Farming isn’t always green lush pastures and rainbows. Sometimes the decisions we have to make are hard and painful. For the past week and a half we have been closely watching a three year old cow of ours named Miley. Miley is a great cow. She is good producer and is very structurally correct. In fact, recently she was one of our show cows at the county fair. But, right now Miley doesn’t feel good.
As farmers it is our job to figure out why. Since Miley and us don’t speak the same language, we have to look at other clues. She is running a fever, isn’t producing much milk and just has that sunken “I don’t feel good look.” Yesterday, Tim talked with our veterinarian and after reveiwing the symptoms and the treatments we tried, Doc said it was most likely pneumonia despite the lack of normal symptoms associated with that disease. Organic treatments have not helped her thus far. We have tried everything in the organic playbook.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rules clearly state that no animal raised under that organic standard shall be treated with antibiotics. BUT we are also obligated under law to treat an animal with antibiotics if it is the best and most humane way to help the animal. So what do we do?
We will be treating her with antibiotics and if all goes well she will be back to her old self in a couple of weeks. If we don’t treat her, she will continue to suffer and prossibly die. Giving her antibiotics is the most loving thing we can do. While she is on the antibiotics, she will be milked separate from the rest of our herd. But since we are an organic farm, she will never be able to return to our herd. It is really sad. I wish there was some way to have exemptions for cases like this, but there isn’t. And there probably shouldn’t be exemptions.
This is the reason many farmers don’t want to be organic. They probably qualify for 90% of the organic rules, but the thought of selling perfectly good cows makes them cringe. Some organic farmers have two farms, or a good partnership with a conventional farm to “sell” their treated cows to. Once an organic cow goes to a conventional farm, it can never return to being organic.
The NOSB rules are good ones and shouldn’t be messed with. If we start making things gray and wishy washy consumers wouldn’t have trust in the product. I don’t believe there are any consumers that believe NEVER using antibiotics is the very best thing for animals (maybe there are). But, the organic label needs to differentiate itself from other milks and the no antibiotic rule needs to be firm.
To be clear, there are no antibiotics in ANY milk. There are strict withdrawal rules and every load of milk is tested. But what makes organic different is the holistic approach to animal health that organic farmers follow. If consumers want that, they can be confident it is happening with organic products. Organic farmers have extra incentive to make antibiotics the absolute last resort in animal treatment.
So Miley will recover and will be sold to a conventional farm that will let her live out her full productive life. We have good relationships with farms in the area. ( Samantha’s boyfriend has even expressed interest in purchasing her) We are confident she will have a nice and healthy life. We are sad that she has to leave us. These are the times and decisions that make farming hard.