The use of homeopathic nosodes in the prevention of mastitis in organic dairy herds (OF0186)
Mastitis is the most significant disease affecting the health, welfare and economic productivity of dairy cattle and is recognised by Defra as a major economic and welfare concern. Research into the efficacy of homeopathic treatments and of management control of mastitis on organic dairy farms have both been identified as research priorities in recent Defra funded reviews of organic dairy farming. This study examined the use of a specific mode of homeopathic treatment in the prevention of mastitis and quantified the effect that the year-round, prophylactic use of nosodes, supplied to the cattle in the drinking water, had on the number of clinical cases of mastitis on somatic cell counts within herds.
Context and background
Organic dairy farming is a significant industry with milk being the largest single organic product in the UK. Organic milk is produced to defined standards which meet the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) criteria. These standards ‘emphasise animal welfare and, by avoiding artificial fertilisers, pesticides and other non-natural chemicals, and prohibiting the routine use of antibiotics and other conventional drugs, also ensure care for the environment, and promote the highest standards of food quality and safety’ (Omsco 2005). As part of the management of organic dairy cattle with reduced use of conventional pharmaceutical treatments, many organic farmers use homeopathic and other complementary therapies on their animals.
Mastitis is recognised as the main animal health problem in organic milk production systems (Bennedsgaard et al 2003). Whilst mastitis levels appear to be similar to those found in conventional production (Hovi and Roderick, 2000) specific problem areas in mastitis control under organic management standards have been identified.
One of the overall goals of organic animal husbandry is to avoid disease through management, husbandry, breeding and feeding. According to the EC-Regulation No. 1804/1999 governing organic livestock production, animal health management should be based on disease prevention. However, the preventive use of chemically synthesised allopathic medicinal products like dry cow antibiotics is not permitted. In organic units, phytotherapeutic and homeopathic products and trace elements are to be used in preference to antibiotic and prolonged withdrawal periods need to be observed after conventional medicine use. As a consequence of these requirements, organic dairy farmers look for alternatives to conventional therapy and prophylaxis (Hektoen 2004).
Homeopathy is widely used for the treatment of mastitis within UK organic dairy herds and prophylactic use of homeopathic nosodes, either continuously or just during housing, is practised on many organic dairy farms and is thought to offer general protection against mastitis and to reduce somatic cell counts (SCC). Research into the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments was one of the most important research requirements identified in a recent MAFF review of animal health within organic herds ( Hovi & Roderick 1999).
The range of homeopathic treatments used on farm today is wide, with treatment practices either focussing on the needs of the individual animal, which is known as constitutional treatment and which employs individual remedies, or aimed at groups of animals using specific remedies, or ‘nosodes’, which are considered to be a very specific form of homeopathy - isopathy (iso - all the same, pathy – treatment/exposure). Unlike specific remedies, nosodes do not account for the individual needs of each animal, but create the potential for protective treatment for a herd or group, they are generally applied in drinking water, and may be used on individual animals, usually by vulval spray.
Benefit for the sector and for Defra
Mastitis is the most significant disease affecting the health, welfare and economic productivity of dairy cattle, and management and control of mastitis is an important facet of practical dairy herd management. Mastitis is recognised by Defra as a major economic and welfare problem in dairy cattle. Research into the efficacy of homeopathic treatments and of management control of mastitis on organic dairy farms have both been identified as research priorities in recent Defra funded reviews of organic dairy farming.
Ninety-six farms participated in a double-blind trial to compare a homeopathic nosode and an inactive control treatment (carrier alone). Treatments were at the farm level and took place over a period of 12 months or 24 months (some farms were swapped to the opposite treatment during a second year). The treatments were randomised to each farm by a third party. During the trial, where available, records were collected of farm monthly bulk tank somatic cell count (BMSSC), a monthly cell count based on National Milk Recording data (NMR) and the annual number of cases of mastitis as recorded by the farmer. Additional farm level data were collected and their relationship to the level of mastitis on the farms investigated.
Objectives of the Study
The study described in this report explores the use of a specific mode of homeopathic treatment, a nosode, in the prevention of mastitis and quantifies the effect that the year-round, prophylactic use of nosodes, supplied to the cattle in the drinking water, had in reducing the number of clinical cases of mastitis and also quantifying any effect that the use of a nosode has on somatic cell counts within herds.
• To quantify the effectiveness of the prophylactic use of homeopathic nosodes for the treatment of mastitis in reducing the incidence of clinical mastitis and the concentration of somatic cells in milk.
• To survey management practices on organically managed farms.
• To investigate associations between the homeopathic treatment, farm management practice and the incidence of different types of mastitis and to provide guidance for mastitis control in organic dairy herds.
Materials and methods
In testing the efficacy of a homeopathic nosode it was determined that the study should:
• Look at a nosode already being commonly used and commercially available.
• Not ask for new recording systems to be used for data collection but to use the existing systems which are in place.
• Not interfere in the ‘normal’ practises carried out by the farms, by, for example, repeated prompting of farmers to carry out treatments, or ask them to adopt prescribed ways for describing, recording or treating mastitis.
There are three commonly used measures of the udder health of milking cows:
a) The bulk tank milk somatic cell count (BMSCC, commonly referred to as SCC) gives a count (in 000’s cells / ml) of white cells and desquamated cells shed by the udder. The BMSCC is not an accurate indicator for the presence of clinical mastitis, but may give information on sub-clinical (undetected) mastitis.
b) Somatic cell counts for individual cows from farms which subscribe to commercial milk recording services (ICSCC).
c) The number of cases of mastitis. The incidence rate for clinical mastitis (IRCM) is the number of distinct cases of mastitis in 100 cows in a year.
The response variables that were measured were:
• Farmers’ own record of mastitis cases.
• Bulk milk SCC.
• Individual cow somatic cell records (ICSCC) if the farms were on a milk recording service.
• Farmer’s opinion of his/her success in controlling mastitis.
• A large number of variables, recorded using a questionnaire at the farm visits, which could influence mastitis and the effectiveness of the treatment.
After visiting a number of homeopathic pharmacies, an agreement was made with Crossgates homeopathic pharmacy1, and Freemans Homeopathic Pharmacy2 (Appendix D) to make the individual herd specific nosode remedies for the farms. The trial was double-blinded, with blinding carried out by the creation of a randomly generated list of A and B’s. As each new farm was recruited, it was allocated to the next A or B in the sequence, the farms being allocated to either nosode treatment or control, one by one, in chronological order.
Articles were written in the organic press, Organic Farming, and The Turning Worm, inviting farms to take part in the study. It was clear that farms should only join the study voluntarily and would not be ‘cold called’ or pressurised to join. One hundred and four farms responded to the call, and 96 of these farms went on to take part in the study. The 8 farms which declined to take part either went out of milk production before the study started, or changed their minds about inclusion in the trial before the start of the study. The 96 farms were visited and the study introduced. Farmers were issued with a kit to collect milk from high cell count cows for preparation as a nosode. An 80 part questionnaire (Appendix A) was used to gather the information needed to understand the possible factors that may influence mastitis. During visits the farmers were also asked whether they were willing to fill in a self assessment of their personality type.
Number of farms recruited = 96
Total farms completing the study period = 88
Number of farm years followed = 206
Average herd size = 101 cows
Number of cows followed in the study = 9,680
Number of cows receiving remedy (R) = 4,734
Number of cows receiving control (P) = 4,946
Total cow years followed = 21,580 cow years (Some farms two years, some 3 years)
Farms lost during study = 8 (due to sale of the herd, or going out of milk production
and into, for example, heifer rearing)
The data collected were subject to a number of different analyses:-
1. A test for an effect of the homeopathic nosode in reducing the cell count in milk.
2. A test for an effect of the homeopathic nosode in reducing the annual cases of mastitis.
3. An analysis to identify risk factors associated with increased cell count in milk.
4. An analysis to identify risk factors associated with higher levels of mastitis.
No effect of nosode in reducing either the incidence of cases of mastitis or the somatic cell counts in the milk were detected.
The following risk factors were found to be associated with composite cell counts:-
• A decrease in cell count with increased culling of high cell count cows
• A decrease in cell count for farms which use complementary therapies on dry cows
• A decrease in cell count for farms which use dry cow therapy, including teat sealants, on dry cows
• An increased cell count for farms which did not pre-wipe before milking or pre-wiped the teats with a cloth before milking
• An increase in cell count for farms which pre-wipe only the udders of cows which are visibly dirty before milking
The following risk factors were found to be associated with the number of cases of mastitis:-
• Increasing herd yield is associated with increased mastitis case numbers
• Increased calving of cows indoors in a calving box was associated with increased numbers of mastitis cases
• Use of an in line clot filer was associated with reduced numbers of mastitis cases
• Having an abreast parlour (as opposed to a herringbone or rotary parlour) was associated with a reduced numbers of mastitis cases
The extent to which the objectives set have been achieved
The effectiveness of homeopathic nosodes in treating mastitis and lowering cell count is quantified and described (Objective 1) and the survey results of management practices on organically managed dairy farms are described (Objective 2). Additionally, the associations between homeopathic treatment, farm management practices, mastitis incidence and cell count are quantified (Objective 4) and management controls which show a reduction in mastitis cases or cell counts are identified as risk factors and described in the report (Objective 5).
• There was no significant effect of the herd specific nosode on either the cell count of milk or the number of cases of mastitis.
• That there were strong ‘within farm’ correlations of cell count and cases i.e. between farms, farms tend to stay at the same level of cases and average cell count from year to year.
• That there was a characteristic pattern of seasonal change in cell counts (this is already widely recognised).
• The study provides useful and interesting statistics on organic dairy farm production.
• The study identified an association between decreased cell count and culling for high cell count, the use of complementary dry cow therapy and the use of traditional dry cow therapy.
• The study identified an association between increased cell count and not pre-wiping the udder, pre-wiping using a cloth and only pre-wiping dirty cows.
• The study identified an association between higher numbers of mastitis cases and higher average yield and also with higher percentage of cows calving in a calving box.
• An association was identified between decreased numbers of mastitis cases and the use of an in-line clot filter and also with farms with an abreast parlour (rather than a herring-bone parlour).
• Eighty five per cent of farmers in the survey responded that they did believe in non-conventional remedies, and 62 per cent of farmers responded that they used non-conventional remedies on their own family.