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Cows: Healthy Approaches and Treatments--Jerry Brunetti at the Minnesota
Grazing and Organic Conference"
This article was first printed in the September - October 2004 issue of the Organic Broadcaster, published by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
Livestock nutrition consultant Jerry Brunetti knows that the best things in a cow's life are free, or at least very cheap--a farmer who closely monitors their health, good nutritious pasture, and farmer-made remedies from common plants. The founder of Agri-Dynamics, a 25-year-old company that offers natural and alternative livestock health approaches, Jerry gave an interesting and energetic talk about organic dairying last winter to a packed room at the 2004 Minnesota Grazing and Organic Conference in St. Cloud. He focused mainly on digestion, improving forage nutrition, providing greater forage diversity, and remedies for common ailments. He also offered observations about human health, the bankruptcy of large-scale grain-based livestock systems, and water quality. "The thrust of my experience and my biggest gratification working with herd health is the whole farm approach," he said.
Jerry runs the manure through a strainer, then tests it with a pH meter or pH strip paper. He looks at the manure's color and odor. "There shouldn't be any really foul odors. These are indications of dysbiosis, which is a fermenting or rotting in the lower intestine." There shouldn't be any grain in the manure "a sign of inefficiency". Slime indicates digestion problems, and the manure should be set up (not runny), "like a good cow pie should."
The milk urea
nitrogen (MUN) test is another important diagnostic tool. Jerry
noted that a big problem in spring pastures, when cool weather inhibits
plant mineral uptake, is high non-protein nitrogen(NPN) levels in
the plants. (Soil and foliar amendments to inhibit NPN production
during cool weather are described in the "soils and forages"
section of this article). High NPN production may also occur at
any time with nitrogen-rich, mineral-deficient pastures and hayfields.
NPN produces rumen ammonia in cows, which becomes blood urea nitrogen
(BUN), then finally MUN in their udders. High BUN and MUN levels
compromise the immune system, potentially leading to scours and
death. Jerry recalled a client whose cows were dropping dead with
high MUN levels of 26-27 milligrams per deciliter. (According to
a UW Extension publication, the desired herd concentration of MUN
is 10 to 12 mg/dl). As an emergency measure they began with a lot
of molasses--6-7 pounds/head/day. Trying to "counterweight"
very soluble nitrogenous compounds with very soluble carbohydrates
(molasses). "It's not a solution for a farm problem,"
Jerry said, "but it's a band-aid." They also use non-swelling
montmorillonite clay in this situation to absorb the ammonia, so
it won't translate into MUN.
Jerry cautioned that feeding too much grain can create D-lactic acid, lowering rumen pH levels to a point where the beneficial bacteria no longer thrive (rumen acidosis). He has seen herds burdened by both acidosis and rumen ammonia (BUN), because the farmer added corn in the ration to replace energy missing from the high-NPN forage. Instead, he said, the ideal energy source for rumen microbes is neutral detergent soluble fibers (NDSF)--fructans, organic acids, long-chain sugars, beta glucans, and pectins--which plants produce when soil minerals become available to them in the correct ratios. The NDSF minerals then facilitate digestion in the cow. "You need calcium (in the form of calcium pectate) for energy and to make quality protein," he said. "You also need sulfur to create essential amino acids." Magnesium reduces BUN, and other minerals are components in the amino acids. NDSFs are in grasses, legumes, and by-product commodities such as beet pulp, citrus pulp,cottonseed hulls, soy hulls and peanut skins. The NDSFs ferment in the rumen exactly like corn, except they do not produce a lactic acid by-product.
to research by animal nutritionist Mac McCullough, in which McCullough
effectively replaced corn in rations with NDSFs, pound for pound.
With this approach Carnation had a herd producing over 30,000 pounds/cow/year.
In 1952 their top cow produced 42,000 pounds, 1500 pounds butterfat,
on 20 pounds grain/day. "That's 'impossible.' That's the impossible
cow, and they did it fifty years ago." The 20 pound grain ration
was not just corn--it included wheat bran (rich in magnesium), ground
oats, and hominy. Most of the ration's dry matter came from beet
pulp, pasture, alfalfa hay, kelp, molasses, and sliced mangel beets
"loaded with pectin." Jerry noted that in those days many
farms were also feeding pumpkins to provide pectins, "and the
oil in the pumpkin seed is an extremely powerful anthelmintic (kills
In the digestive sequence, abomasum function follows the lead of the rumen. "In order to have strong healthy gastric secretions in the abomasum you have to have good fermentation in the rumen," Jerry said, which again relies on the presence of minerals, adequate "true" protein, and NDSFs in the forages. Food enzymes survive alkaline or slightly acidic pH in the rumen, then extremely acidic (2.0) pH in the abomasum, then alkaline pH again in the small intestine, while they feed the beneficial flora native to each stomach. The extreme acidity in the abomasum is designed to destroy parasites, just before the food enters the small intestine for absorption into the bloodstream. "The system works. You can't buy products that work as well as this works."
He also suggested adding epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), because soil magnesium (magnesium carbonate) is very insoluble. "You need high soil temperatures to stimulate the rootball bacteria to break it down," he said. Molasses or sugar in the tank, particularly during a cold wet spring, will stimulate grass photosynthesis to convert nitrogen into true proteins. And a small amount of rock salt in the mix will inhibit the uptake of potassium, which often occurs at the expense of magnesium. "This is very simple to do and very effective--you will see results right now," Jerry said. "It's particularly critical in early stages of grass growth; it can stop a lot of metabolic problems, it increases the quality of grass tremendously, and it's very cheap and easy to do." If you spray half the field, he said, "the cow will eat the side that's sprayed every single time." Additional ingredients could be boron (as sol-u-bor), trace elements as needed and calcium (as micronized calcium sulfate or carbonate).
for the following mineral levels in the forage: nitrogen 3.50%;
calcium 1.60+%; potassium 2-3%; magnesium 0.50%; phosphorus 0.50%;
sulfur 0.35%, or at least 10% of the nitrogen; chloride 0.40%; iron
<200 ppm (parts per million); manganese 35+ ppm; copper 15+ ppm;
boron 40+ ppm; zinc 30+ ppm; aluminum <200 ppm. "When you
see targets being met, looking just at minerals, you are looking
at a different feed. You will see soluble fiber starting to show
up in plants, and quality protein, not just nitrogen."
To give an idea of what a farmer can do, Jerry told of a friend who produces 400 pounds of sprouts per week.in a 900 square foot shade house. In 2000 Brunetti sprouted wheat, corn, oats, barley, buckwheat, rye, sunflowers over 3-5 days and analyzed them. "We saw a huge movement of protein to be less soluble; we actually created bypass protein," he said. "What else happened is we got rid of the enzyme inhibitors." Enzyme inhibitors protect seeds from germinating in a hostile environment, but they also inhibit metabolic enzymes in the digestive systems of animals and humans.
Sprouting also removes phytic acid, a mineral inhibitor. "We already have, according to the USDA, (about) a 70 % drop in mineral density in every crop--vegetables, fruits, grain, meat--from 1910 to 2000. So if we are already losing minerals based on the fact that our soils are all worn out,then you start to increase grain levels both in animals and people, we are not getting the trace elements."
Jerry also analyzed the nutrients of non-standard forage plants--what many people call weeds. "I'm a big believer in plant diversity," he said. "I believe this has got to come back." In 2000 he compared a good grade of alfalfa with dandelion, chicory, comfrey, plantain, nettle leaf, burdock, cleavers, curly dock, jewel weed, yarrow, purslane, and lambsquarters. In the 27-item table analysis he displayed, the other plants as a group exceeded alfalfa in most categories. "Mineral-wise and nutrition-wise these plants are not second-class citizens. Look at the calcium, sulfur, and trace mineral levels of these plants. You wonder why they are medicinal? That's why."
Dandelion is among Jerry's favorite herbs. "I like to see some dandelions in a pasture," he said. "They are very good for the kidneys and liver, and very mineral rich. It's a bitters, which stimulates the liver and gall bladder to produce adequate levels of bile and digestive juices. Very good for turning the digestive system around." He said people in Europe will sometimes take a shot of bitters--a tincture of plants such as rhubarb root, dandelion leaf, gentian, ginger, and citrus peel--before eating, to stimulate good digestion. Brunetti grew up eating dandelion, par-boiled with eggs on a sandwich. "In an Italian family, it was law that you had to eat dandelions." He said a problem infestation of dandelion can be corrected by adjusting calcium/ potassium ratios. "They are good accumulators of calcium, but they love potassium. So try a coating of calcium and boron."
Jerry also encouraged hedgerow planting. He noted that woody plants produce sugars anytime the temperature is above 32 F. "The Europeans always kept these plants around for wind protection, diversity, and to feed their animals in the wintertime." He said bioflavanoids concentrated in the buds of woody plants are anti-virals and augment vitamin C in the immune system.
He said hybrid willow can produce four tons per acre of dry matter, and ranchers in Australia coppice it for cattle, sheep, and goats. "They go crazy for this stuff, because it's loaded with all these nutrients that they can't get in domestic forages." He suggested farmers start hedgerows by taking poor ground "that you don't want to ever plow again" and planting 30 or 40 light-canopy trees per acre, such as willow, mulberry, persimmon, filbert, kentucky coffeetree, or osage orange. "There is no problem getting protein on any of these plants," he said. For instance, mulberry leaves contain 26% protein, to go along with 3% calcium. "Protein's not your yield-limiting factor on the farm. Energy is your yield-limiting factor. Protein is the easy part. I don't know why farmers buy protein." Jerry said protein is abundant because nitrogen is--it makes up 78% of the air, and plants can easily fix it "as long as there is a soil food web that puts the nitrogen in a usable form for the plants." Energy is sunlight captured in chlorophyll and other carotenoids (colored pigments).
One advantage to silage is easier preservation of these carotenoids than with hay. "You want good green hay, in which these compounds have not oxidized too much." But one of the negatives about silage is it tends to convert peptides and proteins into NPN. "That's why I like to throw sugars on grass silage, to get it to ferment NOW." This fast fermentation prevents heat damage and spoilage. Jerry likes to use dairy whey, because it is loaded with lactose sugar. Lactose ferments into beneficial L-lactic acid and is also rich in calcium and potassium. Lime on the silage will also stimulate lactic acid production. He said old recipes have ten pounds of limestone and ten to thirty pounds molasses per ton of silage. "Then you get a really good ferment and less damage."
NOSTRUMS, REMEDIES, & STRATEGIES
For the second half of his talk in St. Cloud, Jerry Brunetti offered inexpensive remedies to common herd health ailments. "The only reason why you don't hear about something good and effective is because it's cheap," he said. He encouraged farmers to experiment with changing the botanical recipes to suit their situation. "There's lots of variations--check herb books and play with this," he said. "This is something you can get or grow on your farm. It's really inexpensive, and I find that the most common plants are every bit as healing as the exotics, if not more so."
Fat-soluble vitamins are in the grasses, in the carotenes, then converted in digestion to: long-chain vitamins A (from retinol), and D (phytosterol); vitamin E (tocopherol in grasses and legumes) and K (from quinones in legumes). Vitamin G fatty acids come as alpha linolenic acid (Omega-3). "That's why grass-fed animals are loaded with Omega-3 and the grain-fed animals are loaded with Omega-6," Jerry said. Clovers and alfalfa are very high in fat-soluble vitamin K (quinone), which is associated with depositing calcium on bones. A and D come from sunlight. In the wintertime ruminants can take sterol from their forages and convert them to vitamin D (cholecalciferal hormone). Humans cannot do that. Humans can only get vitamin D from sunlight or animal fat sources: butter, cream, cod liver oil. "The fatty acids we get in these start with grass or krill or algae; we are ultimately grass eaters, though we eat it through animals."
The antioxidants also play a vital role in removing toxic by-products of disease organisms, called endotoxins. "Antibiotics don't work on endotoxins," Jerry said. "They only work--if they work--on the organisms that produce the endotoxins." Antioxidants remove endotoxins by either chelating them away from the tissue or by increasing phagocytosis--the engulfing and destruction of waste particles and harmful microbes by specialized white blood cells (phagocytes). Antioxidants also stimulate B cells to produce antibodies. "So you're revving up the immune system, you're picking up the toxins out of the blood. And you're getting the elimination organs activated from all this," Jerry said.
Teas can keep
up to a week or two refrigerated in a sealed jar, possibly with
a natural preservative like citricidal (grapefruit seed extract).
When the tea starts declining, a mother develops on top. Jerry feels
it is important to warm the tea before giving it to an animal. "Ice
cold tea can be really upsetting." He also himself believes
in drinking warm water in the morning "to stimulate the glandular
system and sense of well-being".
Acute Mastitis Treatment
For acute illnesses only--a two quart drench of 3/4-1% hydrogen peroxide simulates what white cells do. Or it may be used as a drip. You can't use vitamin C at the same time; hydrogen peroxide is a pro-oxidant,vitamin C is an antioxidant. "They'll cancel each other out."
"You want things that will arrest microbial infestation, but also soothing demulcents to arrest possible irritation to the lining of the small intestine." Irritated villi can rupture, producing bloody scours; the resulting scar tissue can later result in poor absorption and a poorly performing adult animal. One of Jerry's favorite demulcents is comfrey, a plant rich in minerals and protein. "I call comfrey the temperate aloe-vera," he said. "Both plants are loaded with mucopolysaccharides that have beta glucans that are immunostimulatory." Comfrey also has two unique amino acid compounds, allantoin and chillentoin, which stimulate cell development so tissues heal quicker. "It's amazing how quickly you can heal a very nasty wound with a comfrey poultice," he said. He disputed research which claims toxicity in comfrey. He said researchers extracted pyrraozzoline alkaloids from comfrey and injected it into rats. Pyrraozzoline alkaloids are also found in spinach. They concluded comfrey is toxic when liver tumors appeared in the rats. "Well, I don't inject my spinach. I eat spinach," Jerry said. "I don't worry about pyrraozzoline alkaloids, and I do eat comfrey when it's young. It's really great for soups." He said comfrey is one of the few land plants able to synthesize vitamin B-12. Chickens, pigs, and livestock eat it.
Clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice are "powerful antimicrobials." Clove contains leugenol, a strong antiseptic. Nutmeg is in the opium family, so it tends to slow down convulsions in the gut and quiets down the animal. "Allspice is probably at the top of the list for anti-pathogens," Jerry said; "it is very effective against fungi, e. coli, salmonella, candida, camphylobacter, and listeria." For a very sick animal, Jerry said "I would I.V. not only electrolytes, but tremendous amounts of sodium ascorbate vitamin C along with," to overcome endotoxemia.
(uterine infection) Treatment
This treatment cleanses, astringently draws out infection, and disinfects the uterus."You can irrigate the entire uterus without causing any irritation," unlike with antiseptics such as iodine or nitrofurosan. "Boric acid is safe enough to put in your eye, and is a cleansing disinfectant," Jerry said. "I've done this many, many times in twenty years; you put a pint of tea in the cervix, the animal eventually lies down, and you will see all kinds of corruption and crap come out of that cow." After she gets up, go in again 3-5 days later. "See if the discharge is changing from cloudy to clear." If it is still cloudy with pus, go in with another pint of tea. "Always warm the tea up to body temperature before you go in."
B) Inject subcutaneously all affected animals with 10 cc. vitamins A and D, and 10 cc. vitamin E-selenium (Mu-Se).
C) If it's a herd problem, especially lots of uterine infections: check herd diet for zinc, iodine, manganese, copper, selenium and balance of Ca:Mg:P;K.
Antagonists. Brunetti uses diatomaceous earth, montmorillonite (non-swelling) clay, and humic shales containing montmorillonite, minerals and fulvic acid. The reason it works for some and not for others may have to do with the parasite load on the farm and what else is available to the animals. "Pulse it": feed high levels five to seven days; five before waxing moon, two days after. Then afterwards come down to maintenance levels. Diatomaceous earth is also rich in silica, which is transformed into orthosilicic acid in digestion, an important component for healthy tendons, ligaments, skin, and hair.
Feed supplements. Always have free choice minerals and kelp. Observe animal behavior, to reconcile it with forage fertility and soil fertility. Animals having access to magnesium and sulfur early in the spring will go for it if grasses have high NPN; these two elements are the primary BUN antagonists. Jerry said, "each year write down how much they consume and associate it with changes in weather, forage and farm fertility. After a few years you're going to say 'I get this now. These animals are teaching me what's going on with my forage and farm fertility.'" To get a more specific idea of what is happening, he recommended putting out more mineral boxes. "It's not a lot of work. If you really want to pay attention, seperate the macronutrients." On a high-forage ration, Jerry recommended trying a lot of calcium, less amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, and trace elements, depending on the soil and forage test. "Believe me, you will learn something from those animals." Test soils for elements that pertain to livestock health--chromium, vanadium, iodine, cobalt. "Those things are critical for animals." They are not recognized by the USDA as important for plant growth, but "I disagree with that. I think all elements are necessary for plant growth, we just haven't figured out to what extent yet." Jerry recommended reading Malabar Farm; "they turned a burned-out farm into a productive operation within 5-8 years, because they used deep-rooted perennials to tap the elements in the subsoil."
Farmers frequently ask him "'what does it mean when a cow is eating these weeds?' What I call herbs they call weeds," he said. If the animals eat a lot of burdock, they are trying to decongest their livers, because they have ketosis. "Normally they don't like it, but they know it's medicinal. They'll inhale it," he said. "I've seen a cows, goats and horses eat stinging nettles fresh.Have you ever touched stinging nettle? I don't know how they can stand it, but to them the cure is worth it." In his analysis of nettle, Jerry found that it contained 25.7% protein, over 4% calcium, "a lot of pectins", and 1% sulfur. "It's the highest sulfur plant that I've found on earth." He said during World War I the kaiser mandated that German farmers grow stinging nettles to feed draft animals in the German army. "Stinging nettle was the fastest way the Germans knew to put flesh on an animal. You cut it and it wilts, then there's no more sting."
Montmorillonite clay. Clays absorb rumen ammonia, acidosis, mold, alkalizes low pH, correct udder problems. "Clays are polysilicate materials structured molecularly like a deck of cards," with a negative charge on the outside, positive on the inside--which offers a large surface area to absorb the positively-charged ammonia, so it can be removed from the rumen.
Check forage levels for high NPN. Look for mold caused by harvesting under bad conditions or poor storage. Jerry recalled one farmer whose cows were eating up to 1 1/2 pounds of the clay when they should be eating four to six ounces. The problem turned out to be moldy silage. "He had this trench silo, which is primarily a bad compost heap." "Ask 'why are they doing these really exaggerated things?' They are not just talking to you, they're screaming at you."
B) Nutraceuticals. Inject subcutaneously: 10 cc. vitamin A and vitamin D; 10 cc vitamin E-selenium (Mu-Se); 50 cc. vitamin C.
and hairy wart
Pneumonia/ bronchitis treatment
Recommended reading from Jerry Brunetti: Treating Dairy Cows Naturally by Hugh Karreman VMD.; The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Julliette de Bairacli Levy; Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby; Homeopathic Treatment of Cattle by Ed Shaeffer VMD; Alternative Treatments for the Ruminant by Paul Detloff, DVM; Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield; Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine by Daniel Mowrey; The History of Randleigh Farms by William Keenan (1935-1957, 9 volumes); Soil, Grass & Cancer by Andre Voisin; Small Scale Livestock Farming by Carol Ekarius.
is the editor of the Organic Broadcaster. He and his wife Liz grow
market produce on their farm near Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin.