Prevention, common sense key to maintaining organic animal health

Jill Salmen, who operates an organic dairy in Minnesota, shared what she has learned about the health of organic-raised animals during the Northern Plains Food and Farming Conference.

Jill Selman, an organic dairy farmer near Wolf Lake, Minnesota, in Becker County, on Jan. 27, 2023, discussed using "common sense" to prevent illness in livestock at organic farms and tips on treatment at the North Plains Food and Farming Conference in Fargo, North Dakota.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — When it comes to the health of her family’s organic dairy herd, Jill Salmen says prevention is the best way to ensure herd health, not just for the cows, but for the farmers.

If you have to give a cow an oral treatment, “You find that they’re a little bit stronger than you,” Salmen says.

“Preventing it saves me a lot of time, a lot of headaches and maybe even a few bruises.”

Salmen and her husband, Lanny, operate an organic dairy at Wolf Lake, Minnesota, east of Detroit Lakes in Becker County. They milk about 100 cows and partner with nearby dairies owned by Lanny’s parents and a neighbor.

Salmen, who did not grow up on a farm, shared what she has learned about the health of organic-raised animals during a session of the Northern Plains Food and Farming Conference in Fargo on Jan. 27.


“The biggest thing as far as treating disease and illness is prevention. You know, organic remedies do work, but sometimes they're not as effective. They may take a little longer. You have to do more with the animal,Salmen said.

Some keys to staying ahead of illness are being observant and using some common sense.

“You look at a calf that's coughing and has, you know, a little bit of drool coming out, maybe some snot, it's probably something respiratory so you're going to treat for respiratory illnesses. And yeah, I've had some cases where it's been something actually gut related, but you tend to go for what's obvious first, so common sense,” Salmen said.

Some other basics of prevention include using high quality feed, cleanliness, and supporting a healthy immune system with things such as vitamin and mineral supplements. She also discussed regularly hoof trimming and sticking with “tried and true,” treatments.

But she also said organic farms sometimes need to think outside the box.

One example was a high-producing cow whose teats had gotten too large for the current size milkers that the farm was using. Instead they were having to milk her by hand.

But by taking a few seconds to swap out to a larger milking attachment, they were able to keep milking comfortable for one of their star producers.

The farm has been certified organic since 2008, so that means no antibiotics and many of the other treatments most livestock operations would use. Salmen’s treatments include things such as tinctures, IVs, and boluses.


“There’s a lot more time spent tending these animals with organic, which I don't mind because I'm an animal lover,” Salmen said. “They're my therapy animals in many ways.”

Reach Agweek reporter Jeff Beach at or call 701-451-5651.
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