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
a chance to join her recovering buddies
and someday produce these beautiful, delicious, healthy, natural eggs.