The focus of the enterprises on our 80 acre farm is on direct marketing organically raised products from our farm to local customers. We currently have the following farm enterprises.
• Cheese is made on our farm from our 16 milking does in a state licensed milk room and sold to restaurants, at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market in Iowa City, and through direct sales to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) customers.
• Our children annually buy 35-40 feeder pigs, finish them on organic grains and sell them direct to customers.
• Our 50-60 ewe flock is rotationally grazed and the lambs are finished on organic grains and sold direct to customers.
• We manage and are the principal vegetable growers for a 90-family CSA supplying them with 20 weeks of vegetables May through October.
• We also have 40 acres of organically grown alfalfa and grains that are fed to our livestock.
We have four children ages 10-18 who are actively involved in our farming operation. In addition to working on the farm, my husband, Jeffrey has a full-time job as a community development specialist for Extension.
The other participants in this project were small or moderate-sized livestock producers who are raising meat organically or for antibiotic-free labels, or they are family-farm dairy or livestock producers who wish to augment conventional health care practices with holistic methods.
Prior to this project, we and a few of the other project participants had been experimenting on a hit and miss basis with using non-conventional approaches to dealing with livestock health while others had no experience at all with a holistic or alternative approach.
Project Goals: The project’s objective was to provide farmers the opportunity to learn holistic animal health care methods, to evaluate them in their own operations, and to be in a position to teach other producers. By holistic livestock care, we mean the use of herbal and homeopathic treatments. These methods use naturally derived materials and are permitted in organic and other “natural” specialty markets.
Process: At the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Annual Meeting in January 2001, we gathered a preliminary list of workshop participants and chose a centralized location for the seminars. I contacted Randy Kidd D.V.M., PhD, a registered veterinarian (16879 46th St, McLouth, KS 66504, 785-863-3425, Fax: 785-863-3425, Randykidd@ruralnet1.com) to set up two weekend seminars. Dr. Kidd uses holistic practices to augment traditional veterinary practices. Kidd was a columnist for “The New Farm” Magazine which was published by Rodale Press. Randy Kidd agreed to donate his services for this project in order that more farmers may learn to use holistic animal health care methods.
We set two 1 ½ day workshops for March 2-3 and April 6-7, 2001 to be held in Toledo, Iowa. At these workshops Dr. Kidd, working from a manual he designed, taught basic livestock treatment methods involving herbs and homeopathy to the workshop participants. Each of us described our own farming operations and identified specific problems or needs we had in dealing with our own livestock.
In between the two workshops and following the conclusion of the workshops, participants evaluated practices on their own farms and stayed in touch with each other and with Dr. Kidd through electronic mail, telephone, and a Web-based discussion group.
We had a total of seventeen people participate in the workshops including producers and Dr. Rick Exner, PFI Farming Systems Coordinator. Ann Smith, Tama County Extension Director, graciously allowed us the use of their meeting room for the first two workshops.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Dr. Kidd developed and presented to us a manual, “Homeopathy and Herbology for Livestock,” which he used in the seminar and which I continue to use as a reference source in working with our livestock. In addition to teaching us the basics and practical use of homeopathy and herbs in working with livestock, Dr. Kidd worked through multiple case studies with us, some from our own farms and others from his practice. This approach provided those who had no previous experience with homeopathy or herbs the information they needed while at the same time giving the rest of us who had some knowledge the opportunity to test that knowledge. Most of us also had the chance to experiment on our farms with what we had learned during these sessions and report back to the group and discuss our successes and failures. In fact, workshop participants felt that having the opportunity to get together and discuss their experiences was so important that they planned and organized a third weekend workshop (August 2-3, 2001) at the Calkins Nature Area in Iowa Falls, Iowa) that included a prairie walk by a trained herbalist to teach medicinal herb identification. At the weekend session, Dr. Kidd also took us through the steps of making herbal tinctures, tonics, and ointments.
Producer attendance and participation and their commitment to organizing and attending a third session would indicate that the educational goals of the project were achieved. Producers reported experiences of putting what they had learned into practice were varied and of course subjective but did indicate a willingness to take the information beyond the classroom setting. Two pork producers and one dairy producer who attended the workshops presented a workshop on Holistic Animal health at PFI’s Annual Meeting in January of 2002.
It is difficult to measure the impact of the project on the health and productivity of the animals receiving treatment. Livestock health and productivity are, of course, of critical importance because they have great economic consequences for farmers.
We have been experimenting with the use of homeopathy on our farm with our animals for almost six years. There is a lack of written information and professional and technical assistance available, which has often resulted in us utilizing a shotgun approach to treatment with the end results being that we weren’t always sure what worked. It was my personal experience that in utilizing what I learned from these sessions with Dr. Kidd, my treatment choices, particularly when using homeopathy, are more effective, with the end result being that I have reduced my costs both in terms of materials (i.e. medicine) and labor, in addition to more rapid restoration of the animal’s health and a rapid return to full productivity.
We advertised the workshops via the PFI membership and through electronic announcements and fliers distributed through Iowa State Extension, the Organic Crop Improvement Association, specialty meat marketing efforts – Niman Ranch of Iowa, and the CROPP organic pork and beef marketing pools, and farm organizations in surrounding states.
Participating producers are members of various organizations and marketing initiatives, including Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Organic Crop Improvement Association, Niman Ranch of Iowa, and the CROPP organic pork and beef marketing pools. Through these connections the skills and project outcomes were and will continue to be communicated to a wide group of farmers. Two pork producers and one dairy producer who attended the workshops presented a workshop on Holistic Animal Health at PFI’s Annual Meeting in January of 2002.
We, along with several other producers, gave farm tours and the skills we learned via these workshops were communicated to the tour participants. Along with many smaller tours consisting of 2-10 people, we gave a tour to a group of 50 farmers from Michigan. As research cooperators with PFI, we also held two field days at which holistic animal health practices were described and demonstrated. In March 2003, my daughter who attended the seminars, and I will be presenters at a Holistic Livestock workshop on Small Ruminant Animals at the Midwest Organic Conference. It is my expectation that as each of the seminar participants becomes more experienced in utilizing the information they gathered at these seminars they will be sharing that information via multiple venues just as my daughter and I will.
The SARE Producer Grant is a very important program that offers opportunities for producers to experiment with creative alternatives in an arena where creativity is seldom encouraged or supported.
My first recommendation, which comes out of years of sponsoring farm tours and field days, is that food for outreach events be an allowable expense. We have found that some of the best networking and learning happens while people are talking over cheese and crackers and lemonade. But, having done this many times, I also know that he cost of providing snacks for 50 to 100 people is not a minor expense.
My second recommendation comes out of our experience with doing on-farm research trials with livestock. Doing some on-farm research trials using homeopathy would be a logical follow-up to this project. However, with this and with the on-farm parasite research we have done as PFI cooperators, we have equipment needs that are beyond our budget – microscope and livestock scale – and yet these pieces of equipment are critical to developing effective methods of evaluation when working with livestock. My second recommendation is that pieces of equipment critical to research projects be allowable at 50% of cost within reasonable limitations.