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Farm Animal

Farm animal production is, by its very nature, a holistic enterprise. My foundation as a dairy vet well prepared me for holistic practice because, to be successful, we had to examine not just animals but feeding, environment, exercise, production practices, vaccination programs, and wellness practices for all stages of life. Everything works together and you cannot change one thing without affecting the whole, right?! A holistic approach to planning for and caring for farm animals is the only way to success in my opinion.
There is the holistic examination of an individual, or an entire production system, and then there is a holistic approach to action. This involves the selection of a solution to a problem from many choices. For example, in my veterinary practice, I choose from conventional therapy, or homeopathy, or acupuncture, or herbal treatment, or physical therapy and usually a combination of approaches. Holistic care provides so many more tools to choose from to get the job done! More choices leads to an individualized system of care for each situation. In addition, there is always another route to the same destination if plan “A” does not work in that individual.
Secondly, a great advantage of holistic choices is that they are usually compatible with organic production standards. They allow early, prompt treatment of conditions without fear of drug residues.
Thirdly, holistic care seeks to help the body’s vital force to heal, and restore vitality and wellness. Sometimes conventional care suppresses the symptoms and the problem soon returns. This is what I call band-aid therapy. Holistic care seeks to maintain wellness and balance the immune system.
I have found farmers to be the most open minded people I work with. They already see the world holistically, and they want good and lasting solutions to problems. I have heard the argument that organic farmers delay treatment due to reluctance to use antibiotics, thereby increasing the suffering of their animals. I would hope this is not the case, because there is much that can be done for animals with some basic supplies and knowledge. Organic and holistic farmers know that the key to health is a strong vital force and a good management plan that enhances wellness. In short, there are few obstacles to the holistic way aside from a closed mind!
Case #1
A 8 year old mare was limping in the pasture for 1 day prior to presentation. On exam, she had swollen and discolored skin around the pastern joint. The swelling had spread to the knee. Closer examination revealed two punctures suggestive of snakebite. Rattlesnakes were known to be on this farm. The mare was treated by soaking in epsom salts to reduce the swelling. She was also treated orally with homeopathic Lachesis, 30 C dilution, which is used for any skin lesion that looks like a snakebite. The foot was painful and the soaking in epsom salts seemed to relieve the pain. Snakebites and usually not fatal in horses but can be painful. The dying tissues are a great location for infection to set in. In this case, the mare recovered fully once the dead tissue came away and the new skin grew back. The take-away lesson is to actually look at the animal carefully and you will usually discover the cause of the problem. We were taught in veterinary school that most problems result from not looking rather than not knowing! This mare was assumed to have twisted her foot in the field, but when the swelling was worse on day 2, vet attention was sought. Homeopathic medicines are easy to administer with a few tablets given orally. Frequency of dosing is more important than amount of medication because you are treating energetically. Homeopathic medicines are very safe and effective for many conditions.
A 2 month old lamb was presented for Tetanus. Castration band and tail band were the entry for the organism, though the wounds were no more infected that the usual for this procedure. The lamb was so stiff it could not stand, and the legs could not be manually bent. The barn had been used as a horse barn many years before. Spores of tetanus, historically associated with horse manure, can survive for years in the soil. In addition the owner sought to have an organic farm and had discontinued vaccination of his ewes. In fact, biologicals (vaccines) are allowed and encouraged in organic farming. This lamb was treated with tetanus antitoxin, cleaning of the wounds, and Penicillin G injections to try and save its life. Nursing care and tube feeding were required because it truly had classical “lockjaw”. This lamb miraculously survived for over a month, and recovered enough to eat on its own, but was never able to walk. This case just stresses the importance of using vaccines when there is a risk factor such as banding the tails. It is best to vaccinate the ewes and ensure that they pass on the protection to the offspring in the colostrum. Vaccines for Clostridial diseases such as Tetanus and Blackleg in cattle are cheap and effective. Prevention is easier than treating these diseases.
A 1 year old ewe was presented with weakness and difficulty walking. As we all know, sheep do not let you know they are sick until they are very, very sick! This ewe was treated with acupuncture and recovered fully to my surprise! Acupuncture uses tiny needles inserted into specific points of the body to balance the bioelectric field of the body. It can relieve pain and help nerve function. It can stimulate blood flow to areas which will enhance healing. It is also very safe for animals. For example, this ewe had needles inserted in the head and back for restoring energy flow to the spine. In horses, points in the lower hind leg can cause muscle relaxation and relieve choke, an esophageal obstruction, if it is a mild case.
I believe that my clients are seeking out holistic and natural care for their animals. The internet makes research very easy. Sometimes I find excellent resources on the internet such as from Universities and Veterinary Colleges. Other sources can have inaccurate information and the info sometimes gets “cut and pasted” thereby perpetuating poor information, making it appear to be common knowledge. I would encourage research on everything, but don’t believe everything you find on the internet. Use some common sense! “Natural” does not equal “safe”. Be careful about applying something across different species. What works for one, may be dangerous for another.
I would encourage you to get a good reference book such as the Merck Veterinary Manual (available on line) and keep a first aid kit handy. This should include a rectal thermometer and some homeopathic remedies such as Belladonna for fevers, and Arnica for pain, and Apis for allergic reactions. Also some bandages, tape, gauze sponges, are useful for injuries. A roll of duct tape is very handy for larger animals. A good flashlight is helpful, as is an ob sleeve and lube. Yes, J-Lube ( Jorgenson Laboratories) is the best for facilitating a delivery- saves the mom and makes the job easier. Calendula tincture can be used for wounds if diluted in water. Ice packs can be used to stop bleeding and reduce swelling and pain. Topical meat tenderizer actually works for beestings by breaking down the venom. Learn the vital signs for your animals: temperature, pulse, and respiration rates.
Develop a relationship with an open minded vet whom you can call for advice. Some holistic vets will do telephone consults. Realize that a vet visit for a tour of your facility validates the veterinarian /client/patient relationship and will allow your vet to legally prescribe and advise for you. It also will get you better service should you have an emergency.
Feed your animals correctly! Ruminants need roughage to be healthy. Ensure vitamins and minerals are offered. Trace minerals such as those found in kelp can really boost health. Use forage tests to determine hay quality to create a balanced diet. Blood test animals for selenium deficiency if you are in the Eastern half of the US. Do regular fecal exams at your vet’s to keep tabs on parasite infestation. Select for animals which can tolerate parasites without ill effects. Keep pastures clipped to reduce parasites in small ruminants. Provide correct shelter from sun, insects, rain, and cold wind. All of these will stress the immune system and lead to illness. These are really normal management practices, but it is surprising to me that many people who really want to farm did not grow up on a farm knowing these basic practices. Farming is a popular second career for many and these are the folks whose heart is in the right place, and need to study on the needs of their animals,
Get a plant book and learn to identify all plants on your farm. Most weeds are our friends and have medicinal qualities. Some indicate soil acidity, some are deadly, and some are nutritious. Find out which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to dig up. Do soil testing and keep healthy pastures going. Healthy plants must come from a healthy soil! Many chemicals absorbed in soils destroy the living microbiome required for healthy forages. The foundation for healthy animals comes from healthy food. Overlooking this will lead to problems down the road. For example, look at the enterotoxigenic E coli, which can be eliminated in cattle fed forages, rather than an acid grain diet!
If an animal dies unexpectedly (or a fetus is aborted), realize that a postmortem is perhaps the most valuable tool you have to get an answer. It is tempting to let one go and keep your fingers crossed, but when the second animal dies, you will wish you had an answer from the first one! State universities and diagnostic labs will provide this service at a very reasonable cost.
Lastly, I would just encourage you to keep learning and sharing with others in your business for support and information. The business of healthy food and a healthy mother earth is of utmost importance to more people than you think! Indeed, the very survival of our children and grandchildren depends on the decisions we make today.

Marjorie M. Lewter, DVM

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May 6, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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