clinical mastitis and the need for treatment diminishes dramatically.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Evaluating Response to Treatment

An ocean storm had caused hundreds of starfish to be stranded on a beach where they would soon perish. A man walking on the beach would stop every few steps, pick up a starfish and fling it back out into the waves. His companion ridiculed his efforts and observed that statistically his puny efforts would make little if any difference to the starfish population as a whole. Undaunted, the man tossed
yet another starfish into the sea and replied; “It’ll make a big difference to this one!”

I believe this same attitude should apply when treating animals. Even though a negative statistical analysis of one alternative treatment modality may cause some to scoff at and demean all holistic endeavors … the fact remains, most of the time they work, and “It makes a big difference to that one!”

Research statistics aren’t really all that useful anyway. Most drug research is akin to insurance company actuary tables, which can project how many houses will burn down in a given time period and area but cannot tell you exactly which houses will be destroyed. In the same way, drug advertisement may tout a 60% effectiveness but only the response to treatment will tell you if your animals are in the 60% group or the 40% group. In my opinion, the only valid way to evaluate the success of any treatment is … did it work for you or didn't it.

I did not arrive at this pragmatic outlook in the sterile confines of a library, a laboratory or a classroom but in the rough and tumble arena of a general farm veterinary practice. Your success as a vet was judged on the basis of results … did the animals get better or did they not? If you were called to treat an animal and it got better the owner would probably consult you again should the need arise. If it did not get better, the next time they needed a vet they’d probably call some one else. It didn’t help at all to quote figures from the latest drug company research that indicated that the drug should have worked at least 60 percent of the time.

Then, as now, a plethora of veterinary drug salesmen called on veterinary clinics to offer the latest fruits of modern veterinary science … a new more powerful antibiotic, the broader spectrum vaccine, a better insecticide with fewer side effects. Being more gullible in my younger days, I fell for their sales pitch. Occasionally their products would perform as promoted and I would continue to use them. Unfortunately, a lot of the pharmaceuticals and vaccines were not consistently effective and many caused a variety of side effects guaranteed to make a practitioner look bad. Needless to say, these were seldom used again.

After a few years of less than optimum results with conventional medicine I began to take a closer look at alternative folk medicine as practiced by animal husbandmen for centuries. Some were out and out quackery … but many were based on years of sound empirical observation and made a lot of sense. As I cautiously began to use some of these old folk remedies in my practice I found that many of them worked as well or better than conventional treatments and were a lot less expensive.

Let me give you an example. A short time after I graduated from Vet school, a good friend called me about his mare. Her front legs were so grossly swollen from the knees down that they looked more like tree stumps than legs. Confidently, I opened my medicine bag of modern drugs and began treatment. I used antibiotics; I used anti-histamines; I used enzymes; I used steroids … alone and in every combination imaginable. I gave it all I had for over a week and nothing worked, if anything she got worse.

Finally we took her to the University Vet Clinic. One of my former instructors (one that I had always considered to be old-fashioned and outdated) was assigned to the case. He looked briefly at the mare and gave me a bottle of an old-time remedy, “Dr. X’s Leg Brace”. His instructions were, “Wet her legs down with this, and cover it with cotton batting and a leg wrap. Do it again in 24 hours, if you need to. She’ll be OK in a couple of days.”

As we were leaving, his good-natured parting shot to me was that I must have missed his class on the day he lectured on this condition.  Ouch!

So, as a last resort, I followed his instructions. By the next morning, only 12 hours later, the swelling had diminished so dramatically that the bandages had peeled off like a loose sock and were laying loose in the stall. I treated her one more time and she made a complete recovery.

What was in the medicine that worked after every modern pharmaceutical had failed? … Fluid extract of Belladona, witch hazel and glycerine in a base of rubbing alcohol.

To this day, I don’t know the cause of the swelling nor can I explain how or why the old remedy worked, but I do know this … “It made a big difference to that one!”

Critics might say, “Why, that stuff couldn’t have done anything, she probably recovered on her own.” or “The original drugs finally began to work.” To them, any possibility, no matter how far fetched, would be more acceptable than admitting that an old folk remedy had actually worked.

The truth is that conventional medical science today is not far enough advanced to critically evaluate most alternative treatments. Holistic modalities, by their very nature, cannot be analyzed or explained using conventional thinking. Unfortunately, many so called scientists disparage anything they cannot explain.

The bottom line is; whether animal or human, holistic or conventional; patient response is the only meaningful way to evaluate the efficacy of any treatment.


An old drug response rule-of-thumb states that 25% of recipients will show no response, 50% will show a beneficial result of one sort or another and the remaining 25% will show a greater than normal response (adverse reaction). Obviously, these percentages can vary considerably. Holistic therapy may show a marginally greater incidence of no response but compensate by having almost no side effects. Let’s take a closer look at the 5 possible outcomes of any treatment.

1. NO RESPONSE. It is rare for treatment to have absolutely no effect. I believe there is almost always some effect even though it may be so slight or subtle that it does not manifest itself by any observable change in the patient’s symptoms or condition.

2. SUPPRESSION OF SYMPTOMS. At first, this sudden cessation of symptoms may make the Doc or the drug look pretty good. The casual observer may even believe that a cure has taken place. However, in the long term, the patient fails to fully recover and other, more serious symptoms may appear later on. Some Vets may consider this new set of symptoms to be a separate condition but a holistic care giver recognizes them as an indication that the underlying problem has not been corrected but only covered up. Do not confuse suppression of symptoms with the diminution of symptom as true recovery takes place.

3. PALLIATION or ALLEVIATION is considered by some to be the most common response to treatment. The severity of the symptoms is reduced or abated, but only as long as treatment is continued. When the treatment "wears off" or is discontinued, the same old symptoms reappear. To maintain relief, it is often necessary to repeat the treatment at more frequent intervals and at higher doses. No cure takes place and the patient fails to do well overall. This response can be very costly to the owner but lucrative for the practitioner.

4. A COMPLETE CURE is the ultimate goal. When this does occur, the results are astonishing. The response is much more than can be explained merely by the removal of symptoms. Health, vitality and productivity are improved even in areas seemingly unrelated to the original condition. Even with this increased vitality, some symptoms may linger for awhile longer. Remember it takes time for a complete recovery to take place. Chronic disease doesn’t develop overnight nor does the body heal itself over night. When a complete cure does occur, the transformation in the vitality of the patient often exceeds all expectations.

5. ADVERSE REACTIONS or SIDE EFFECTS. Adverse drug reactions are common with modern pharmaceuticals and range from mild allergic reactions to anaphylactic shock and sudden death. More and more long term detrimental effects to individuals and the environment are also becoming apparent. According to a recent article in the Journal if the American Medical Association, adverse drug reactions are responsible for 140,000 human fatalities in the U.S. every year. If livestock owners continue to use modern drugs I would suggest that they obtain a supply of epinephrine from their Vet along with instructions on how to use it to treat drug reactions.

Adverse side effects from holistic medicines or procedures are uncommon. Those that do occur are mild and non-fatal, unless, of course, they are the result of gross negligence or ignorance.

Keep in mind that occasionally, what appear to be adverse side effects may occur as part of the normal healing process. Many times the recovering patient will go through a ‘healing crisis’ before complete recovery takes place. During this ‘crisis’ symptoms may intensify as the body begins to rid itself of toxins as healing progresses. An example of this is often seen when treating mastitis. As the udder begins to heal and the swelling recedes, the formerly dammed-off abnormal milk, pus and tissue debris is released. The sudden appearance of this “gargot” in previously normal looking milk causes the uninformed to think the mastitis is getting worse when in actuality it is only the body’s way of cleansing itself.


Practitioners of the healing arts need to be skilled in the use of a variety of therapies and sensitive enough to know which ones will best serve the needs of each individual patient. When making this choice it is also their responsibility to take into consideration the short term and long term effects on the patient, as well as the ultimate effects on the local and global environment.

The real challenge to a good practitioner is to know how to choose the treatment that will be of most benefit to each individual patient.

The real challenge to the owner is how to realistically evaluate the response to treatment.

For each of them, this is an art more than a science.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Hey, Doc, my cows are eating dirt. Waddya got for that?

     A few years ago, I posed this question at several dairy seminars in the Midwest: “Do your animals chew on wood or eat dirt if they have the chance?” A few said their cows would chew on wood. Almost all indicated their cows would eat dirt if available. One fellow said that he had to haul in dirt around the foundations of his buildings to replace the soil his cows had eaten over a period of years. Strangely enough, a few even told of their cows licking or drinking from urine puddles if they could get to them. As bad as that sounds, it is even more alarming when conventional opinion regards this eating behavior as being almost normal because it is so common. It’s the “everybody’s doing it, so it must be OK” syndrome. And it may be “normal” in the sense that it is appropriate, compensatory behavior for animals forced to subsist on a mineral deficient ration. Eating dirt and other abnormal appetites are attempts to secure some vital element or attain some nutritive balance that is not otherwise present in their diet. It should be considered a  signal that something is amiss in the ration.

      To examine the problem from a holistic viewpoint, let’s go back in time and look at the effect  of domestication on today’s dairy cattle. Most authorities agree that primitive cattle or Aurochs (Bos taurus primigenius) were first domesticated about 8000 years ago. Before domestication, cattle lived a lifestyle similar to that of bison in the American west. They were free to roam over wide, naturally fertile areas. Specific imbalances of soil in one area would be offset by excesses or adequacy of the same element in other areas. A multitude of different plants were available. Many plants had the ability to absorb and concentrate different minerals and trace mineral giving the grazers even greater nutrient options. Thus, over a period of time they could seek out and obtain balanced mineral and nutritional needs. Predators strengthened the genetic pool by culling the weak and unfit.  It’s a lot different today. Dairy cattle have been genetically modified to produce at levels never intend by nature, increasing their need for minerals.

     Ever more restrictive confinement limits their ability to seek out and consume adequate diets. In a natural grazing situation herbivores probably had hundreds of different plants from which to choose. Today they are limited to 6 or less: grass, alfalfa, corn, soybeans, cottonseed and maybe some oats or barley. Seeds and grains in the amount currently fed are detrimental to dairy cow health. Cow are ruminants and need a high-forage diet!

     Crop quality has declined. Every crop harvested or animal removed from a farm or ranch takes with it a finite amount of life supporting nutrients. Major elements can be replaced but it is difficult to restore a natural balance that includes high organic matter, adequate trace minerals, and vibrant biological life. Intensive NPK fertilization results in higher yields at the expense of nutritive values and mineral content in the crops.

     “AVERAGE” IS A MYTH!     A total mixed ration (TMR) is the industry standard feeding strategy that purports to provide, in one total mix, all the nutrition required by the ‘average’ cow in the group. This concept fails to consider the individuality of each animal’s nutrient requirements. No two animals have the same needs. Variables such as breed, age, pregnancy, stage of lactation, weather, season of the year and others have a marked influence on the need for mineral supplementation. With a TMR probably no one animal will get exactly what it needs. A few may get pretty close but many will be lacking in some nutrients while others will have excesses. This limits their production, eventually depresses their immune response and ultimately may result in various herd health problems. Eating dirt, if available, is their way of responding to these imbalances.

     Unfortunately, mainstream nutritionists tend to downplay the ability of animals to balance their nutritional needs. Anyone who doubts that cattle can make valid nutritional choices needs to watch cows graze in a mixed pasture. They do not just mow grass like a lawn mower, but pick and choose each mouthful. They avoid eating the bright green grass surrounding ‘cow pies’ in the pasture but will search the fence-rows for weeds that concentrate various essential trace minerals. Given the chance, they will balance their nutritional needs during each feeding period.

     The following incident illustrates another aspect of this ability. Weather had made it a bad year for crop quality. In late winter, a good client called me about two problems. His cattle were eating excessive amounts of mineral and his heifers would abort a live calf about 10 days before they were due to calve. The calf would live, but the heifer would usually die. Focusing first on his mineral problem, he decided to try a “cafeteria” mineral program in which each mineral was fed separately. He had to carry each bag of mineral through his cow-lot to get to the mineral feeder. His first few trips were uneventful. Then suddenly several of the normally docile cows surrounded him, tore a bag of mineral from his arms. chewed open the bag and greedily consumed the contents … a zinc supplement.

      Within a week after the mineral change, consumption returned to normal and his remaining heifers calved normally. Apparently, the previous year’s stressful growing season had resulted in crops that were deficient in zinc or perhaps high in zinc antagonists. His mineral mix was high in Calcium with only small amounts of zinc. Their quest for zinc impelled them to over-eat the mixed mineral. Excess calcium interferes with zinc absorption. Every mouthful they took increased the imbalance and escalated their need for zinc. Inevitably, metabolic problems began in the most vulnerable group - young, growing heifers in the last stages of pregnancy. Finally they just gave up and checked out ... all for want of a few grams of zinc.

     If your cows are eating dirt or if you just want to experiment; give your cows a chance to participate in their own diet formulation. Do not change your current ration, but do provide separate free-choice sources of these 6 items: salt, bentonite, bicarb, a basic mixed mineral with a 2 to 1 Ca/P ratio, one with a 1 to 2 Ca/P ratio, and kelp. Cows with rumen acidosis will prefer bicarb or bentonite. The separate sources of Ca and P allow them to adjust that critical ratio. If they lack trace minerals they may also eat a lot of kelp. If kelp consumption remains high you may want to provide separate sources of some of the trace minerals. There are commercial companies that provide a broad range of separate free-choice minerals and trace minerals.

     We should use our nutritional knowledge to formulate dairy rations, but also rely on the nutritional wisdom of animals to fine-tune their individual needs. It doesn’t hurt to have two opinions ... one from your nutritionist’s computer and one from the real experts, your cows. I will leave it to you to decide which one is the most reliable.

Originally printed in the Oct 2007 issue of the Progressive Dairyman. Used here by permission.