Can Organic Dairy Farmers use Antibiotics?

By Dairy Farming Hut


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Organic dairy farming refers to rearing cows without GMOs, antibiotics, plastic pellets, and growth hormones. Organic cows are fed 100% pure organic feed. For cow's milk to be sold as organic, it needs to stay in an organic environment for more than 12 months. Today's topic of discussion is, can organic dairy farmers use antibiotics?

According to the USDA organics guidelines, organic milk given to consumers should not be from animals treated with antibiotics. If antibiotics are used to treat a cow in an organic dairy farm, the farmer needs to remove the cow from the herd and no longer use its milk.

Does Organic Dairy have Antibiotics?

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The answer is a stern NO! USDA places strict standards and guidelines to prohibit the use of antibiotics in treating organic dairy cows. Many measures have been put in place to ensure that the milk bought in stores is safe and antibiotic-free. Organic milk is tested in each stage that occurs from the farm to the grocery store. Any milk that tests positive for antibiotics is discarded long before it arrives in grocery stores.

When people purchase organic milk, they should be sure that they are buying certified foods farmed with methods that incorporate a high level of biodiversity, proper environmental practices, and apply the best animal welfare and production techniques that coincide with consumer preferences.

What Happens in case someone takes milk with Antibiotics in it?

Drinking milk that contains antibiotic residue is not poisonous, but it is slightly harmful in the long run. If a person consumes milk with a high concentration of antibiotic residue, this can trigger hypoallergenic reactions. Antibiotics in unpasteurized milk can also cause immunogenic reactions in people.

Globally, there have been concerns about the use of antibiotics in animals that produce food for consumption. Long-term consumption causes bacteria to develop resistance, and this may:

  • Limit the ability of antibiotics to treat infections
  • Need the use of different medication
  • Heighten the chance of spreading the resistant bacteria to other people, farms, or animals.

However, it's nearly impossible for consumers to take organic milk with trace amounts of antibiotics because of all the measures put in place to prevent that from happening.

Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics are like miracle drugs; their use has saved many human and animal lives, but like miracles, it loses its meaning if used too many times. Despite its benefits, there is concern from the Public Health, Food, and Safety on using antibiotics for agricultural produce. In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria resulting from the agricultural application of antibiotics.

How Antibiotic resistance occurs?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria or germs can survive and grow even when treated with an antibiotic that previously could stop them.

This has dramatically impacted the treatment of diseases affecting humans and animals that require antibiotic intervention. In other forms of dairy farming, apart from organic farming, antibiotics are administered routinely, mostly during dry seasons, to prevent mastitis.

Transmission of an antimicrobial pathogen or foodborne pathogen to people is highly possible if someone drinks raw milk. However, the use of antibiotics to treat and prevent diseases far outweigh the repercussions. Antibiotics are a necessary evil in an agricultural application; therefore, prudent means of treatment have to be established.

Prudent use of antibiotics is necessary, meaningful, and worthwhile. During dry periods most animals are susceptible to infections. Using antibiotics in such times proves to be a wise strategy. Dairy farmers should identify the pathogen causing the infection, determine the resistance and figure out the best duration to administer appropriate antibiotics for use.

What happens when Organic Dairy Cows need antibiotics?

In some cases, organic dairy animals may get infected and require treatment using antibiotics. Before considering antibiotics as a means of treatment, here are a few other methods organic farmers can consider before opting for antibiotics:

  • There are herbs used by vets - standard botanical medicine like garlic, wormwood, fennel seed, carrot seed, pyrethrum, and pumpkin seeds have natural healing properties. Many vets use these herbs and other vegetation to treat animals or make herbal medicines.
  • Vitamin supplements - Vitamin supplements may help boost the animal's immunity to fight off the infection
  • Homeopathy and botanical treatments are also good alternatives to consider.

On ordinary farms, when a dairy cow gets sick, it's separated from the rest, and it goes through a withdrawal period until it heals. Then, it can return to the herd once its system is free of antibiotics.

On the other hand, dairy animals in organic farms can no longer be considered organic once they receive antibiotics. Rather than rejoin the herd, the organic cow will join a different herd of cows that might have also received antibiotics during their lifetime.

What can a farmer do with an organic animal that has been given antibiotics?

Most animals are generally healthy and rarely get infected. However, there is a possibility for perfectly healthy animals or well-cared animals to get infected. Once this happens, it becomes necessary for a farmer to administer antibiotics to save their organic dairy cattle.

When an organic animal is under antibiotic medication, the farmer needs to remove the animal from the rest of the herd. Separating the animal from the rest of the herd helps in many ways, like:

  • Organic dairy animals are reared together close to each other. Separation ensures that farmers can control the spread of the disease and treat it with antibiotics if need be.
  • This will also reduce the risk of the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to other healthy animals.
  • Separating the animal makes it easier to observe the animal's progress through the period of recovery. This can help the farmer to see if the medication administered is working or not.
  • Separation also helps farmers stop the circulation of dairy products from infected animals/ animals treated with antibiotics.

The animals will then join a different herd that has also received antibiotics as treatment. The farmer can then use the herd treated with antibiotics to produce conventional milk.

The difference between conventional milk and organic milk

When you pour conventional milk and organic milk into different glasses, they all look the same. But that is the only common similarity they have. Most conventional cows are reared on large factory farms known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

The differences don't stop there; here are a few more to keep in mind:

  • Conventional cows have zero access to pasture; they are fed GMO and corn-based feed, while Organic cows are fed organic feed, and some part of their diet includes fresh pasture.
  • Organic cows are grown on their feed without using growth hormones like it is done with conventional cows.
  • Conventional cows are regularly given antibiotics to help control and stop the spreading of diseases, which can be easy due to overcrowding in CAFOs. On the other hand, once an organic dairy cow receives antibiotic treatment, it's no longer considered organic.
  • Conventional cows have a short life span for many reasons, the major one being the diet of food given. GMO soy or corn-based feed is unnatural to cows, making it hard to digest.

Not all conventional cows are reared the same way, but some are. From these differences, you can understand why people would prefer drinking organic milk to conventional milk.


It's not that people don't support antibiotics, but it's better to leave it as a last resort or when absolutely necessary. Prevention is better than cure; maintaining a good diet for your organic dairy cows can go a long way to ensuring the cow's good health.

This is not a Veterinarian Advice

The Ideas and Strategies presented on this website and the information are based on our research and experience. These strategies are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information and/or documents contained on this website do not constitute veterinarian or medical advice. You should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition your livestock or pets may have.


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