Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beyond (???) Organic

January 2, 2009

There is a popular term making the rounds in the sustainable farming world. It is "Beyond Organic." As with any other term without government regulation, the meaning is often varied and inconsistent. Those farmers who use this term will state on their web sites "We have chosen not to be certified organic but instead we have decided to go beyond." Kinda reminds me of the movie Toy Story "To Infinity and Beeyoond !"

When a friend of ours recently told me his farm was "beyond organic" I asked him if he had ever read the National Organic Program Standards for Organic Certification (All my friends at work just rolled their eyes way back up into their heads as they know how obnoxious I can be when it comes to "standards".) He admitted that he had not. "Therefore" said I, "how can you go beyond organic if you do not even know the definition of organic ?" ( as far as farming goes ) He then put his foot ALLLLLL the way in his mouth by saying that organic means "no chemicals, no antibiotics."

Well Kemo Sabe, to be certified organic one has to go way BEYOND just the elimination of chemicals and antibiotics. Over 100 specific standards beyond. Then you must be surveyed by an expert in the field who decides whether or not you have met the standards. Its a tremendous amount of work and commitment. I equate it to the CNA (Certified Nurse Aide who will say to me "There's no reason for me to go to college I'm practically a nurse anyway" Those statements practically set the hair on the back of my neck on fire. Especially since it took me FIVE years to get a three year nursing diploma. I had little babies and worked part time while in nursing school. I take my education seriously just like I take our organic certification seriously.

So enough theory, lets do a real care plan on a real sick calf. We have one now. He was born several weeks ago and did well at first. About three weeks ago we noticed scours (loose manure). The calf was in a warm, well bedded hutch but the surrounding environment was very wet and the weather kept changing from cold to warm and back. A perfect bacteria hotel. We suspected the causitive organism (based on color and consistency of manure) was E. Coli and so we treated with the addition of Aloe Vera juice twice a day. The weather got cold, everything froze. He improved.

A week later and the temp is in its 50's, hutches are bedded well but the calves can go back and forth in and out of them. This same calf develops scours again but now with pink flecks. We now know it is Coccidiosis. A single celled parasite that affects the intestine. We return to one of our best resources. "Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals" by Paul Detloff DVM. He recommends adding Calf Shield (powdered electrolytes) to the Aloe Vera we've been giving with the calves milk. But first we decide to make the calf NPO for a feeding and give its gut a break. We also cut back on the amount of milk we're giving AND we double check the temperature of the milk.

Milk temp is another important factor when feeding calves. It should be as close to the temperature it would be coming directly from the mother cow as possible. We realize the 5-10 minutes it takes me to get to the barn to feed the calves after Keith calls me to tell me he has enough milk to do do, is enough to cool the milk too much. So we try ANOTHER intervention. Keith fills a large rubber pan with hot water to hold the milk can and keep the milk warm until I can fill the calf bottles.

A week of Aloe Vera and Calf Shield in the twice a day feedings as well as a noon feeding of warm water, organic molasses and Calf Shield and our calf is not worse but not better. This is where it gets hard for me. Organic standards do allow treatment with antibiotics if the life of the animal is at risk. Once given however the animal loses its organic status and cannot be sold as such. Antibiotics do work fast but was it best for THIS animal ? We decided to take the calf and one of his closest hutch mates (also with some scours but not bad) into the barn. A new environment, all warm and dry with a new buddy to cheer him on. If he did not improve by the next day...antibiotics here we come.

Withing 24 hours we saw tremendous improvement. The calves eyes were brighter, his appetite improved, he was more active. He looked better. Was it the environment change ? The addition of a buddy calf ? Our puppy Fanny sleeping next to him ? Or did we just give nature, with a little help from organically certified supplements, enough time to cure this calf ? We don't know for sure but we do know it took a lot of time and effort and thought for this ONE calf. Which is why we don't take the term "Certified Organic" lightly.


  1. So glad he's better.

    But I hope this doesn't get out. Soon they'll ALL want to stay in the barn with a buddy.

  2. I suspect the "Beyond Organic"started to differentiate from "Organic", which has been usurped by some industrial farms. Ranks right up there with "Natural". As you point out being certified Organic is an entirely different proposition. Unfortunately most people don't read the labels, just ogle the packaging.

    Glad the calves are back to health. Hope you and yours are enjoying a full of wonder 2010.