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I can understand why it's still important to pasteurize dairy products, especially if I'm simultaneously trying to reduce my reliance on refrigeration.

Assumptions

  • that pasteurizing is a given
  • that the dairy-animals in question are for local-family-subsistence (not for show) and
  • that as a result of the organic approach, we are willing to accept a reduction in dairy output

Concerns

Some may argue that, by not using preventative antibiotics and wormers, the dairy animals are at increased risk. However, much of that has to be mitigated because this is not a commercial farming operation. There are a minimal amount of goats, for instance, enough to support a family and maybe trade with neighbors. Not taking the animals to competitions will reduce the risk as well as having a decent-sized pasture.

Are there risks that are not already accounted for in our assumption model? So besides reduced dairy output, what are the risks to an organic dairy activity? Are available mitigation strategies sufficient to prevent loss of livelihood?

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    I'm curious about "Clearly, by not using preventative antibiotics, the dairy animals are at increased risk". That's not been my experience, but my experience is very limited. AFAIK the USA is the only country that allows non-medical use of antibiotics in farming (in Australia a vet is required to prescribe them individually for each sick cow, for example). So I'd like to see evidence to justify "clearly". – Móż Jun 2 '14 at 9:33
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    I think that against any (proven) risk to the individual animal, one would need to find a way to estimate the long-term increased risk to the population of that animal from antibiotic resistance...... I don't envy anybody trying to work out the methodology for that though! – Flyto Jun 2 '14 at 12:39
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    @SimonW I agree. My personal bias is pro-organic. From what I can read, however, is that there are additional costs (especially long-term) in being able to say that I have an organic process. This will probably lead into a second question about the necessity of complying with 'certifying organizations' and official livestock registries/associations if I'm not seeking competition or a commercial business. – Clayton Jun 2 '14 at 16:31
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    It's my understanding that the savings for being non organic don't come from healthier animals, but from being able to put more of them into a limited space with some reduction of the illnesses and misery that could be expected to result from that. If you're constrained by how many animals you can care for or how much milk you want (rather than by land or barn size) you shouldn't need to pre-medicate against diseases of crowding. – Kate Gregory Jun 4 '14 at 11:08
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    Can you clarify whether you mean certified organic, or just "like organic but without certification" because you seem to be talking about milk for your own use. Most of the yield loss is compared to non-organic intensive dairying, so if you're not doing that I suspect you won't see much of the loss whether you're organic or not. – Móż Jun 6 '14 at 5:03
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The cost of "Organic" dairy

At least within the United States, certifying something as organic requires time, effort, and paperwork. There does exist an additional administrative burden for farmsteads wishing to market their products as organic, but if we are invested in the organic method as part of a greater commitment to increasing sustainability, then the label might not matter. Organic labeling concerns will affect the price that a dairy product can fetch in the market (people will pay more for organic), but if the dairy is for private consumption then marketing won't matter.

Administration

As mentioned earlier, organic dairy certification is a process. It's probably easier to start initially as organic than it is to transition over an existing dairy. In the US, the USDA has set up requirements for organic certification and then accredits certifying authorities.

Organic Inputs (Feed)

The USDA's Economic Research Service estimates that organic feed costs for dairy cattle to be approximately US$11.58 in Minnesota versus US$10.91 for conventional feed inputs as one example {from 2010 Commodity Costs and Returns, in dollars per hundredweight (cwt) sold}.

However, these numbers presume a minimum of 30% feed input from organically certified pastures {percentages from Univ. of MN}. During times of drought, farms purchase a higher percentage of feed and will realize a greater cost disparity from their conventional counterparts.

Other overhead costs were also studied, but I'm not convinced that I could translate these costs to a small size operation with any fairness - so they were omitted for simplicity.

Organic Output

Production quantity is lower for organic dairy cattle than for conventional dairy practices (which includes approximately 30% of cattle receiving bST hormone treatment). Keeping with Minnesota figures, output per cow is 12,880lbs organic versus 20,675lbs conventional. Organic milk must therefore be priced high enough to recoup the additional costs even at a lower volume.

However, the industry has this to say about antibiotics in non-organic milk:

The U.S. dairy industry tests all milk entering dairy plants to ensure that antibiotics are kept out of the milk supply. According to the most recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data, less than one tanker in 1,000 tests positive for any animal drug residues, including antibiotics. In those rare cases, any milk that tests positive is disposed of immediately and does not get into the food supply. https://www.drink-milk.com/media/32334/organicmilk.pdf

Non-monetary Costs

Are you willing to expand your genetics beyond production to other considerations or are you a registered cattle operation that likes to show cattle? Many organic farmers have opted for hardier but not-so-fancy, multicolored crossbred cattle. {Johnson & Moynihan}

When I asked the question, I mainly had in mind dairy goats (and not cattle) for personal consumption. For completeness, however, I think it should be noted organic animals don't always make the best show. I think that genetic resistance to disease and drought should be preferred over show-quality and aesthetics.

However, the inability to have registered livestock could be a problem. Registries and associations are a major source of support for farmers. Marketing opportunities for products, avenues to sell livestock, etc. are some of the opportunity costs for genetic advantage.

In my own scenario, considering dairy farming with Nigerian Dwarf goats, this is still a potential problem. To register these animals as dairy goats with the American Dairy Goat Association http://www.adga.org/, the goats would have to qualify under the breed requirements (being disbudded or polled - dehorned as one example). Custom breeds pose some difficulty, but aren't impossible (as far as I can tell).

Health Risks

If herd density per acreage is allowed to be variable (decreasing density to compensate for not using preventative antibiotics), I could find nothing to support the idea that organic farming practices were more dangerous or risky.

In health risks that don't pass to the dairy-consumer, and that have nothing to do with organic processes, is pasteurization of milk to be given to newborn goats (kids). It can be argued that pasteurizing animal-milk rather than allowing for 'natural' kid-rearing is less sustainable. I think we can concede this point, regardless of whether or not we find it trivial.

In goats, pasteurizing the milk and then bottle-feeding is a method of CAE prevention. This could be achieved through other means, such as testing animals before they enter the herd. {Amundson 2013} For more information on CAE, see the Wiki article.

In summary, I could not find any evidence to suggest that organic farming was riskier than conventional farming methods. As might be expected, organic dairy farming was more expensive - but as of the writing of this, profit margins still existed for organic dairy products (at least in medium-to-large sized farming operations involving dairy cattle).

If anyone finds additional, or contradictory information, please feel free to comment or post another answer.

Works Referenced

In no special order:

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