The Decision to Medicate

I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post with a message on the decision to medicate an animal on a farm with an organic ethos. We are not a certified organic farm and have no plans to become one: like many produce labels the term ‘organic’ has been so regulated and manipulated it has very little meaning or applicability for smaller farmers. But we do raise our food and animals as organically as possible, in the original sense of the word. We like to be close to the natural way of things, using animal and plant relationships to maintain a balanced mini-ecosystem on the farm. We avoid the use of pesticides, chemicals, and hormones. Our cows provide natural fertilizer and our garden is protected by natural slug deterrents. We also avoid manipulating our animals unnaturally: we allow them to roam as freely as possible and create a natural food chain. Our cows are pasture-raised and grass-fed and our chickens are by no means vegetarian (mmm, worms…).

Occasionally on any farm, animals get sick. And we have a responsibility to look after them. Often natural methods of prevention and treatment work very well: there is nothing to perk up your chickens like yoghurt and a little extra oyster shell. Even infections like bumblefoot we have been able to treat without the use of medication through careful care and a little surgical intervention.Twice so far in our farming journey we have made the decision to medicate. When we give medication, as in our current situation, there are still often many options and choices that allow us to stay as close to our goals of producing naturally. When one of our chickens had a respiratory infection, catching it early allowed us choices of treatment. One recommendation was to give antibiotics such as those used for humans. One of our main goals is to avoid such antibiotic use, which causes resistance when people need treatment most. We chose instead to use a treatment that dried up the infection-causing cells, with success.

The medication we are currently using, Corid, is a -stat rather than a -cide. Meaning that it prevents the further growth of the infection, rather than killing all existing infection. We made this choice for several reasons: it is safe for humans, because it acts by simply blocking the use of Vitamin B by the infective organisms; it allows the birds to build up a natural immunity to the disease in future; it is safe in inexact doses and does not stick around in the bird or its eggs. Using it did mean our birds needed a lot of attention to nurse them through their illness: I am still medicating every three hours, 24 hours a day. But, except for one, they are all now eating and drinking on their own and have begun normal chicken behaviors again.

Being a farmer requires a mindset unfamiliar to many people, one which acknowledges a third relationship with animals that lies between pet and wild creature. We prioritize our animals’ health and comfort: it is necessary for our mutual benefit. But these animals aren’t our pets. We have them because they provide us with sustenance, income, service, or some combination. Many people wonder how, for example, you can raise an animal you will later kill and eat. For us, it is so much more logical to eat an animal we have raised ourselves, knowing it has lived a happy and humane life, and knowing exactly what has gone into it and therefore what we will be consuming. Making decisions about medicating, providing medical treatment, and culling animals are part of this balance. We must decide what is humane for the animal, and right for us too. So far I feel pretty comfortable with the decisions we have made, which have allowed the animals to regain health without compromising our desire for food that is as natural as possible.

Even if you aren’t a farmer, you are affected by these sorts of decisions. In many cases, purchases from grocery stores don’t allow us access to knowledge about how animals were raised. Even if you have no interest in animal welfare, decisions farmers make about what they put into their animals affects what goes into you. Raising, making, and growing my own food allows me control over those decisions. Shopping locally, where I can ask my farmer questions face-to-face, does too. It also allows me control over the cost of my food production, and thus the cost of my meal. Because if I spend a week syringe feeding my chicks, I end up with healthier, cleaner, less costly eggs.

And that gives this poor sick little girl

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a chance to join her recovering buddies

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and someday produce these beautiful, delicious, healthy, natural eggs.

 

 

 

 

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Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free… (or, for something more modern, “Here Come the Girls…”)

The girls have arrived! After months of planning and a year of contemplating the pros and cons of a dairy cow, Colleen and Maia moved in on Saturday.

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We did a lot of research on what breed would be appropriate for our little homestead. We visited farms and wrote to farms and homesteads of all shapes and sizes. In the end we chose Dexters. For those of y0u interested in keeping a milk cow of your own, here is why we chose this breed:

1. They need a lot less land than more common varieties of cow. Two can graze on 1/2 acre of land. They also produce a lot less waste, eat and drink a lot less. All of this was well suited to our 9 acre farm.

2. They are naturally small. That means all the advantages in handling that cows only up to my chest ( I am only 5’3″ tall) would have, but without any of the problems of genetic dwarfism.

3. They are an easy starter breed. They calf easily (cows, like humans, need to have a calf to produce milk), can graze on relatively ‘poor’ land, and are generally low maintenance. I’ve only had them for a few days but I keep going into the field to check they are still alive simply because I can’t believe how easy they are: fill up their water tank and throw some hay over the fence on occasion, and they just quietly get on with life. They are hearty enough that they dont have any major housing requirements: ours have an open barn/shed  to run into when the weather isnt good. (Although it is raining right now and they are under the trees quite happily.) Having said that they are very curious and friendly, which is good for handling when it comes to milking.

4. You can keep two easily in a small area. We wanted to keep two so we could continuously have milk, without milking when the cow is pregnant. (Even if you milk through most of pregnancy, you still have ‘dry’ periods with only one cow.)

5. Calf value: Dexters are good for meat and milk. This and the rarity of the breed (it is considered ‘endangered’ amongst cattle breeds) makes the calves valuable, allowing us to make back the money we invest in them.

6. Amount of milk produced: These cows are a true ‘homestead’ breed. They dont produce 10 or 15 gallons of milk a day like the cows you may see around. I’ve heard people with Holsteins and Jerseys say “my cow produces so much milk I’m having to throw it away!” Dexters produce up to 4 gallons a day, and when sharing that milk with a calf there is little pressure to milk your cow for gallons you will never be able to use. Dexters still have nice creamy milk though (rivaling Jerseys almost), so you will have plenty of cream to make your butter and ice cream.

 

I love going out to the pasture and seeing our cows grazing. Most steps we have taken in our lives as a family have been considered ‘extraordinary’ by our peers: I remember being asked many times if I was pregnant just because my husband and I chose to get married whilst still in college (two different colleges on opposite sides of the country). Surely, our friends reasoned, there would be no other reason to get married ‘so young.’ When I had our first child, my college friends, now on to careers in the city, commented that I could be a grandmother before they were even married. Nearly 10 years later we are still happily married, with kids in school, and moving on to the next ‘crazy’ step of our lives as we start a homestead farm. To me this has felt as natural and right as the other decisions we have made in our lives. I love the self-reliance it offers us. I love that I know where my food comes from and what has gone into it. I love the lessons my children are learning about stewardship, hard work, and cooperation. I love not going to the shop every week and seeing this:

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(Hmmm, and I only paid $3.05 last week…and $2.85 last month…)

And I love running a farm in a healthy, natural, sustainable way. I realize these are loaded words in the farming industry. I don’t mean them in a ‘tree hugger’ sort of way. What I do mean, is this:

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Our farm is a little circle of production:

We mow the lawn. The raked grass goes to the cows. The cows poo. The chickens eat the fly larvae out of the cow pies (no, chickens are not naturally vegetarian). The chickens produce eggs. The egg shells and cow manure go on our garden. The eggs, milk, and (hopefully soon) meat our animals produce feed us so we have energy to mow and rake the lawn. There is no waste to get rid of. We aren’t swimming in flies or cow poo or chicken poo. We aren’t spending more feeding our garden than it feeds us. We see and control every piece of our food chain. We live it and breathe it and work for it, and it works for us.

My children watch our heifers fascinated. I can’t help but share their sense of wonder at it all.

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