Dr. Paul Dettloff, DVM, has over 45 years experience in sustainable dairy production, with the last 25 years in practice as a large animal veterinarian and today offers an impressive array of techniques and diagnostic skills to the care and wellness of organic farm animals. He is the owner and developer of a company providing alternative veterinary botanical tinctures and supplies for organic livestock treatment and health, and he travels across the country helping the more than 1,800 Organic Valley farmer-owners harmonize the health between soil, forage, and herds. An experienced educator, he also hosts Organic Valley’s biennial organic veterinarian workshop, and he is the author of the book, Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals.
Today Dr. Paul discusses what’s changed in organic animal care throughout the years and provides homeopathic remedies for animal (and human?) health. “We have come a long ways. From 1988, there has been a huge resurgence,” he says. While the resurgence of organic animal care means healthier cows, it also means fewer calls to the vet. Dr. Paul explains his approach to veterinary medicine, saying, “Conventionally, as a veterinarian you’re doing a lot of crisis management. In the organic world we’re doing a lot of prevention.”
Interview with Paul Dettloff
March 21, 2016
Welcome to Rootstock Radio. Join us as host Anne O’Connor talks to leaders from the Good Food movement about food, farming, and our global future. Rootstock Radio—propagating a healthy planet. Now, here’s host Anne O’Connor.
ANNE O’CONNOR: Hello, and welcome to Rootstock Radio. I’m Anne O’Connor and I’m here today with Dr. Paul Dettloff, one of Organic Valley’s staff veterinarians who serve the cooperative’s 1,800-plus farmer owners. As part of this work, he helps farmers harmonize the health in the soil, pasture, and forage, and the farm’s animal herds—and he’s the author of Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals. He’s a busy guy, and we’re happy to have him with us here today. Welcome, Dr. Paul.
PAUL DETTLOFF: Thank you for inviting me.
AO: You have forty-nine years of experience in sustainable dairy production, so you’ve been doing this a long time.
PD: Yes, I have.
AO: What are some of the changes in veterinary care, especially organic care, that you’ve seen over your tenure?
PD: When I saw my first cow in 1988 that was going to be organic, the veterinary profession had lost all of the old tools from Native Americans, from the Gypsies, from the Europeans, from the Renaissance on down. We had gone totally with the pharmaceutical world because of our training in veterinary school, and we virtually had no tools. When I saw my first cow that was deathly sick in July, I walked away from her as a failure because I did not have anything. I gave her a bottle of saline for fluids and a bottle of dextrose for energy and could not treat the two maladies she had.
And we have come a long ways from 1988. We’ve undergone a huge resurgence in going back and discovering the wheel. We didn’t have to invent it, it was there; we’ve improved on it with, there’s science behind a lot of the herbs and the things of old. We’ve got a plethora of tools that we can treat any malady with now, which means that we have crawled… When we first started this, we did have some cases where we did not treat animals humanely because we didn’t have the tools and we had to pull the trigger and go conventionally. But it’s been a huge change in the learning process, and we’re continuing to mature and improve every day.
AO: So what you’re talking about here, of course, is that in organic production methods there’s no antibiotic use allowed, and so part of the work of the organic farmer is to act proactively to keep the herd or the animals healthy from the get-go.
PD: Yes. This was a very interesting to me. I had, over a period of about six or seven years, when I was in active practice, twenty-three farmers that went organic. A lot of them went because of philosophy: they didn’t like what was happening to our food. Some of them had near-death experiences with sprays, and there was frustration. And when they would come and decide, “I want to go organic,” they had a really good mindset and they were ready to learn and change.
But when they would… The organic world is based on grass, because the cow’s rumen is made for grass. And post–World War II, when the cost-squeeze of profits was narrowed on the smaller herds, we introduced grain—soybeans and corn and grains—into the rumen, and we got a kick in milk. And moderation is fine, but when you go too far and get greedy, when you feed grain to the cow’s rumen that’s made for grass, you lower the pH, and you cause acidosis. And this is a veterinarian’s dream. And when I would see these herds that were acidotic, pushing the envelope, and when they came into our fold, the first thing we said is, “You’ve got to learn how to grow a good, high-brix, highly mineralized, full-stem grass and hay for the rumen, and we’re going to cut you back on your grain.”
And what happened—and they’d pay attention to soil, they’d go back to feeding whole milk to their calves—I would lose 75 to 80 percent of their veterinary business in two years. It was a head-snapper for me because I was raised conventionally and that’s how I practiced my first twenty years, because there was no alternative. And when I saw this happen on farm after farm, it was like, they’re doing something right here.
And you talked earlier, you mentioned the grass and the soils and the veterinary tools. Those three things are the basis for organic agriculture. We see much, much healthier cows on a high-forage diet.
AO: So when you say a high-forage diet, what does that mean?
PD: Grass and hay.
AO: So when cows are eating grass and hay, when they’re outside on pasture, you see much healthier cows.
PD: Absolutely, direct correlation.
AO: I want to talk about antibiotics for a moment. Antibiotics has been in the news a lot; people are concerned about antibiotic overuse. Why does organic not allow antibiotics for treating animals, and what does that mean for the health of the herd? And do people who run organic operations allow animals to suffer?
PD: You have to… In our NOP rules, you cannot let an animal suffer. And if the need is there to give an animal antibiotics or any other medicines that are not allowed, you have to do it to save the animal’s life, and then she will be no longer organic. If she lives she can go into the conventional world. She can never be slaughtered and sold as organic meat. She is no longer in our fold.
AO: So the rules that you’re speaking of are the National Organic Program rules.
PD: Yes. What I find is that when we have a transitioning farmer, he will tend to pull the plug a few times until he gets his soils going really well and producing this good grass, and until he learns the veterinary tools. As I mentioned earlier, we have a whole plethora of tools where we can treat anything from coccidiosis to listeriosis, which conventional veterinarians don’t know this. They think we’re operating by neglect.
But antibiotics—the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, is really worried that we’re creating these superbugs. When you put a low level of, say, tetracycline or a low level of anything into the feed, you have a chance that you’re going to create superbugs. And this has been happening more lately in that there are some organisms, especially in the area of mastitis, that no antibiotics can touch. They are resistant and mutated to all antibiotics. This is a danger for the humans, because a cell is a cell. We’re no different than a pig or a cow. A cell is a cell. And so this is very much in the forefront of the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. Now December 2016, they’re going to change the whole paradigm in that antibiotics cannot go into the feed unless there is a prescription.
AO: So this is going to be an enormous shift for conventional farmers.
PD: This is really worrying those people.
AO: When you talk about the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, their concern is that in conventional farming, the use of the antibiotics is causing this resistance. And the other thing I wanted to just reiterate, what you were saying is what you find in organic farmers, it’s not that… Very often people have a question about, “Well, if you’re not using antibiotics, then are your animals being treated well?” And what I hear you saying is they’re not only being treated well, but they’re much less likely to get sick or to need antibiotics.
PD: I could probably correlate it from my experience in being in practice thirty-five years. Conventionally, as a veterinarian, you’re doing a lot of crisis management. In the organic world, we’re doing a lot of prevention. We have tools like aloe vera, that when we see a group of calves coughing, if we go in there with aloe vera pellets or liquid, that is an immune modulator and it can turn the situation around before it comes to a crisis. We do not like to give a lot of shots in the organic world. We use a lot of drenches, a lot of pills, a lot of massages. And when I talk to the new farmers coming in, I tell them, “You are going to have to crawl deeper into your ecosystem and become a better observer.” We teach them “Be a good observer and watch things.” And I’ve had many farmers tell me, “I’m a lot better farmer now that I’m organic, because I have to watch things and I’m preventative.”
I guess one thing that was shocking to me is that when we would bring these high-producing herds, they have a lot of displaced abomasums, which is a twisted stomach. The fourth stomach, [which] is the abomasum, secretes acid like ours. The three previous ones are actually dilations of the esophagus: the rumen, reticulum, and omasum are part of, through evolution, the esophagus. And so the fourth stomach, for some reason, on a high-grain diet on a cow that’s really acidotic, it lays to the bottom of the midline on the right side of the cow. And after calving, that calf has been pushing on it; the uterus is over on the right side, and that has been constantly pushing that abomasum to the left. And if you have decreased rumen intake, that stomach will flip way up on the left side on the top, below the backbone, upside down, and get filled with air. And the cow refuses to eat any grain, or she just goes off feed. They run no temperature. And those were a tremendous boon for me. I did one every day for years; you did surgery on them.
In the organics—
AO: So I just want to backup. So what you’re saying is, in high-grain systems, cows are eating lots of grains. They often get this twisted stomach problem, and it’s a very big problem—it can cause a cow to not wake up. A cow can die from this.
PD: She will eventually get weak from that it’s not eating properly, or as much—her intake goes way down; quits milking, won’t breed. The common deal for veterinarians is to do surgery: open them up, put it down. Everybody gave antibiotics until they got into this paradigm. And if I had a cow that had no temperature—the uterus was fine, no mastitis—I did not use antibiotics on 80 percent of my surgeries.
We were using antibiotics, the veterinarian profession, and still is, as a crutch. And when I knew I was not going to use antibiotics on this cow, I did a better job of surgery. I shaved them so there was no hair, disinfected them, did not leave the opening to the abdomen wide open for dust to get in. I took pains to make sure I didn’t contaminate the interior of this cow. [It] made me become a better surgeon. And it worked! I would use the tools we had.
When we go organic, we lose the abomasums. They don’t happen. I just had one this morning.
AO: So the twisted stomachs—
AO: —they don’t happen in the organic system.
PD: If they do happen, we don’t do surgery. I had a phone call this morning from Illinois on a fellow transitioning in, so he has not walked the walk yet. He’s halfway there, but he’s at a 65 percent forage ration, and he had a displaced abomasum. He had a cow that did not pass her placenta, so she had two days where she did not eat forty-eight pounds of feed, she ate twenty. The rumen shrunk up, and… Now he has the uterus corrected, and he called me and he said, “The vet’s coming and he wants to do surgery, and how am I going to do this without antibiotics?”
And I said, “You don’t do surgery. You lay them down with ropes on her right side and you turn her clockwise, and the gas bubble will return it to normal. And you put her on calcium pills.” And 90 percent of them you can correct without surgery. And I told him, “This will probably be the last DA you’ll see for years.” It just doesn’t happen.
AO: The last twisted stomach. So that must be very encouraging to farmers, to not have to deal… I mean, for one thing, it’s a lot of work, but also farmers don’t like to see their animals suffering, right? And so it’s a big change to have healthy animals.
Everybody wants to see healthy animals and healthy families, right? So this is something that we talk a lot about in organics. And you know, when I hear you talking about this, I have kids, and I’m writing down over here, you know, “aloe vera for coughing”—okay, I’m going to think about that next time my kids are coughing. And I don’t know if it translates, but can you talk about that? I mean, I know that if cows are outside and they’re exercising and they’re eating well, that can often translate to humans: if we do the same thing, we’re going to be healthier. What else can translate from what you’re finding?
PD: Everything can. A cell is a cell. Exercise, fresh air, clean environment, proper diet. Our youth today—and my wife and I have six children, and they’re all educated—and our youth today either really, really eat good or they eat really, really terrible. I have a daughter that’s an acupuncturist that works with female infertility for young gals. And she says, “Dad, they either come in and they know everything—but they don’t come in, because they’re conceiving. But these young gals will come in, and usually not the ones going on for further education, and they’re living on Diet Coke and French fries, and wondering why they can’t get pregnant. And their diet is atrocious.” That’s the first thing she does, is say, “What are you eating?” And it’s not rare for her to put young gals on kelp. And we use kelp—kelp is full of trace elements—
AO: For our animals—you’re saying we use kelp a lot. It’s one of the big things that we use, right?
PD: Yes, and it’s a huge tool that we treasure in the organics. We utilize—one of the ten veterinary tools we have developed is homeopathy.
AO: Okay, tell us about that.
PD: Homeopathy is not taught in the veterinary curriculum—it’s kind of an anti-homeopathy world out there with the drug companies. Homeopathy does work; it gets into frequencies. The Amish and the Mennonites use a lot of homeopathy. There are a few maladies that require hormones, like cystic ovaries, and we have two homeopathies that work 99 percent of the time. When I was still in practice, if I encountered a cystic ovary that I questioned whether my conventional treatment would work, I would always get my homeopathy pills out and go to the herdsman and tell him, “Here’s how you use it,” and when I came back they were gone. And so homeopathy and tinctures go into a lot of houses, especially on the plain folks. We cannot talk about that or advertise that, and they see through the lines—they figure out we can use it for little Amos.
AO: This is Rootstock Radio, and I’m Anne O’Connor. I’m here today with organic veterinarian Dr. Paul Dettloff, and we’ve been speaking about all the ways that we can treat animals that vets take care of, organic livestock, that don’t include antibiotics, which aren’t allowed in organic production systems, but that there are many other tools that we use to care for livestock.
Dr. Paul, alternative medicine and veterinary care has often been vilified as being backward or not science-based. What do you say to that?
PD: There is a huge amount of research on, say, garlic. Garlic has been torn apart. There are thirty-five molecules in garlic that kill bacteria. They know the names of them, they know where the C’s, the O’s, and the H’s line up—it’s a fact. They know that comfrey speeds up osteoclasts coming out of your thymus and your bone marrow to heal bones by double. Arnica is a tremendous herb that takes care of bruising. There’s huge science out there.
I’m sorry to the naysayers, but I have a statement and I get really tired of the naysayers: Condemnation without prior investigation enslaves one to ignorance. And somebody is dissing us that doesn’t have a clue of how deep the knowledge is in these herbs. Aloe vera has been torn apart. My first book and my first tool was aloe vera, and it was a book written by a scientist; it was called The Scientific Validation of Aloe Vera. And aloe vera does fifteen things. And when I read that book, I could see, wow, I can use this here, I can use this there. Aloe vera is in a group of substances called GRAS, and this means the FDA has looked at aloe vera, and it’s GRAS because it’s “generally regarded as safe,” so they don’t control it. And aloe vera is one of our cornerstone tools.
We have three areas that we concentrate in, and the first area I talk about is soil. And I say the first thing you plug in there is you get your calcium properly balanced and get it at a high enough level. The second area is a high-forage diet, and you plug in kelp, which is trace elements. And the third area are vet tools, and the first two things you plug in are aloe vera and a garlic-derivative tincture that’s antimicrobial.
We have a product called CEG, which is cayenne, Echinacea, and garlic, all tinctured together. When you put essential oils or tinctures together, one and one and one is no longer three. You have synergism. And the conventional world doesn’t know what synergism is or does. And we have discovered, by measuring tinctures now, that synergism is profound. And so we have come a long ways in the last twenty years, and there’s a lot of science behind this.
Personal observation is the most reliable source of truth. I practiced thirty-one years and could never get a mummy out of a cow’s uterus, with all the hormones made, hormones that have been banned, the ECPs and all the hormones. And in my thirty-first year of practice I gave a cow, for six days, a tincture called blue cohosh, which is caulophyllum, and I expelled a mummy from a uterus.
AO: So blue cohosh is a natural herb that you’re talking about.
PD: Yes, it was called squaw root by the Native Americans. And consistently, I and some of my veterinarians I mentor can remove mummies 90 percent of the time.
AO: Can you explain for our people who don’t know what a mummy is, what that means?
PD: A mummy is when a calf, usually about four to five months, dies in the uterus that is not infected. It’s either a malformation or it can be a traumatic type thing. And if it’s not infected, the cervix does not open and expel it. And so the cow’s natural mechanism is to remove the three gallons or two gallons of fluid slowly out of the uterus. It’s called inspissation.
And so this cow was supposed to freshen December; it is now February. And she was confirmed pregnant, and in November it looked like she was kind of coming, with her udder and that. And now we’re in February, and you go there as a veterinarian, and that whole uterus has contracted up to about the size of a Frisbee. And it’ll be about two inches thick, and you can feel the crepitus little bones in there, and they’re embedded into the uterine wall. And for thirty years I told farmers, “Sell her,” and they’d always say, “Oh, she’s the best cow in the barn. Can’t you do something?”
And so to satisfy his desires and get him off my back, I would say, “Okay, we’ll give her these hormones,” and I’d drive away. And two weeks later I’d come back and they’d say, “Well, I had to sell that mummy—nothing happened. You were right.”
I no longer can say that, because we can get them out very inexpensive[ly] with tinctures.
AO: So this has been, I can hear over and over again in your stories, that the way that you did things for so long has seen such an enormous shift for you.
PD: Yes. I have an open mind, and with the technological world we’re in and… We’re going up the exponential curve of knowledge, and there’s more things coming faster than ever before. The next ten years is going to be really, really something in agriculture. We’re going to see tremendous changes. Some things that need to be taken away from us—and I won’t go into that at this point—but we’re going to see the sustainable movement is really… Voltaire, the French philosopher, said what’s right will prevail. And not the organic but the sustainable biological farming methods are going to prevail because they’re so right with Mother Nature. Mother Nature bats last.
AO: Do you see your transformation happening for more veterinarians as we go over this next ten years, where we will see enormous changes in our industry?
PD: Absolutely. The veterinary profession is probably changed and changing more than any profession. When I went through vet school it was 98 percent male. Now 85 percent of the students in veterinary school are young, educated females. And they are more receptive to Mother Nature, they’re more husbandry-minded. We have two of them on staff that are tremendous minds. And these young girls coming out are not the old male curmudgeon that won’t change. They’re open. I’m mentoring probably twelve of them around the U.S., and eleven of them are gals and one of them is a male. And so the veterinary profession is going to change markedly, and it’s to the good.
There are different colleges that will offer a degree in sustainable agriculture. Acupuncture is being taught in nine different veterinary schools now. There is an accreditation you can go through for acupuncture. Acupuncture is very, very impressive on a cow. Spinal manipulation—we don’t like to call it chiropractic because the chiropractors don’t like that—but spinal manipulation is becoming more in vogue with these young gals. And we do have a lady from Pennsylvania that comes to our veterinary school that, if anybody is a cow whisperer, she is. I’ve seen her do some absolutely impressive things with acupuncture and spinal manipulation and also with lasers. We’re following the alternative medical world.
Another point I might add is that farmers do take pleasure in, when their farm becomes organic, all of the birds come back. All of the wildlife seek these farms out, and they are able to pick up frequencies. Deer will go through three fields of conventional corn to come and eat organic corn. The turkeys and…and it just becomes a plethora of wildlife on these organic farms. And these farmers love this: “Hey, I got turkeys,” or…
And when you take a conventional farm and change it, I would have this epiphany happen on farm after farm, when I was there, like, “Oh, Doc, guess what I have on my farm!” And I thought maybe a condor a flew over—this guy’s really excited. And I’d say, “What is it, Clem?” And he’d say, “I got earthworms back! I have night crawlers out in the middle of my field. How’d they come there? I don’t know.” And this guy is so excited about his earthworms. That means that he’s got the philosophy on his shoulder day to day, and he wants to produce good food for America.
AO: A big thanks to you, Dr. Paul Dettloff, for joining us and telling us about the fascinating world of organic veterinary care.
You can listen to Rootstock Radio on the go at iTunes and Stitcher, and find us online at rootstock.coop/radio. Rootstock Radio is brought to you by Organic Valley Family of Farms.