Evaluation of Herbal Remedies as Alternatives to Antibiotic Therapy in Dairy Cattle

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,990.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: North Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Steven Washburn
North Carolina State University
Major Professor:
Dr. Kevin Anderson
North Carolina State University

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: herbal medicines
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture


    A comparison of two herbal dry off treatments to conventional antibiotic or no treatment determined that herbal treatments are competitive with conventional therapy at dry off. The herbal treatments tested, Phyto-Mast and Cinnatube, were just as successful as conventional therapy in curing infections during the dry period but not significantly better than no treatment. Cinnatube was significantly better than no treatment at preventing infections from occurring. Milk quality was not negatively affected by the use of any treatment. These herbal treatments are recommended for use if mastitis during the dry period and antibiotic use are of concern to the farmer.


    Inflammation of the mammary gland, or mastitis, is one of the most costly health issues of dairy farms; it is estimated that each clinical case costs an average of $179 due to milk loss, increased mortality and treatment costs on conventional dairy farms (Bar et al., 2008). In dairy cows, mastitis is most frequently caused by a bacterial infection. Infection can occur during lactation or in the dry period (between the end of lactation and parturition) as a result of contact with contagious or environmental pathogens (National Mastitis Council, 1997). Prophylactic use of antibiotics 60 days before parturition at the time of drying off has been shown to be effective in treating current and preventing future bacterial infections (Neave et al., 1966). However for organic producers, national organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic antibiotics in organic dairy cattle except as a last resort. If an organic dairy cow receives antibiotics she must be removed from the herd (Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2013). Many herbal products are available to organic dairies as alternatives to antibiotic therapy but clinical testing of their efficacy is lacking, allowing for skepticism of their efficacy (Ramey, 2007). Plant-derived antimicrobials have shown promise in vitro as treatments for mastitis; trans-cinnamaldehyde (from cinnamon bark), thymol (from oregano oil) and eugenol (from clove oil) were shown to be effective in milk culture versus several major mastitis pathogens (Baskaran et al., 2009). Thymol is one of several ingredients in Phyto-Mast (Penn Dutch Cow Care, Narvon, PA), an herbal intramammary product labeled for improving milk quality. The purpose of this project was to engage organic dairy farmers in testing the efficacy of herbal alternatives to antibiotics for mastitis treatment in dairy cattle. This study assessed Phyto-Mast and Cinnatube (New AgriTech Enterprises, Locke, NY) as dry off treatments in four commercial dairy herds and one research herd. Phyto-Mast and Cinnatube are both made of naturally-occurring herbal extracts known to stimulate the immune system or have antibacterial effects. A preliminary study comparing Phyto-Mast to antibiotic or no treatment revealed no statistically significant difference in milk yield or somatic cell score which is a measure of mammary infection level (Mullen et al., 2010). That study was in a single 180-cow herd whereas the current study expands the preliminary study to include more farms and another herbal dry treatment strategy. The goal of the current study was to engage North Carolina organic farmers in research and provide them with reliable information regarding the efficacy of available alternatives to antibiotics.

    Project objectives:

    1.) Engage dairy farmers in mastitis research by teaching them how to administer intramammary products and how to take milk samples aseptically 1a.) Provide each dairy with a milk collection kit 2.) Determine the efficacy of Phyto-Mast and Cinnatube: 2a.) Assign treatments to each herd to increase the power of the experiment 2b.) Assess the presence and amount of bacteria on each participating farm prior to treatment and after freshening 2c.) Measure milk production and somatic cell count of each cow and compare between the pre-treatment lactation and post-treatment lactation production and somatic cell count

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.