I had a good time at the Georgia Organics annual conference – its 15th and my 7th. The Friday workshops and farm visit and the Saturday educational sessions were excellent and the two keynote speakers have national repute and lived up to expectations. At my breakfast table on Friday morning was an organic livestock farmer. I asked him a question which was triggered by the assistance I am providing to two ailing chickens: “What do you do when one of your animals get sick?” His answer was simple and to the point: “If they get sick it means they do not fit in my system and I eliminate them.”
Later that day during the farm visit the same topic came up when the farmer was asked how often he deworms his sheep. He deworms them all at the beginning of the season and then if one sheep needs deworming he will deworm it a second time and if it is still wormy (if that is the word) he eliminates it – “three strikes and you’re out” he said. I am interested in dairy goats so I attended a session on keeping goats. The presenter was from the west coast (interestingly several presenters had moved from the west coast to Georgia or Alabama) and her stance was different. She stressed the importance of good management practices and prevention but, if a sheep or goat gets ill and is non responsive to organic treatments, she will use conventional medicine. She felt she has a responsibility to the animal and cannot let it suffer. The final viewpoint was expressed by a DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine) who said he would cull the animal to avoid the problem spreading and because its genetics were wrong. His only exception was if the animal was a pet and then he would do whatever to save it. So four commercial practitioners came to a three to one vote.
Some decisions are not simple. If you hew to the organic road then conventional treatments should have no place. I also understand the “genetics” argument – it is no surprise in humid summers that the tomatoes with inbred resistance to the various blights do far better than the regular tomatoes. So to travel the organic path you must select robust partners. I would probably have done much better with hybrid chickens than some of the gorgeous looking birds we bought, a few of which are struggling, which also makes me wonder if perhaps there was some inbreeding down the road. One chicken has a persistent sour crop, which means the food she eats is not being processed properly by her body. I watch her closely – she is the only one who won’t eat the occasional greens or yogurt which I provide, which would have helped avoid her condition. After a couple visits to the vet I am now medicating her with nystatin (using a feeding tube down her throat to administer the medicine) and she may (believe it or not) have to wear a bra to help her crop regain its regular shape. This is going to extremes, I agree, but I am also interested in how it all works – what causes things to go wrong and how you can fix them.
If you have to make a living from organic farming then culling the inferior specimens seems the way to go. But then it gets back to why you are doing this anyhow – if it is to experience all the manifestations of life it is hard to let one depart when you could (presumably) have saved it, or at least made the attempt.