Some aspects of holistic healthcare for humans have become mainstream. Colden, NY-based veterinarian Cynthia Lankenau would like to see the same happen with veterinary care.

A graduate of Cornell University, Lankenau is trained in acupuncture, Western herbs, Chinese herbs, chiropractics and homeopathy. She presented “Holistic Veterinary Medicine for Cows” at the 2023 NOFA-NY Winter Conference.

“Everyone kind of always wonders what ‘holistic’ means,” she said. “What holistic means is you do what works for you.”

She added that looking at the whole animal – not just the part or function or system with an issue – represents a vital part of holistic veterinary care. This includes nutrition, emotional state of the owner and the environment of the barn.

“We need holistic medicine drastically in our dairy industry because we have to reduce drugs and antibiotics,” Lankenau said, “not only for the antibiotic resistance of bacteria but also for expense. A lot of holistic therapies you can easily do on your own.”

By keeping animals healthier, farmers can reduce their bills and operating stress. These methods also provide an alternative to using antibiotics.

Lankenau views this as important irrespective of farming method, as the World Healthcare Associated Infections Forum stated that there is an impending public health catastrophe that will be caused by the emergence and spread of bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics. “We need effective, economical alternatives,” Lankenau said.

She listed a few well-known modalities, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, chiropractic, homeopathy, reiki, BEMER blankets and CO2 therapy. She cautioned farmers to know the sources of their herbs, as low-quality items will not yield positive results and could even harm the animals.

Lankenau encouraged farmers to learn a few basic acupuncture points to help with routine cow issues. “There’s 12 paired and two unpaired meridians in the body,” she said. These send electrical signals through the body. “By massaging and manipulating these points, you have a direct effect on the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system.” Each point has a specific effect.

Stimulating points can include pressure from fingers, rubbing in essential oils and using tuning forks. Lankenau said that although most of the 150 points take years to master, many of the “emergency” points are simple to understand. For those who want to stimulate points with the vibration of a tuning fork, she recommends carrying a middle C fork in the hip pocket. “Middle C is sort of the ‘idiot-proof’ tuning fork,” she said.

Many acupuncture points can prove both easy to learn and use. One is governing vessel (GV) 26 for emergency resuscitation. It’s in the center of the nose below the nostrils.

“If you ever have a cow that’s down with milk fever and she’s one of those rare ones that has that bizarre reaction against calcium and has a cardiac arrest, take your fingernail and bird peck that point as hard as you can and it will bring them back,” Lankenau said.

She said the technique works on newborn calves that aren’t breathing, in addition to massaging the chest and getting fluid out of their lungs. The technique works on other animals as well.

To stimulate nursing in calves, stimulating GV-28-01 on the roof of the mouth with fingernail pressure helps. This can also help bloated cows to belch.

Anytime when using topical essential oils with animals, Lankenau said it’s important to use a carrier oil such as almond or olive oil as a base and only five to 10 drops of the essential oils – otherwise the oil can burn even cows. For pain, apply copaiba, Helichrysum, frankincense, lavender or black spruce.

Lankenau said that mastitis and almost all calf problems stem from a deficiency. Applying finger pressure to acupuncture points with essential oil can help stimulate the body’s lymphatic system to clear out excess fluid and improve function of the circulatory system.

Another important acupuncture point is related to rumen – intercostal space (ICS) 10. “Cows have 13 ribs, so when you count up their ribs, it’s really easy,” Lankenau said. In addition to ICS 10, rib 12 is also considered a point for disorders of rumen, forestomach motility, ruminal atony, bloat and tympany.

For mastitis or cough, she recommends manipulation of the eighth or ninth ICS, or spaces between the ribs when counting from the front of the cow. The benefits of this technique include promotion of mammary gland health and reduction of swelling, along with loosening the chest and alleviating cough.

One of the greatest stressors to a farmer is when a cow is down for more than 12 to 24 hours. Once a cow experiences bruising from recumbency, she is less likely to get up again. Plenty of vigorous massage to stimulate circulation can help, along with corydalis, a Chinese herb, to relieve pain in the sciatic nerve as it runs through the pelvis. Moving down the legs to where the hamstrings attach to the Achilles tendon, “all of those points are really important to massage,” Lankenau said.

She encouraged farmers to get their children involved with promoting cows’ wellbeing. “It’s the best thing for the kids,” Lankenau said. “Give them the brush, tell them where to brush the cow, so they’re brushing and stimulating those acupuncture points.”

Guidance from a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner can help fine-tune using herbs in holistic cow care. Lankenau stressed again the importance of obtaining herbs from a reputable import source, and with Western herbs, to seek a trained herbalist with organic, sustainably harvested products.

She prefers using herbal tinctures for newborn calves as they lack the microflora in their rumen to break down whole herbs. For older animals, ground herbs are better absorbed and used than whole herbs. For three days, farmers should hold the milk of cows treated with herbs.

Lankenau said supplementing a cow’s diet with turmeric promotes circulation and the gut microbiome, along with inhibiting carcinogenesis. Burdock root promotes health of the lymph system, skin, gut issues and more.

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant