Alternative Practices in Organic Dairy Production and Effects on Animal Behavior, Health, and Welfare

Hannah N Phillips, Bradley J. Heins

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The number of organic dairy farms has increased because of the increased growth of the organic market, higher organic milk price, and because some consumers prefer to purchase products from less intensive production systems. Best management practices are expected from organic dairy farms to ensure animal health and milk production. Organic dairy producers typically transition from conventional systems to avoid chemicals and pesticides, enhance economic viability, improve the environment, and increase soil fertility. Organic dairy producers respect and promote a natural environment for their animals, is also an important component of animal welfare. Organic producers have few options to mitigate pain in dairy calves. In the United States, therapies to mitigate pain for disbudded organic dairy calves are regulated by the US National Organic Program. Organic producers regularly use naturally derived alternatives for the treatment of health disorders of dairy calves, heifers, and cows. Alternative natural products may provide an option to mitigate pain in organic dairy calves. Despite the reluctance to implement pain alleviation methods, some organic farmers have expressed interest in or currently implement plant-based alternatives. Efficacy studies of alternative remedies for organic livestock are needed to verify that their use improves animal welfare. Non-effective practices represent a major challenge for organic dairy animal welfare. The relationship between humans and animals may be jeopardized during milking because first-lactation cows may exhibit adverse behaviors during the milking process, such as kicking and stomping. The periparturient period is particularly challenging for first-lactation cows. Adverse behaviors may jeopardize animal welfare and reduce safety for humans because stressed heifers may kick off the milking unit, kick at milkers, and display other unwanted behaviors in the milking parlor. This may reduce milking efficiency, overall production, and ultimately reduce the profitability of the dairy farm. Positive animal welfare is a challenging balancing act between the three overlapping ethic concerns. Identifying animal welfare deficits in organic livestock production is the first step in capitalizing on these opportunities to improve welfare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1785
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) [grant no. 2016-51300-25734/project accession no. 1010693] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors.


  • behavior
  • disbudding
  • human–animal relationship
  • organic

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


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