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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care July 2011

Hi Folks,

The past two weeks I attended two significant events which have provided me with very enriching life experience. The first was the 10th International Herb Symposium (IHS) near Boston. The second was Horse Progress Days close to home here in Lancaster County.

The IHS workshops were mainly geared to human herb use and spanned the spectrum: from “looking at plants with new eyes”, spiritual agriculture, growing herbs, making herbal medicines to medicinal plant chemistry. This was the first year that the IHS had veterinary workshops.

Since I am pretty much maxed out about medicinal plant chemistry, I decided to attend workshops on looking at plants in new ways. This means observing the shape, texture, structure, feel, taste, and the feeling you get by simply looking at a plant: its leaves, branches, buds, flowers and seeds. It doesn’t mean only remembering what is a plant is good for right away. It is to see a plant as it exists simply as itself. By taking a small bit of the leaf, no more than half the size of your pinky finger nail, and placing it between your two upper and lower front teeth and slowly chewing it there for a couple minutes, we can get a sense whether it is being a cooling, bitter, sweet, salty, sour and/or mucilaginous (succulent) type plant. It is from these qualities that we can get a true feel for how the plant could act therapeutically – all without even knowing the name of the plant. By only sampling a tiny piece of leaf, even potentially toxic plants can be sampled safely (a slight constricting sensation begins to be noticed in your throat if a plant is toxic).

The keynote speaker, world famous mushroom researcher and grower, Paul Stamets, spoke on the role of mushroom mycelium (the vast underground runners of the mushrooms) in the environment and in human health. It is clear to me that mushroom mycelia are a subtle yet major component in living systems. It is due to mushroom mycelia that plants can be drought or heat resistant. They also are very potent medicines against small pox, avian flu and cancer. I believe that mushroom mycelia have been a major missing factor in agricultural soils, plants and animals – including organic soils. Keep your eyes and ears open about mushroom mycelia into the future.
A workshop on spiritual agriculture was essentially about Biodynamic farming, the original form of organic agriculture which started in Europe in the 1920’s. It recognizes and embraces the non-visible living aspects of all forms of life on a farm. It emphasizes the farm as its own organism, relying on the subtle yet lively interplay between the life of the soil, air, plants and animals. Biodynamic agriculture strongly emphasizes having a diversity of livestock on a farm – keeping not only cows, but also pigs, chickens, sheep, goats - each type of life adding in to make the whole farm organism that much more radiant and alive. While tractors are used in Biodynamics, many small holder Biodynamic farmers use horse powered implements.  
The second event which made a big impact on me was Horse Progress Days held here in Lancaster County. This is a major event showcasing the latest in draft horse power farming. This year was the first time they offered a class for beginners in how to harness, hitch and drive draft horses. I decided to sign up for it. While I am thoroughly a cow person, all those beautiful draft horses I see farmers use here for plowing, haying, and harvesting have always impressed me. And though I have done emergency care for horses as a vet, I have always been hesitant around the equine species, mainly because I haven’t been able to “read” them. But due to the class, any hesitation I had has now turned into interest and enthusiasm for these beautiful and powerful animals. Truly, a new world has opened up! Through the wonderful teaching style of Ferman Wengerd (of the Pioneer draft farm machinery company in Ohio) and Kim Hadwin from Ontario (a former dairy farmer) us four students got top notch personalized training. One of the best parts was when Ferman was talking about horse psychology and behavior. With his natural horsemanship technique, a really nervous and prancing 18 hand high, huge Belgian quieted down within about 20-30 minutes. He was then very easy to work with the rest of the day. To see Ferman calmly work with this huge upset horse and the peaceful outcome took away any hesitation about horses I’ve ever had. That was the same for the other three students as well.

So often we feel that we MUST be in control of the situation, no matter what. Well, there are various ways to gain control – but through which method? The idea of working WITH the horse, like Ferman’s method of letting him first have his feet to dance around a little and giving him a little line, yet bumping or jerking the line as needed obviously worked for everyone’s good (the horse and us). There were a couple other trainers, like Rick Wheat of Arkansas and Andrew Beiler of Bird-In-Hand locally that also had similar at-ease approaches. But one trainer was very harsh. When watching him I could see real fear in the eyes of the horses. The person appeared to have no respect or care whatsoever for any horse – he smugly, violently and proudly broke the spirit of each horse presented to him. It was obvious that this kind of technique is dead wrong. The natural horsemanship technique of Ferman Wengerd showed a care and compassion for these large animals that enabled both man and animal to interact quite well together. In one event in the main arena, a pair of riders showed how well they work with their horses by doing very delicate maneuvers – only possible by a very close and sensitive relationship between man and animal.

What do the events at the Herb Symposium and the Horse Progress Days have in common? These two events have been part of a personal learning time for me that has focused on the connection between me and other forms of God’s creation of life, both obvious and subtle. It is clear to me that the only way agriculture can benefit the world completely is if we can connect and blend ourselves - in a positive and caring way - with all life in our midst. Do we always need to be in control and doing something TO the soil life, plant life or animal life? Shouldn’t we also look at what we can do FOR them on a daily basis, things that enrich all forms of life on the farm? This is also Biblical - fallowing the land (let it rest and reseed itself) and having regard for the life of our animals. Certainly connecting animals to plants directly by grazing is critical. We must reverse the “disconnect” of mainstream agriculture – keeping animals indoors away from the land: constantly bringing feed to them, hardly any of it fresh and alive. Each and every part of total confinement agriculture leads to some kind of problem – problems for animals stuck inside on concrete or problems when all the concentrated anaerobic waste needs to be disposed of.

We can truly honor the plant and animal kingdom by quietly observing and not always interfering. Then we can be truly helpful and be the best care takers of life in our midst. We need to interact with non-human life in a team-like fashion, rather than the usual need to dominate, conquer and control. Sitting so close to the soil behind a team of horses really let me re-connect to the earth in a way I haven’t done for in a long time. It once again allowed me to become fully aware of how a farm, as a complete living organism, can be fully alive. We really should allow ourselves some time each day to quietly observe what we are immersed in, to quietly observe animals and what they are doing while we are not doing anything to them. We can then become aware and understand a wee bit better how we are all in this together. If our hearts are open, we can connect and blend with the plants and animals around us, and be quietly thankful that they are in our lives. Perhaps they will enjoy us more and be thankful in their own way that we are in their lives, too.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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