Assessment of herd management on organic and conventional dairy farms in the United States

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Abstract

The objective of this study was to evaluate management characteristics on organic and similarly sized conventional dairy farms located in New York, Wisconsin, and Oregon. Data from 192 organic farms (ORG), 64 conventional nongrazing farms (CON-NG), and 36 conventional grazing farms (CON-GR) were collected during farm visits and were size-matched and analyzed. The average lactation number of animals on ORG and CON-GR farms was 2.6 lactations, which was greater than that on CON-NG farms (2.3 lactations). A greater percentage of first-lactation heifers were found on conventional farms than on ORG farms. Facilities used by adult animals, including housing and milking facilities, did not differ among the grazing systems. Cattle on conventional farms were fed approximately twice as much grain as cattle on ORG farms and had greater milk production. Little difference was found for the average reported somatic cell count and standard plate count, suggesting that milk quality is not dependent on grazing system. Milking procedures were similar across all 3 grazing systems, indicating that an industry standard now exists for milking and that milk quality problems will need to be addressed with other management problems in mind. Although some disease prevention measures were commonly utilized on ORG farms, such as keeping a closed herd and having a written record of treatments administered to the animals, the use of outside support and vaccinations were found to be less prevalent on organic farms than on conventional farms.

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