Organic Dairy Veterinarian Gets Back to the Basics

2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

LEESBURG, Va. — Dr. Paul Dettloff’s first encounter with an organic dairy cow was not auspicious. But it changed his life.

“It was a 95-degree day in July. I walked up to a big, white cow and her heart was pounding. She had the look of death in her eye.”

The owner looked at him. “You know what organic means?”

Dettloff didn’t but learned fast: no antibiotics, no antihistamines.

Couldn’t he just put a little tetracycline in her uterus? No.

“I couldn’t treat that cow,” he told a roomful of farmers at his talk on natural animal health at the 14th annual Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeake Alliance For Sustainable Agriculture) conference in Leesburg, Va., Jan. 18.

“We had become pawns of the pharmaceutical industry,” he said.

He went home and said to his wife, “I’m going to lose all my clients.”

She told him to do something about it. He did, and since 1988 has concentrated on natural treatments — combining the salutary effects of natural pasture and nature’s own herbs and plants for remedies and treatments.

Today, he’s been a veterinarian and consultant with Organic Valley for more than 10 years, and produces and sells his own line, Dr. Paul’s Lab, of organic health products.

When he started his practice in 1967 he had a goal: Have a three-man practice and gross $100,000 a year. Back then, dairy farming in Wisconsin was traditional. Cows everywhere, out there eating grass.

The cows were healthy on a high-forage diet.

Then, he recalled, high-production dairy took over. Silos sprang up everywhere. “Now, they lock them up and feed silage and grain. The cow’s rumen is meant for grass.”

Feed the cow grain and seeds, he said, and the result is the production of acid. Result? Milk production went up. So did illness and mortality. Fertility went down.

A fellow vet told him the conception rate at one of the big high-production dairies was 15 percent. When a cow doesn’t conceive on the first try, he pumps her full of hormones and prostaglandin.

“I don’t want my grandkids drinking that milk,” Dettloff said.

Cows need a balanced diet, he has written. “In fact, the ultimate diet would be 100 different varieties of plants every five days. Over thousands of generations, cows have evolved a unique digestive system that helps them thrive on grasses. A cow’s rumen, the first of her four stomachs, is essentially a 50-gallon vat of highly specialized microorganisms that break down grasses into their nutrient components.”

His answer: Give the cow plenty of room to roam, trees to scratch and a stable herd to graze with. Ask for her milk, extending her period of lactation beyond what a calf would ask. In return, protect her from predators and care for her needs.

The productive life of a cow in a conventional industrialized dairy, Dettloff has written, is about two years. It is not unusual to find 10- to 15-year-old cows in Organic Valley herds.

He took his audience on a quick tour of his “Ten Veterinary Tools,” starting with tinctures and ending with acupuncture. In between, he discussed homeopathy, essential oils, aloe vera, botanicals, vitamins and antioxidants, trace and macro elements, probiotics and hydrogen peroxide.

Tinctures, he said, are made by soaking a plant for four weeks in a “universal solvent.” Vodka will do; organic certifiers prefer 190 proof organic alcohol. Tinctures last for years, stored in dark glass to protect them from ultraviolet light.

Better yet, “combination tinctures can have a synergistic effect,” he said. “It is known that garlic and cayenne complement each other.”

He markets his line of tinctures in gallon batches and advises giving them to the cow under the tongue or vaginally.

He recommends tinctures of aloe vera for practically everything — staving off shipping fever, curing mastitis, expelling retained afterbirth and fixing up ear infections.

“Aloe vera hypes the immune system,” Dettloff said, “and protects from shipping fever. If a cow has a temperature of 103 or more, you need aloe vera liquid or pellets. Feed it before calving. And he loves kelp, full of trace elements such as zinc, copper and manganese.

“I want every heifer at Organic Valley to have free choice kelp their whole life.”

He’s also a devotee of humates — the result of decomposed prehistoric plant and animal matter with many trace elements included. High-quality humates are mostly organic carbon, according to TurfPro USA. “They grow good bugs in the rumen,” Dettloff said.

He doesn’t see as much of his organic clients, he confessed. “They wave at me as I drive by. They might call up to order a gallon of tincture.”


Has this summer's growing season been kind to farmers in your neck of the woods?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

User Submitted Photos

View photos      Submit your photos

9/2/2014 | Last Updated: 11:30 AM