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Leading the Herd: Protect Our Organic Dairy Cows

Organic Farmers Association members are working to protect the health of their dairy cows and the integrity of the organic label.

Iowa dairy farmer Francis Thicke believes that keeping calves with their mothers is the most humane and healthy way to start them off. He has also determined that weaning them after three to four months is the best practice. Around that age, he acknowledges with a chuckle, “they start turning into juvenile delinquents. They won’t come when their moms call. They run around in gangs. And they get high on grass.”

Thicke and his wife, Susan Noll Thicke, own Radiance Dairy in Fairfield, Iowa, where they milk 90 Jerseys. The whole herd is out year-round—through most of the winter, even when temperatures can hit 0°F in southern Iowa. The cows don’t mind, Thicke says. He doesn’t push the milk production and continues to rotate the animals through paddocks by moving their hay and baleage. “They get a small amount of grain but eat mostly grass,” he says. “They’re in their natural environment, eating their natural diet. We haven’t had a vet on the farm in three years.”