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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Small Farmers Part 2 - Antibiotics/Pharmaceuticals on the Small Farm

Small farming provides a host of challenges.  As we approach the Spring and Summer farming seasons, it brings about a new set of goals and obstacles for us.  And by "us" I mean Erik.  Due to my current state of pregnancy, I'm really not much use out back at the barns.  I am clumsy and not able to lift anything, so if I manage to maneuver the long path of sludge that we call the driveway to the barn, I basically just stand there and observe.  Erik is in charge of everything for the farm - from the day to day feeding to the planning for crops, arranging crops to be planted and harvested, managing our herds, flocks, etc., to performing emergency medical procedures and treatments, Erik has a handle on everything.  That's not to say that I don't help out a little and through helping out, I've gleaned a little knowledge and some opinions on the subject.   Here's the disclaimer I posted in my first post about small farming :Small Farmers Part 1 - The Chicken Chronicles

the following comments are the opinion of the author and are a compilation of conclusions I have come to after MINOR research into the small farm business. Please do not interpret my OPINIONS as fact nor should you take my OPINION as an endorsement for anything in particular.

I have to say that our farm has benefitted greatly from the internet.  In our area of Western PA., large animal vets are few and far between.  By the time you actually reach one on the phone and get them to your place, chances are your animal may be dead.  We have spent a lot of time on our cell phones - Erik in the barn giving me a list of symptoms and me at the computer looking those symptoms up for a possible treatment.  God Bless all those folks out there who are willing to share their knowledge with the rest of us on the net.

Having had to do that has led us to some conclusions about antibiotics and other practical drugs used in small farming.  Many people ask us if we are organic or hormone free, etc.  The answer is yes and no.  First of all, there is no such thing as "hormone free."  All animals that are consumed contain hormones because all animals create their own natural hormones.  When you butcher and consume them, you can't extract the hormones - well, at least the butchers we use don't offer that option.  I'm sure in some scientifically based, sterile laboratory out there some where, it can be done.   Usually when people refer to "hormone free" they are asking, "does the farmer inject or feed growth hormones to the animal?"  Growth hormones have been a popular choice in the past to enhance the growth of animals, creating larger animals at younger ages.  Here at Goodness Grows Farm we choose to manage growth through natural breeding practices.  Why don't Factory Farms use natural breeding practices to promote natural growth and weight gain?  Well, basically because it is a money issue.  To make more money faster, you have to produce more animals faster, which means you have to sell off animals at higher weights faster.  Not only does this mean introducing growth hormones, but it also means feeding the animals a steady diet of antibiotics to ward off infection.

Now, I'm not a big conspiracy theorist or one who always believes everything that she reads.  However, I've come across enough "conspiracy" articles to make me think twice about the ethics of factory farms and how they are "creating" animals for the marketplace (your local supermarket).  There are TONS of articles out there from major news organizations highlighting the problems with factory farm animals, but here are a few links to both major news organizations and some posts from other farm bloggers about their discoveries as to why factory farms use antibiotics as a PREVENTATIVE measure and what that means for us, the consumers.

Is Your Food Safe?
Giving Antibiotics to Animals . . . Not So Smart

If you don't feel like reading these articles, the break down is this.  Factory Farms routinely give their animals small doses of antibiotics as preventative measure to cut down on infections, etc. that tend to plague feed lots.  Additionally, research has shown that routinely feeding cows (beef) antibiotics there is a three percent increase in growth in those animals.  This should be wonderful, right?  Cows are growing faster, staying healthier, and the factory farmer is making better profit AND better yet, the increased good health of these animals leads to better prices at the supermarket because the farmer has less loss (death) to counterbalance.

Well, research is showing that not only are feed lots/ factory farms unhealthy regardless of the use of antibiotics, the use of antibiotics in consumable meat is leading to the mutation of many forms of common viruses.  Not only are the viruses mutating, but humans are consuming (through their meat and environment) small doses of COMMON antibiotics making those antibiotics useless to treat many common infections.

So, what does this mean for the small farmer?  Well, here at Goodness Grows Farm, we use antibiotics and/or other pharmecutical treatments regularly AS NEEDED.  Why?  Well, if you had a serious infection that could be treated easily with a course of antibiotics, you would do it, wouldn't you?  Strep throats, ear infections, etc., are all treated regularly with a simple course of antibiotics.  It is important for your health, right?  It's the same for a small farmer.  A while back, we had an outbreak of pink eye in our goat herd.  Should we have completely ignored the infection, allowed our goats to go blind and let our consumers see us treat our goats inhumanely or were we right in secluding the infected animals, treating them all with a minimal course of antibiotic treatment and then once they were healed return them to the herd?  Economically, the right thing to do was to treat our herd.  The antibiotics were administered for less than 10 days.  We do not believe in the daily administration of antibiotics to our animals, but yes, when needed, we will provide adequate medical care.  It is good farming practice.  

Animals are expensive - especially animals considered "stock" which refers to the animals kept on a farm for breeding purposes only.  If we did not treat our breeding stock appropriately when they are sick, we would be out of stock in months.  Every animal has a disease or ailment that they are prone to.  Goats often develop pneumonia.  Is it humane to let our stock suffer with pneumonia just so we can say our animals are "antibiotic" free?  Of course not.  That's just ridiculous.  Just as any extreme is ridiculous.  Most small farmers I know practice a common sense, middle of the road approach to farming.  Especially small farmers that rely on that farm for income.  Whenever possible, we use as many home remedies as possible.  I can't even tell you the concoctions we have created in my kitchen for our goats they are so bizarre, but they didn't involve pharmeceuticals and we were able to treat and even in some cases save the lives of our stock.  In fact, one simple treatment many dairy farmers use for their cows when they have a twisted stomach or other stomach ailment is to give the cow a bottle of beer.  The yeast in the beer has components that help level out the bacteria in the stomach.  It seems so simple yet is very scientific.  On the other hand, when we have a dire situation, we have the proper antibiotics and other medications on hand to treat our animals appropriately.

It's all about balance, folks.