Effective Reduction of Antibiotic Use in Dairy Farming through Ethnovet Medicine as Part of an Integrated Livestock Health Approach

The international network organized within the Natural Livestock Farming Foundation has developed an effective methodology to support farmers to reduce their use of antibiotics and other veterinary drugs, in both smallholder and large-scale dairy systems. It is now clear that this does not only improve milk quality, but also the quantity of milk, farm income, environment, and an up to 87% reduced antibiotic use  

By Katrien van’t Hooft

Executive Director Foundation for Natural Livestock Farming (NLF) 

Director Dutch Farm Experience

Effective Reduction of Antibiotic Use in Dairy Farming through Ethnovet Medicine as Part of an Integrated Livestock Health Approach


In the world-wide quest for dairy modernization the focus on crossbreeding and productivity increase of dairy cattle has, besides enhanced milk production, also resulted in high use of agro-chemicals. The use of antibiotics for common cattle diseases, such as udder infection and diarrhoea, is widespread. This contributes to the global threat of anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

Natural Livestock Farming approach

Since 2014 farmers, livestock scientists and veterinarians from Ethiopia, Uganda, India and the Netherlands have joined forces under the umbrella of the Natural Livestock Farming foundation (NLF).

This international network on knowledge development for livestock health is re-valuing time-tested methods, such as use of medicinal plants and strategic use of local breeds, to be applied in a modern context. NLF combines knowledges from various backgrounds including farmer knowledge, western veterinary science and Indian Ayurveda science.

The NLF Foundation improves cattle health on basis of the NLF 5-layered approach (van’t Hooft et al., 2017) comprising of:

  • Appropriate management of animals, farm and soils
  • Strategic use of local breeds, strategic crossbreeding
  • Ethnovet Medicine: use of herbs and natural products
  • Food quality improvement and control
  • Better farm income through cost reduction and direct marketing

NLF core activities are action research, exchange of best practices, and training. The combination of bottom-up experimentation and international peer to peer exchange is additional to existing initiatives in the field of AMR control. This opens up opportunities that more conventional livestock development programs fail to unlock, providing opportunity for increased farm income, better child nutrition, food safety & security, as well as improved environment. 

Results in smallholder dairy system

Ethnovet medicine as part of the NLF 5-layer approach is gradually being adopted, especially within countries with smallholder dairy farmers. The main example being India, the largest dairy producer in the world, based on 98% zero-grazing smallholder dairy farmers with 2-5 cows.

Over the past decade NLF India (a collaboration between GLOHMSIWA and Trans Disciplinary University TDU) has trained a total 30.000 farmers and 2000 veterinarians on efficient use of herbs for cattle health, also known as ethno-veterinary practices. (M.N.B. Nair, 2019)

Since 2017 the method is adopted by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Through an on-line reporting system[1] the empirical data of more than 556,000 cases of 30 bovine diseases cured with herbal medicine were recorded. An overall average cure rate of 82% was registered, as well as an 87% reduction of antibiotic use within two years after the training.

NLF in Ethiopia (headed by Ethiopian Society of Animal Production ESAP), implemented an action research based on the NLF approach in two zero-grazing smallholder dairy communities. Experts from NLF India headed a training on the use of medicinal plants (mainly kitchen herbs), while organizations collaborating with NLF Netherlands guided training on laboratory skills and calf management. In two years, the approach has shown significant improvement in milk quality (8% antibiotic residue reduction) and quantity (over 50% increase), farm income (33% increase), while calf mortality was reduced by 60%. Average costs for cattle health were reduced by 20%. The outcomes of this pilot will have a bearing in supporting the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture in improving milk quality and to scale up the strategy into various dairy programs.

The initial focus of NLF in Uganda (headed by the Lake Mburo Farmers Cooperative Society) was on natural control of ticks and tick-borne diseases amongst smallholder ranging cattle. An herbal recipe based on local plants was developed by experts from NLF India and tried out in 2017-2018. In recent years the society has also focused on diversifying farm activities including value addition and local marketing of dairy products. 

Results in large-scale dairy

Since the start of NLF in the Netherlands in 2015, around 400 farmers and 50 veterinarians have joined the activities. The antibiotic use for mastitis in the dairy sector used to be high, with dry cow treatment a common practice. Since 2014 a one-to-one relationship between farmers and veterinarians on the use of antibiotics was enforced by the government, with mandatory (national) registration of antibiotic use. As a result, the use of antibiotics in the total livestock production systems was reduced to around 70% compared to 2009, though the decrease is now stagnating.

In the Dutch dairy sector increased use by farmers of ready-made natural products was one of the major changes for mastitis prevention and cure. Moreover, farmers started to re-introduce herbs in the cattle feed and ray-grass monoculture grasslands. This exposed the lack of knowledge amongst farmers and veterinarians, both about herbal grassland management and the safety of herbal products. Since 2018 NLF in the Netherlands has trained farmers and veterinarians on the safe use of herbal products and herbal grassland management. The Dutch government has invested in the spread of knowledge on natural remedies via so-called Barn-books (Groot et al., 2021). 

Ethnovet medicine for improving milk quality

In dairy development the main focus has been on maximising cattle productivity and milk quantity. At this point in time the crisis with AMR obliges the sector to look beyond this, and focus on both milk quantity and milk quality. Meanwhile, knowledge and skills about practical ways to reduce the use of antibiotics at farm level without harming cattle health and wellbeing are lacking.

The strategic collaboration headed by NLF has brought about a road map on improving cattle health and milk quality. Now that proof of concept about the NLF approach including ethnovet medicine is available it is time for upscaling it into mainstream dairy policies, extension and education. For this, NLF is reaching out to NGO’s, government, research institutes and funding agencies, while organizing webinars, field level pilots and international exchanges.



M N Balakrishnan Nair. “Ethno-Veterinary Sciences and Practices for Reducing the use of Antimicrobial and Other Veterinary Drugs in Veterinary Practices”. EC Veterinary Science RCO.01 (2019): 16-17.

Katrien van’t Hooft, Maria Groot and Getachew Gebru 2017. Natural Livestock Farming: Piloting a Strategy to Improve Milk Quality and Reduce Anti-Microbial Resistance. Appro Poult Dairy & Vet Sci. 1(3). APDV.000514

Groot, M.J., Berendsen, B.J.A., Cleton, N.B.2021. The Next Step to Further Decrease Veterinary Antibiotic Applications: Phytogenic Alternatives and Effective Monitoring; the Dutch Approach. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 8,709750


[1] Information Network for Animal Productivity & Health (INAPH),  https://www.nddb.coop/resources/inaph


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News Flash 501: Weekly Snapshot of Public Health Challenges

News Flash Links, as part of the research project PEAH (Policies for Equitable Access to Health), aim to focus on the latest challenges by trade and governments rules to equitable access to health in resource-limited settings

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Déjà Vu: Within Our Grasp

As of today, ...one in eight Americans is still food-insecure. One in six American children do not always know when their next meal will be or where that meal will come from. Recently, President Biden’s administration has also come up with a plan to end hunger in America by 2030. Much of that is exactly what hunger groups wanted to do nearly two decades ago...

By Sharman Apt Russell


Sharman Apt Russell has published some dozen books translated into nine languages. Her Diary of a Citizen Scientist won the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Natural History Writing and her Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005) was written with the help of a Rockefeller Fellowship. Her Within Our Grasp: Childhood Malnutrition Worldwide and the Revolution Taking Place to End It (Pantheon Books, 2021) highlights the alignment of environmental and humanitarian goals.  Sharman lives in the magical realism of the American Southwest. She teaches in the MFA program of Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a professor emeritus at Western New Mexico University in Silver City. For more information, go to www.sharmanaptrussell.com

Déjà Vu: Within Our Grasp


In 2004, I was writing a book about the science of hunger, how our bodies respond to both voluntary fasting and involuntary malnutrition and starvation. I talked to a lot of people about this subject. The coalition National Anti-Hunger Organizations (NAHO) had just come up with a blueprint to end hunger in America, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and as they were the first to admit—this wasn’t rocket science. “The solution to hunger in America is not a secret,” the NAHO said. “We have both the knowledge and the tools.”

Eighteen years later, one in eight Americans is still food-insecure. One in six American children do not always know when their next meal will be or where that meal will come from.

Recently, President Biden’s administration has also come up with a plan to end hunger in America by 2030. Much of that is exactly what hunger groups wanted to do nearly two decades ago.

The first step is to expand existing programs. Reach out to the people who are eligible for food assistance but do not receive it because the process of applying is so difficult and humiliating. Increase the benefits of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). Extend healthy school meals into the summers and holidays. Provide more nutritious healthy food to food banks and food pantries. Focus on supporting vulnerable groups such as seniors, children, and immigrants.

The second step is to reduce poverty. Return the child tax credit used in the pandemic, which was shown to reduce child poverty by almost half. Raise the minimum wage. Lower health care costs. Help provide quality child care and safe, affordable housing.

It’s not rocket science.

At the same time, the 2022 plan does have some remarkable differences from what was proposed in 2004.

When I was writing about malnutrition then, statistics from the World Health Organization did not include the problem of overnutrition. Today, being overweight or obese is considered a form of malnutrition which can result in serious chronic disease. Some 42 percent of adults in America are obese. Almost 20 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese. What does this mean for their future? We don’t really know. America has never had so many obese children.

Obesity, of course, is also connected to poverty. When people do not know when their next meal will be, they may tend to overcompensate or develop unhealthy eating habits. When people live in food deserts, with access mainly to highly processed and inexpensive fast food, they may tend to gain weight. When city parks and green spaces are unsafe or far away, healthy daily exercise like walking and bicycling is hard to develop as a routine.

President Biden’s plan to end hunger is sensitive to the new realities of malnutrition and includes an emphasis on making nutritious food more available in poor communities and creating more opportunities for physical recreation.

The plan also welcomes the crucial role of business in America, with a long list of companies and organizations that have pledged real money—some eight billion dollars—in the effort to provide better access to better food. That list includes Albertsons, Door Dash, Instacart, Walgreens, Chobani, Tyson Foods, Google, Sysco, Warner Brothers, The Food Industry Association, The National Grocers Association, and National Restaurant Association. Their programs will range from nutrition labeling and nutrition counseling to financing healthier school breakfasts and lunches.

These efforts may be particularly important in a time when government in America becomes more partisan and paralyzed.

It’s not rocket science. We know what to do. And we have the resources.

I hope it doesn’t take another twenty years.




By the same Author recently on PEAH

The Strategy of Hope






News Flash 500: Weekly Snapshot of Public Health Challenges

News Flash Links, as part of the research project PEAH (Policies for Equitable Access to Health), aim to focus on the latest challenges by trade and governments rules to equitable access to health in resource-limited settings

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Webinar registration: Financial Justice for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Tuesday, 15 November 2022 at Geneva Press Club

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Success Stories: SUCCESS ARK

SUCCESS ARK is a registered Not-for-Profit Youth-Led organization operating in West Nile region in Uganda specifically in Arua City and Arua District. It was established in 2018, March. Its mission is to foster empowerment   through advocacy for human rights, health education and poverty alleviation for positive living.

PEAH is pleased to host here an illustrated summary by the Executive Director Tukashaba Felix on some SUCCESS ARK success stories in the fields of Education, ICT (Information and Communication Technology), Health and Environment projects

  By Tukashaba Felix

SUCCESS ARK Executive Director



 Success Stories: SUCCESS ARK


ICT-Information Communication Technology and Education Project

ICT is one of the most vital tools used almost in everyday life for various purposes. The government encourages the use of ICT in learning centers by teachers to enable them smoothly handle academic stuffs. However, there has not been enough impact by the government to build capacity of the teachers both in primary and secondary schools.

SUCCESS ARK decided to take on the mantle to contribute to the integration of ICT into education system by initiating and implementing ICT project targeting 600 teachers from primary and secondary schools. It is aiming at increasing access to ICTs and equipping teachers with basic literacy skills. The project is ongoing with internal funding; however, external support is so much needed to successfully implement this project to full scale. The project has started with some teachers in a school called Arua Public Primary School.

ICT capacity building sessions at Arua Public Primary School and a group photo with some of the participating teachers in the ICT project


Health Project

We have had several interventions related with activities of Health in various communities. Our beneficiaries have appreciated the work done in health especially in the HIV, TB and Malaria and Sexual Reproductive Health interventions.

Over 1000 community members have benefited from our health projects including the currently ongoing Project funded by The AIDS Support Organization related with HIV. The project currently ongoing aims at improving the prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS amongst the pregnant women and their sexual partners in Arua City.

This project has been so important that beneficiaries even requested the organization tackle the TB, and Malaria aspects. People are coming in large numbers for screening and testing for HIV, TB and Malaria.

This project is evidenced from the following photos and captions

HIV screening and testing, TB and Malaria were being carried out in these pictures and medication was given or is given to those who are diagnosed and are found positive of any disease diagnosed. IEC (Information, Education and Communication) materials, condoms, and HIV self-Test kits were (are) given. Sensitization, guidance and counseling sessions are being given


Environment Projects

West Nile was one of the greatest forested lands in 2000, so far it is one the most deteriorating land when it comes to vegetation cover, it is so vital that communities engage in planting of tree and conserving what is available. SUCCESS ARK has had great in implementing environmental conservation and protection activities in learning centers and local communities. Over 50,000 trees have been planted with support from  DanChurch Aid, National Forestry Authority, and UNHCR nursery beds. These seedlings have been distributed amongst the beneficiaries for planting for future benefits such as fruits, wind breaks, and formation of rainfall. The project aims at improving the green vegetation and conserving the ecosystem in West Nile.

The following pictures show evidence of what SUCCESS ARK does in the area of environment

Community beneficiaries receiving tree seedlings, sorting of tree seedlings, and planting of tree seedlings in communities and learning centers


News Flash 499: Weekly Snapshot of Public Health Challenges

News Flash Links, as part of the research project PEAH (Policies for Equitable Access to Health), aim to focus on the latest challenges by trade and governments rules to equitable access to health in resource-limited settings

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News Flash 499

Weekly Snapshot of Public Health Challenges


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How to Combat Future Pandemics

…If we are to improve our resilience to new and emerging threats, whether from pandemics or elsewhere, we need innovative ways of effectively navigating a sea of scientific knowledge, that is continuously growing. This will require not only time and effort, but also a change in mindset, towards a flexible and adaptive way of engaging with the data. Important messages need to be separated from the roar of background noise and communicated effectively in a clear and concise way to stakeholders and decision makers…

By Dr. Brian Johnston

Senior Public Health Intelligence Manager

London, United Kingdom

How to Combat Future Pandemics


The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has recently been set up to examine the national response to the pandemic, its impact and possible lessons for the future. Whilst this inquiry should be welcomed as a way of finding shortcomings in logistics and decision making, its findings and recommendations are likely to be out of date when they are eventually published. By its very nature, the enquiry will be retrospective and relate to our past relationship with COVID-19. Indeed, from the moment of its inception, the inquiry has inevitably been tied to an historic account of our interaction with the virus. Both the virus and our ways of dealing with it have moved on.

On first sight, this may seem a negative way of looking at inquiries, but the UK has a long history of conducting high profile, costly inquiries into other important issues (such as child abuse), which have proven less than fruitful. Often these inquiries make many recommendations, which are then not effectively implemented on the ground, leading inevitably to a similar tragedy to the one that sparked the initial enquiry in the first place. The media then ask why the recommendations from the previous enquiry were not followed and a new enquiry is called, to see how we can do it better next time…and so the carousel revolves.

To avoid this endless cycle, perhaps we could use the recommendations from the UK Covid-19 inquiry in a different way this time; by employing them as a framework for an annual audit into national preparedness for a future pandemic. The recommendations could be reformulated and reworded into quantifiable indicators (metrics) and the audit process made a mandatory report, which all local authorities have a legal obligation to complete by a specified deadline each year. In this way, potential weaknesses in our responsiveness to a pandemic could be effectively identified and monitored, on an ongoing basis. Complacency is our enemy when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 and similar pathogens, but the adoption of such an audit mechanism could prove a cost effective and practical way to refresh our preparedness for a future pandemic.

Of course, this audit mechanism should be flexible and not rigidly tied to an annual response format, if news emerges of a new threat. In such circumstances, the audit process could be quickly swung into operation and the local logistical “armour” quickly repaired and strengthened, in preparation for the oncoming pandemic. In some cases, where the onset of the pandemic is rapid, this recharging of the local logistical response would be made in the very early stages of the emergency. In other scenarios, where there is greater warning, the refresh of systems and processes could be carried out before the threat has even gained a foothold.

At a local level, the formation of multidisciplinary teams at the height of the recent COVID pandemic, clearly demonstrated what could be achieved when people from different professional backgrounds worked together to find quick and practical solutions to difficult logistical questions. This lesson should not be lost or forgotten, and where possible the networks formed at that time should be maintained and strengthened. Adequate funding, to help keep these structures in place, whilst maintaining their readiness for a future emergency, would be money well spent.

For future pandemics, the ability of health and care professionals to form mutually supportive and co-operative networks of responders to facilitate logistics, will be of great importance, especially in the early stages of a major outbreak. By having a dedicated person within each local Public Health department tasked with maintaining and growing such networks, the activation of a wide range of professionals across a variety of disciplines could be achieved very quickly and efficiently at a time of crisis. Virtual hubs of mutually supportive professionals could be created, and their contact details, skill sets, and areas of expertise held on shared directories to facilitate a rapid, flexible and co-ordinated response to all emergencies (not just pandemics).

Similarly, the creation of a specialist role within Public Health teams to horizon scan for new developments in science and technology, would be another worthy investment. More generally, there is currently considerable interest within health professionals in artificial intelligence (AI) and how this can be used to improve the treatment of patients, for example in breast cancer screening. This shared interest has already led to the development of platforms and forums for networking and the sharing of information. However, the sheer volume and diversity of the information generated by these initiatives can make it difficult for health professionals to keep up to date with important developments, not only in AI, but in science and technology in general.

By having a dedicated member within Public Health teams, whose primary focus would be to tap into these forums and liaise with them, would be a major benefit. Specifically, this individual would be tasked with the identification of practical and important intelligence and its presentation in user friendly digests to senior decision makers at a local level. This “research specialist” could also actively search the relevant scientific literature for new developments, discoveries and inventions, that could be applied locally. More importantly, these research specialists could inform the targeted commissioning of services and the creation of new and innovative strategies, which could make tangible and significant reductions in health inequalities.

If we are to improve our resilience to new and emerging threats, whether from pandemics or elsewhere, we need innovative ways of effectively navigating a sea of scientific knowledge, that is continuously growing. This will require not only time and effort, but also a change in mindset, towards a flexible and adaptive way of engaging with the data. Important messages need to be separated from the roar of background noise and communicated effectively in a clear and concise way to stakeholders and decision makers.

Any idea that is shared and acted upon has the potential to create a solution, that can then seed further ideas, and so on. However, in a world where health challenges come in many forms and sometimes with very short notice, we need quick and practical solutions to be accessible to a targeted audience and in a timely fashion. Only then can we hope to effectively combat future pandemics and health emergencies, without needless loss of life.

We must effectively catalyse data, science and technology to energise the logistical structures necessary to minimise the impact of future pandemics. Hopefully, rather than dodging these icebergs, we can have viable structures in place, to first slow them down, and then melt them, through the judicious application of science and technology. Similarly, by focussing a concentrated beam of relevant knowledge on any future pandemic, we will not only cut it down to size, but save lives through the timely and efficient use of people and resources.


By the same Author on PEAH

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