As interest grows in certified-organic or natural production, Hubert J. Karreman, VMD, Narvon, Penn., outlined ways veterinarians can help their clients protect animal health while complying with program specifications.

Karreman notes that the Organic Food Production Act, implemented in 2002, sets specific production practices for foods labeled as organic. The term “natural” is not defined by law and is program regulations can vary, but most of these programs do not allow the use of antibiotics.

In terms of animal health, the organic program allows prevention methods, but if producers need to use antibiotics, they must remove treated animal from organic production. Organic farmers, he says, use many different methods of treatment, from home remedies passed down through the generations to very questionable methods. Such methods are usually not well known or accepted by mainstream veterinarians.

As a practitioner working with clients involved in organic and natural production, Karreman has developed treatments for infectious etiologies based on science, using biologics and botanicals. He says substances derived from these sources generally stimulate, modify or otherwise augment the immune system. He adds that organic farmers tend to have awareness and faith in the healing powers of the immune system, no matter how little they may know of its biology, creating another reason to use these methods.

Biologics, he says, are compounds derived from living organisms including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and animals. The most commonly used biologics are vaccines to stimulate active immunity. In the past, therapeutic biologics that confer passive immunity were used combat infectious disease, and some of these remain in use. These USDA-licensed biologics provide a source of antibodies to reduce symptoms and severity of disease due to several pathogens involved in BRD.

Karreman also uses a hyperimmune plasma product from cattle within his practice for cases of colibacillosis, salmonellosis, and pasteurellosis. Farmers also use other biologics such as colostrum-whey products and bacterial cell wall fractionates of Mycobacterium phlei.

Botanicals are medicinal substances derived from plants. Many well known pharmaceutical companies got their start with plant derived medicines. However, advances in organic chemistry in the early 1900’s provided synthetic versions of the active constituents found in the botanicals, and synthetics are now the norm. Yet this does not mean botanicals are not effective as they obviously have pharmacologic effects. Standardization assures that active constituents in these products are uniform and consistent.

Keeping in mind that the goal is to activate the immune system, Karreman says practitioners working with organic and natural types of livestock production need to consider a variety of approaches. Prevention of respiratory disease is the first step, with biologics being the best way as they are known to enhance the immune system. Using an intranasal vaccine consisting of IBR/PI3 is critical when planning a movement of cattle mixing new animals together.

When treatment is needed, Karreman takes into account an assessment of the animal and its overall surroundings, and treatment also takes a “multi-prong” approach. He outlines a protocol he uses for any infectious disease that is systemic, whether respiratory, abdominal, uterine, or mammary. The protocol is based on “aggressive” treatment based on biologics, botanicals and antioxidants given intravenously. The farmer then has to follow up with an oral administration of a botanical formula twice a day.

Treating an infectious disease without antibiotics is definitely more labor intensive, he says, but can reduce symptoms and severity of disease, provided treatment is early and the producer follows up with management changes and continued treatment.

Working with organic and natural livestock producers is not rocket science, he says, but more in the realm of “back to basics.” If fundamental rules of biology are not broken and the immune system is allowed to function at its optimal level, there will be less need to reach for an antibiotic when called out to organic and natural livestock facilities.