Vet goes ‘back to the basics’


SHREVE, Ohio – Almost 20 years ago, on a sweltering July afternoon, veterinarian Paul Dettloff made an emergency stop at a Wisconsin farm.
“Her temperature’s 106, Doc. She’s had twins and now she’s collapsed,” the farmer said.
Dettloff did some checking, said it was mastitis and then dove into his medical kit for some strong, swift antibiotics.
“Wait, you can’t use antibiotics,” the farmer said as Dettloff’s head snapped. “We’re certified organic.”
Organic? No antibiotics? He panicked, gave the cow a bottle of saline and a bottle of glucose and hurried away.
Now, years after leaving his conventional vet practice, he’s standing over a red Holstein in an Amish man’s dark barn.
Dettloff checks her hair coat, her eyes, her hooves, her manure. He looks at her temperature, heart rate and breathing.
It’s not mastitis, but she’s a sick girl, he says.
Like before, this farmer doesn’t want antibiotics. But this time, Dettloff isn’t offering them either.
New thinking. The fix for Hilda instead: 300 cc apple cider vinegar, and two-thirds cup of brown sugar dissolved in water. That’ll get this sub-ketosis cow’s blood sugar level back up. Follow it with 3 cc garlic tincture to kill bacteria, and then St. Johns wort because she surely has a headache from being dehydrated.
Never in Dettloff’s 20-plus years of conventional veterinary practice, did he dream his medicine bag would include garlic, aloe vera and rose hips rather than penicillin and pink-eye vaccines.
But that’s what organic dairying is all about – using natural products to keep animals healthy.
And start with the soil, Dettloff said. Healthy soil means healthy forage means healthy animals. Then, when an animal is sick, treat it naturally.
“The closer it is to Mother Nature, the better it works,” he told farmers in Shreve, Ohio, at an organic dairy meeting Jan. 4. “It’s about getting back to the basics.”
Back to nature. Vaccines, antibiotics and hormones are what conventional vets use to treat herd health problems. They deal with “killing bugs and treating symptoms,” Dettloff likes to say.
On the other hand, organic tools include vitamins, botanicals, homeopathy and tinctures.
Even conventional farmers call Dettloff now, asking for advice and wanting another way to treat their cows.
For his first 25 years practicing medicine, he’d never heard of tinctures, which are plant molecule extracts in liquid. But now he’s recommending them regularly and farmers call back to say they’re pleased, he said.
Comparisons. Dettloff said veterinarians have been the pawns of pharmaceutical companies who have made a ton of money off eager vets.
Even Dettloff said he spent many of his younger years anticipating newer, better technology. How can we get these hogs to market in five and a half months rather than six? How can we get butterfat to 400 pounds, 500, 600, then 700 pounds?
Step back, he says, and forget about aiming for 90 pounds of milk a day.
For example, look at Hilda here, Dettloff tells the group.
Say she’s milking 15,000 pounds a year and the farmer is part of the Organic Valley co-op, which employs Dettloff. Organic Valley is paying about $26 per hundredweight this year, so multiply that out and the farmer will bring in $3,900.
Compare that to a conventional farmer who is getting $15.50 per hundredweight on a cow producing 25,000 pounds. That’s $3,875. Plus, that farmer is paying higher inputs.
First, there’s feed. Organic farmers usually feed a high-forage diet, centering on grazing, so the feed bill drops.
And, of course, there’s vet bills. Sometimes, Dettloff says, he knows he could be pulling out the drive and leaving the farmer with a several-thousand-dollar bill for antibiotics and vaccines and his time.
Instead, he said, much of what is used in organic medicine can be found in the kitchen cupboard or grown at home by a determined farmer.
Mastitis. Now, look at the mastitis cow Dettloff treated all those years ago.
Today, with a lot more knowledge, he said there are several ways he could treat a cow like this.
She probably hasn’t eaten and her blood sugar has dropped, so start her off with an IV of 500 cc glucose, Dettloff said. Then kick the immune system with 300 cc aloe vera and put 3 cc garlic in her vulva to fight infection.
Whey can be given at 30 cc subcutaneously by the tail for three days to flush her system. Use essential oils as a liniment massaged into her udder to relieve pain and increase blood flow. A St. Johns wort tincture can dull her nervous system.
There are more options, Dettloff said but it’s up to farmers to find what works best on their individual operations.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at
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Organic treatment tips
By Kristy Hebert
SHREVE, Ohio – Veterinarian Paul Dettloff admits many of the treatments he uses on his dairy herds are old.
They’re from a time before pharmaceutical companies took over, he said.
But they work, he says, and for organic dairy farmers who can’t use hormones, vaccines and antibiotics, they’re the only option.
Dettloff offers this advice:


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