Meg’s Musings: Reducing Stress at Weaning; a Holistic Approach

Calf with plate in

Reducing Stress at Weaning- A Holistic Approach

There are few events in the farming calendar that we dread; most of the year care of livestock is a pleasure. Ok, the odd difficult calving and lambing spices things up a bit, and the air goes blue when fences are broken, and escapees need to be reunited with their comrades but, more or less, it’s hard work but stress free.

There are two weeks of the year, however, that we find somewhat distressing, and that is weaning time.

We calve in blocks, so six weeks in winter and six weeks in spring we calve our cows. As that time comes around, we separate last year’s calves from their mothers. The calves are huge, 10 months old and more than capable of coping on their own. In some smaller production systems calves are left with their mothers until the next calf arrives, but in our experience this means little or no colostrum available for the new calf, reduced fertility in the mother, and slower growth rates for the infant as the teenage offspring drinks most of her supply. Some cows will push away the older calf when the younger one arrives, but our docile Herefords will let anything drink, whenever they like- which is not ideal with mixed age offspring.

So, two months before our cows are due to start calving, we wean the calves. It allows the cow to ‘dry up’ and stop her milk production, and those two months allow her to rest and put on condition prior to calving. In our experience it also gives her adequate time to start producing very high-quality colostrum, the first milk, the elixir of life for a newborn.

A necessary evil

Despite this being a sensible management decision, the cows and calves do not see it like that, and the separation causes distress to both- even if the calf has all but self-weaned off milk anyway.

Like any compassionate farmer I find the bellowing distressing, although it is suspected that the vocalisation is likely caused by the loss of the milk for the calf and uncomfortable full udder on the cow.

We always try a ‘soft wean’ approach, using a creep gate (a gate that calves can fit through but cows cannot) to get the two used to being separated. The cows that are being ‘dried off’ are fed hay on their side of the shed to reduce the protein available for milk production, and the calves are given a richer silage to plug the protein gap left by the milk.

We used to feed cattle nuts to the calves to tempt them into the creep section but we are now confident in our forage quality (we have it analysed) and so have stopped using concentrates completely.

The lure of the sweet-smelling silage is usually enough to get the calves through, and we then use a secondary gate to stop them getting back to their mothers. We increase the time apart gradually over the course of a week until the gate is shut for the final time and the calves are fully weaned.

Although this approach is much more subtle than a straight separation, we still have a few vocalising cows and calves, and the odd calf gets a touch of scours for gorging on milk when they are reunited, so this system clearly needed work.

Homeopathic helping hand

Because both my husband and I both recently completed the Homeopathy at Wellie Level course, we realised this would be a perfect opportunity to test out our newly acquired knowledge and started adding ignatia to the water troughs. This remedy helps with separation anxiety and when we started using it there was a marked reduction in vocalisation- although not completely resolved. The addition of pulsatilla (a remedy for ‘feeling of abandonment’) to the calf’s troughs also helped further but we still had some calves and cows standing by the gate all day, trying to get to each other.

Interestingly we use an abrupt weaning method on the sheep because of the impracticalities of ‘soft weaning’ outdoors. So, we can only use homeopathy to help them. The weaning was completely silent this time around, with no issues with vocalisation, loss of appetite or mastitis. This has completely convinced us of the power of this holistic method in our sheep flock.

The differences could be down to the susceptibility or sensitivity of the sheep vs cows to these particular remedies, and also the fact that they have much less milk to dry up as day length has a huge effect upon sheep hormone production, and we wean in early autumn as the breeding season is kicking into action.

Always looking for a better way

The cows, by contrast, breed all year around and are in such rude health that they have milk production worthy of a dairy cow. The discomfort of an abrupt wean on those engorged udders would make any of us shout!

So soft weaning helped but was not perfect. The homeopathy helped further but was also not perfect, so I did a bit of research, spurred on by a beef farmer on Instagram who urged me to try a process known as Quietwean.

Without sounding like an advert, Quietwean is a process of fitting a nose plate to the calves. This plastic clip fits in the nose (not through like a bull ring) and stops the calf being able to suckle. Whichever way they move their heads to drink milk, the plate gets in the way and prevents it.

The theory being that the calf gets over the loss of the milk bar quickly, but they still have the emotional support and companionship of their mothers. Then, after 4-7 days, you separate cow and calf and remove the nose plate. Instead of being a double whammy of losing access to milk and their mothers in one hit, you stagger the process which reduces the stress.

An interesting experiment

So we gave it a go.

The calves were cross.

(I’m not one for anthropomorphising – I think it has led to a dreadful disconnect between food production and reality – but I digress.)

They were cross that they couldn’t get to the milk. Cue head thumping their mothers’ udders and being generally bolshy teenagers. But after an hour or so, all cows and calves were eating hay and silage, drinking water, cudding and curled up together in the straw.


I was a little sceptical, early days, as the cows udders began to fill, surely we’d hear some bellowing?


By the fourth day, the cow’s udders had all but disappeared. Returned to their normal shape and every animal completely contented.

Except number 6.

As if he’d overheard my cynical thought processes, number 6 and his mother decided to provide a control to my experiment.

Number 6’s mother is an 8 year old, middle ranking cow who always produces an excellent calf who is often much larger than its cohort. She is very milky, but unfortunately gravity has not been kind to her generous bosoms, and they have pendulous tendencies.

Because of this, her calf- a bullock- so therefore greedy anyway, worked out that he could contort his neck and push his nose clip into his mother’s udder and still access the good stuff.

Putting theory into practice

We duly separated all the cows and calves and removed the clips 7 days after we started the process.


No fuss, no bother, no noise. Visibly and audibly relaxed cows and calves.

What a triumph.

No drop in calf body condition, no mastitis in the cows. Perfect.

Except number 6.

Who shouted and bawled and bellowed, matched only by his mother’s calls from the other side of the gate. We moved him to the bull shed to be out of sight and smell to help his mother to ‘bag down’, as his calls were making her stream milk all over the floor. Her discomfort and his greed I think were the root cause of the noise, but it was a very interesting reminder of why we try to avoid this stress for all our sakes.

The shouting continued for three days by the number 6 duo, but now peace is restored again. She is settled and eating with her herd mates. He is playing and eating with his bull friends and enjoying a shoulder and back scratch whenever I pass.

So there you have it. A piece of plastic and a trough full of homeopathic remedies were all it took to ease the most stressful time of the year.

I think that’s a win.

Meg’s Musings – Why I have a beef with the EAT-Lancet Commission

Cattle in field in summer

Cattle in field

The EAT-Lancet commission report was released this week, grandly entitled “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.”

This commission’s report promises to save the planet by transforming the food and agriculture sector by radically changing our diets. Globally. For everyone, wherever and whoever they may be.

Eye roll time. Here we go again. As a livestock farmer I am getting all too accustomed to being told that rearing animals, particularly cows is the reason our climate and environment is in jeopardy.

Apparently, cows do more harm to the planet than the oil and energy sector, industry, aviation and transport.


Because the sponsors of the report completely believe this narrative, this is the general feel of the paper. Meat bad. Plants good.

A deficient diet is healthy apparently

So, the EAT-lancet report has formulated a diet that has abolished red meat, or at least limited it to 7g per day, eggs to ¼ per day, chicken or fish to 28g per day.

Instead it suggests we must eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, plant oils and many more grains. By doing so we’ll save vast tracts or land, nitrogen fertiliser, reduce methane production and save reservoirs full of water.

We will be healthier, our rates of mortality will drop by the millions and cancer rates will plummet.

Too good to be true?

Well of course it is. It’s the stuff of pipe dreams and unicorn tears. The vast majority of this report (47 pages) is made up of estimates, assumptions and predictions based on epidemiology studies. In short, they have tested a disease hypothesis in a lab to see how many people fit their predictions, not actual people in real life.

When they do cross reference studies that have tested actual living, breathing people in real life scenarios it inconveniently turns out that red meat is rather good for you, but these papers are dismissed, glossed over or barely mentioned.

Their reasons? Some of the studies have taken place in parts of the world that are significantly malnourished to start with, and the addition of red meat to those diets has improved health and mortality immeasurably, so they don’t count.

Ironically those malnourished people in the studies were consuming a diet similar to the one EAT-Lancet commission has just advised we all embrace….

But I am not a nutritionist, and despite the paper’s dietary recommendations alarming me, I’ll leave the nitty-gritty to the experts. As predicted, every response I have seen so far have been scathing at best and genuinely concerned for human health at worst. Thisarticle is the clearest cut and easiest to digest so far.

It’s the how not the cow

The section of this report that concerns me the most, (and others like it) is the vilification of the cow.

When did this noble beast become the scape goat (cow?) of human failings in creating climate change and the escalation of non-communicable diseases?

We are consuming less beef than we ever have but metabolic diseases and environmental degradation is escalating, so why are bovines to blame?

I can only assume that the large and obvious nature of a cow are inflammatory to those of a ‘plant-based’ bent. The vegan propaganda films, ‘Cowspiracy’, ‘Earthlings’ etc to name a few have skewed the debate, and the intensification and scaling up of beef farms in the USA have alarmed animal rights activists and environmentalists alike.

And they’re right to a certain degree.

Putting thousands, if not tens of thousands of cattle in a pen and pumping them full of corn is an abhorrent way to farm. Fed hormones, antibiotics and starchy grain to maximise growth rates and shorten time to killing weight is an environmental and animal welfare car crash. Cutting this sort of red meat out of people’s diets makes total sense. It is no good for anyone or anything.

But this isn’t the only way of rearing cows. In fact, despite the numbers in these horrible feedlots, it isn’t the normal way either.

The grass IS greener

In the UK, as is the case in many nations across the globe, the vast majority of cattle are reared on grass, even if they receive supplementary feeding these ‘concentrates’ tend to be waste products of the human food and oil seed industries- the pulp left from making beer, extracting vegetable oil, making plant ‘milks’. Feed that is not edible unless you have a rumen- a sophisticated digestive system evolved perfectly to utilise complex long-chain carbohydrates like cellulose and convert it into high quality, easily digestible protein. Packed full of iron, vitamin B12, omega 3, CLA etc etc.

But it is their utilisation of grass that is their true superpower (and that of sheep, deer and goats).

Roughly 40% of land use in the UK is grassland or semi-natural grassland. Grassland also makes up an important part of crop rotations, fertility building in-between cereal crops.

This use of grass is no accident, in a temperate climate grass grows at altitude, almost irrespective of topography. It tolerates drought and flood, protects and holds onto the soil, sequesters carbon and grows at a huge range of temperatures.

The most important part is that it grows from the base of the plant. It has coevolved with grazing animals to be eaten.

If recommendations were followed in the EAT-Lancet report and red meat was all but abolished, more land and resources for human food would not be suddenly made available as the report has wildly claimed.

Grass grows where cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruit and nuts cannot. Without utilising cattle and sheep to graze these areas and subsequently enter the food chain, we become more nutrient deficient, unable to produce enough complete protein from plants to feed our population.

As Sustainable Dish eloquently point out, ‘cattle upcycle nutrients’ taking inedible cellulose and converting it into food we have evolved to eat.

But cattle play another role.

Holistic land managers

Their grazing, if managed correctly and holistically and where artificial fertilisers aren’t used, stimulates the plants they eat to regenerate, increasing root mass, growing more leaves and locking up carbon. Their hoof prints break the sward, allowing wildflowers to germinate in the pockets of exposed soil. Their manure completes their nutrient cycle, returning vital minerals and elements to the soil to stimulate plant growth, and attracting insects, and consequently birds and mammals to their pasture to exploit the feeding grounds.

Cows are creators of biodiversity, generators of fertiliser, a fundamental component of the carbon cycle and crucial to the health of pastures and grasslands, marshes and moors, as well as an important way for increasing soil fertility in-between cereal crops.

The commission’s report does identify that the production of artificial fertilisers is hugely polluting and energy hungry, and its overuse is causing eutrophication, ozone production, soil degradation and the decrease in plant nutrient carrying capabilities, but does not see that the use of organic farming practices like crop rotation, composting, agroforestry and other agroecological techniques and above all else, LIVESTOCK- particularly cows all have the power to abolish or hugely reduce its use.

Plant-based is not planet-friendly

Unfortunately this does not fit with the ‘plant-based’ utopia they are trying to promote, so instead it recommends more precision farming in the developed world to reduce fertiliser use to allow the developing world to use more…. This is one of the many bizarre suggestions in the report loosely disguised as ‘sustainable intensification’.

The promotion of seeds, nuts and vegetables would unfortunately increase both chemical and water use. Thirsty vegetables and salad crops have been responsible for ground water depletion in countries that have the climate to grow them more consistently than the UK can.

Almeria in Spain is predominantly under glass and plastic to satiate Europe’s desire for out of season fruit and vegetables. If this demand were to increase as people look to plants to provide protein in place of meat, these alien and chemical laden areas would expand, and the environment, biodiversity and the climate would suffer.

The volume of plants that must be consumed to plug the gap left by red meat is frankly frightening and unobtainable.

Cows Vs chickens

The strangest thing of all is the assumption by the report that cows eat human food. 90% of everything cows eat are inedible for humans.

They are NOT stealing our food.

In place of beef and lamb people are turning to pork, fish and chicken in particular. These animals seem to elicit less planetary guilt than cows and sheep do.

But pig and chickens are monogastrics. They have similar needs to us in terms of dietary input. The grain and soy imported from all over the world for animal feed goes to feed pigs and chickens predominantly. That is a crisis. But chicken gets the green light as a sustainable protein source with a small environmental footprint.


Billions of chickens raised every year eating millions of tonnes of human food is seen as sustainable?

This madness is echoed throughout the report.

I know what many holistic, organic, regenerative, compassionate farmers know: Cows are part of the solution for the future of food, not the problem….

Vested interests

Unless of course you’re in the business of growing, fertilising, distributing and utilising cereal.

In which case a global diet that recommends an increased consumption of grains, palm oil, soy and monocrops is good news.

Not that I’m a cynical farmer but the Eat-Lancet commission report is bank-rolled by a multi-millionaire vegan animal rights activist who spends her life jetting around the globe to amazing destinations in her own plane and telling the rest of us mere mortals to follow a ‘plant-based diet’ to save the planet.

The EAT movement is part of the FReSH network, a group of multinational companies that all have fingers in the ‘sustainable development’ pie and are well placed to exploit the ‘plant-based’ trend. Among its members are Unilever (just launched 700 vegan product lines), Syngenta (seeds, pesticides, ‘big Ag’), Barilla (pasta), Kelloggs (cereals), Danone (processed foods) and PepsiCo (processed food) to name but a few.

What we’re witnessing here is a global, industry led push to abolish the ultimate sustainable food source: livestock, in order to push hyper processed, cheap, environmentally damaging, mass produced ‘food’ on the masses in the name of ‘planetary boundaries’ and ‘healthy diets’.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Not an analogy they would appreciate, but the vegan movement and propaganda is the front man for control of the food chain by the globe’s largest corporations.

The cow is their chosen fall guy but I for one will not stand by quietly while this ludicrous movement gains traction.

I strongly believe, no – I KNOW that livestock reared ethically and sensitively within their natural habitats are the future of our healthy planet.

I shall have my beef and eat it. I suggest you do too.

About the author: I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food.


Meg’s Musings – Lifting the Fog at Organic Congress

Recently I swapped wellies and waterproofs for something a little smarter and set off at some ungodly hour into the Midlands to Dunchurch Park Hotel, which was hosting Organic Congress 2018.

It was great to see so many old and new faces, all eager to get stuck in to the varied programme which was a two-day feast for a mostly redundant brain like mine; the poor old thing being mainly fogged up by toddler life and cattle these days.

I was there with two hats on: the first as an organic livestock farmer – keen to learn more about advances made in health, welfare and forage utilisation; and the second as part of the exciting new venture – Whole Health Agriculture (WHAg).

The conference was the official launch of WHAg, and as a guest blogger for them, it was great to hear the team put into words what ‘whole health’ concepts and practices in farming really mean. Chairman Lawrence Woodward set the tone, putting the WHAg vision into words at a drinks reception on day one. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that the promise of wine and nibbles lured the crowds in initially but once he was waxing lyrically about the true meaning of ‘whole health’, the room was captivated and stayed put through some lively discussion!

The underlying concept of organic farming is that the health of the soil, plants, animals and man is one and invisible- and I think this concept gets lost in the melee sometimes, focusing on maybe a few aspects that really matter to farmers and the public within that moment.

I really feel that WHAg has evolved to get back to the roots of organic farming- putting ‘health’ back at the heart of the conversation. That health is not a ‘state’, it is a dynamic process that has many influences, but perhaps vitality, an unmeasurable concept, from holistic farming practices is really what defines it. It’s a slightly abstract thought, and one that got under my skin over the course of the conference.

By listening to the guest farmers from a variety of farm types, there was a recurrent theme; observation and gut instinct are worth more to a farmer practicing holistic/organic/biodynamic farming or gardening than any metric.

This is so refreshing to hear, and a relief to know that there are others out there that feel the same as we do.

I saw as many sessions as I could, spoke and listened to academics, gardeners, farmers, politicians and marketers- all passionate about their field of expertise and their enthusiasm catching.

Agricology kindly recorded all of the sessions, so I was able to tap into the ones I’d missed once I got home, becoming enthused all over again about Silvopasture, herbal lets, homeopathy and soil health.

I got back to our farm and at first light headed out to look at our cattle still out under winter skies amongst the trees of the parkland; I’m pretty sure our cattle have vitality – but there is always room for improvement.

I think I’ve got the Whole Health Ag bug now. Thanks for a great congress – I can safely say the grey matter is emerging from the toddler fog!

About the author: I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food.


Meg’s Musings – Is This Farming as it Should Be?

meg with her dog and child

Hi, I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food. Also mum to an adventurous toddler, Oscar – I juggle keeping him alive and entertained alongside working and helping out on the farm – (which you can read to mean interfering!)

My husband, Dale, and I, – and no doubt countless others, – are farming to a standard far in excess of any available certification and yet we have no way of communicating that to consumers, nor we do we get recognition for it – and that’s a scary thought. Enter stage left Whole Health Agriculture with a definition of holistic farming as it should be. They got my attention, and  –  happily – I got theirs, so you will be hearing from me regularly via blogs, articles and videos etc.

A Bit About Me

We moved here to the Peak District while I was still on maternity leave from my much loved job as Conservation and Education officer at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire. There I ran school and educational visits, teaching about organic and holistic farming, food provenance, and the importance of working hand in hand with nature to create wholesome food. For two years prior to this I worked for the Sheepdrove Trust on campaign projects about genetic modification, which also taught me a lot about food chains, provenance and trust (or lack of) in the food industry.

While our move up to the Peaks was brilliant for my hubby, – a career move from farm foreman to farm manager, – for me, leaving behind friends, an area and a job I loved, and now stuck at home with a baby, staring out of the window at the driving rain (it does that a lot here!) – it was a wake-up call. The job opportunities for a woman coming off maternity leave with a background in holistic farm education and conservation are like rocking horse poo – rare at best!

And so, when I was invited to join the Whole Health Agriculture community, it was a no-brainer on many levels.

Hand Knitted Yoghurts

We weren’t always ‘hand-knitted yogurts’ as my mother calls us! My husband came late to the farming party; although I have farmers in my family, Dale has an urban background, qualifying in motor mechanics before going on to run catering establishments. Not exactly a rural grounding.

But when we got together we decided that we wanted a change, so Dale scraped together bits of dairy experience, using my farming friends to get a foot in the door and after what seemed like 1000 job applications, a contact of a friend (always the way) agreed to take him on as an apprentice- and the rest is history.

Dale’s path was probably set by the three elderly brothers who took him on. Each brother had a different approach, but the eldest was the most influential, using cues from nature to determine when to apply slurry, how to judge what and how much food each cow needed, and avoiding metabolic, hormonal and lameness problems by basically letting cows be cows.

For us, it was a natural progression into organic farming, but the farm we ended up on next was only into organics for the economic safety net it gave the business. They flouted rules and bent the standards to fit their conventional model and we only stuck it out for 8 months. I had a theory that their repeated TB breakdowns were linked to their poor way of treating the land and the animals in their ‘care’.

We’d got the holistic/organic bug by now, though, and our next move, to one of the biggest organic mixed farms in the country, Sheepdrove, was a no brainer. This was much closer to how we imagined organic farming to be – high welfare, wildlife and habitat focused, zero input and we loved it. It still had its issues but we felt we were on the right path. My job of Conservation and Education Officer dovetailed brilliantly with Dale’s role as farm foreman. Conservation measures were upheld and improved, probably because I became a banshee if I thought my bumblebee transects or pockets of Devil’s Bit Scabious were about to be jeopardised by marauding cows or over-enthusiastic hay making!

With charitable funding I also managed to get on-farm surveys and research carried out by some of the country’s leading experts in insects, barn owls, harvest mice, bees, fungi, worms and birds, and their findings cemented my belief that farming both holistically and profitably IS possible.

The Challenges of Whole Health Farming

After five years at Sheepdrove, and with a new baby, our little family left for a soggy organic beef farm in the Peak District; in sole charge of it this time and determined to do things the way we feel they should be done.

However, we are still being hampered by restrictive rules and a lack of cohesive and common-sense approaches to regulating farms and/or supporting them. This farm has been organic for over 30 years and fully under Higher Level Stewardship for the last ten. There is little cohesion between the two policies. Being organic and under HLS should be the holy grail for how farms should be managed and funded but there are holes in the regulation, or the rules for HLS are so restrictive that, actually, biodiversity and welfare suffers.

My husband and I have simple objectives, honed from our varied experience on very different farms. Firstly, the importance of welfare and behaviour; the two are inextricably linked. If your approach to farming livestock is guided by the behaviour of the very animals in your care, their welfare should be taken care of. An understanding of herd interactions and the power of observation should not be underestimated.

Secondly, improving biodiversity and pasture health. We don’t use any external inputs and are keen to learn as much as we can about the diversity of grasses and herbs and the benefits they can bring to soil and livestock health.

The biggest change we have made to the plant and pasture health of the farm, and consequently the cattle health has been the use of rotational grazing. (More on this later!) Our biodiversity is improving slowly- but more to be done.

The biggest reason for sticking with organic farming for us is the avoidance of chemicals and routine drug use. We still use far more than I would like (for treating blowfly on the sheep and fluke in the cattle) and we’re looking for ways to avoid/limit this in the future. We have already cut down flukicide hugely just by managing pasture and water cleanliness but the aim is to abolish completely.

I’m a strong believer that the health of your environment directly influences your own health and the health of the animals in your care. You are what you eat. It should, therefore, be obvious that you are also what your food eats . . shouldn’t it? And that, if you are organic, this goes without saying . . .

It’s Organic, Jim, but Not as We Know it!

When we first arrived here I was massively frustrated by the lack of organic farms in this area – there are a few but they are not abundant and are mostly dairy and, even ours had, for years, been managed by people who believed farming organically was just a way to make more money but with irritating hurdles. There was a mind-set of ‘but we’ve always done it like this’ and suspicion of anything new. The conservation measures put in place by the farm owner were seen by the farm staff as ‘anti-farming’; something to be attempted half-heartedly to tick boxes.

And then there was the attitude of the farm vets. We’d only been here two weeks when one of the vet partners came to introduce herself, and spent an hour boasting about how she’d got the measure of the Soil Association, and could get a derogation for anything, any drug that we wanted. I was shocked at first and then furious.

This is obviously a much larger problem. It stems from a complete arrogance and lack of understanding from the vets and a total reluctance and/or ignorance of holistic farming methods from farmers/stockmen.

Why isn’t this being picked up on?

It seems being Organic is not as Organic as should be.

And if I have questions about the way food is produced- what hope does the general public have?

I intend to find out . . . .  watch this space!

About the author: I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food.


Martin Talks About Global Humility for Our Health

sheep and 2 lambs in field

I have been a small upland organic farmer for more than 30 years, previously raising beef and currently farming sheep.

I can’t remember when I first encountered the use of homeopathic thuja for treating Orf in sheep, but when many years ago my own sheep developed Orf I turned to thuja almost automatically. The more conventional veterinary world couldn’t offer any treatment except, of course, antibiotics if secondary infection resulted. I did think critically about what I was doing, but – whilst being a ruthlessly sceptical person – I was open minded enough to recognise there was lot I did not understand, – and, – if something works there must be reason for it – even if I could not see how it was possible.

When I suffered prolapsed discs in my lower spine, the conventional medical world declared that the severity did not warrant an operation and so there was nothing else they could do. If I was to continue farming I needed to get better and so it was up to my body to heal itself. I went to see a homeopath. Of course I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think she helped – possibly a lot.

This only happened to me once whereas with my sheep, Orf happened sufficiently often over the years to reinforce the – shall I call it ‘suspicion’ – that the homeopathic remedy really did seem to be clearing up the Orf, partly because it usually happened very soon after treatment. One thing I was very fortunate to realise at an early age is that nature is clever, – very clever – I know people get things wrong but nature does not.

I have a friend who is veterinary surgeon, and my attention in recent months has been drawn to the unwarranted and pointless challenge to veterinary homeopathy from certain quarters. One of the major challenges to homeopathy is a claim that it is not science based. This is a fascinating nonsensical claim and one quite inadvertently mocked recently by Will Self on Radio 4 airing his ‘point of view’ on the recent history of mental health treatment within the health service. Not a lot of hard evidence to the science there! Medical treatments continually change, opinions change, and scientific understanding evolves and interpretation develops. Nowadays there are the vested interests of drug companies to consider, the inherent problem being that, as companies with shareholders, they are legally bound NOT to allow anything to impede profit. The way scientific research is conducted would also benefit from much more open scrutiny as much of it is conducted by drug companies.

It is also very easy to cherry pick studies and draw erroneous conclusions in order to support an ulterior motive or a personal or popular belief. The way we accept or reject what is plausible or not is probably affected by much that is irrational. As I write, an urgent global day of action by citizens from 90 countries is taking place calling on governments of the world to act on climate change. Something that is, or should be, relevant to everything we do now is climate change. But my point is that despite the urgency and the science that points overwhelmingly to the folly of proceeding with fossil fuels such as fracking, our government is unable, it seems, to accept the science in some strange belief that economic growth is more important than a habitable planet.

I could add that science is also telling us that 1 tonne of artificial nitrogen fertiliser puts about 6 or so tonnes of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere in its manufacture, that it also harms soil organisms paradoxically making the soil less fertile, which in turn releases MORE greenhouse gases.

But if agriculture moves in the right direction – I mean globally and holistically – it will be that which saves the planet. Our soil has the potential to sequester a lot of carbon when the vegetation and crops are managed well to photosynthesise to best advantage – ie as nature would, without our intervention. Then the soil we could have, after enabling nature to restore or regenerate what we have destroyed over millennia, will sequester even more carbon. It will mean a lot of change and a lot of learning, and pretty much complete global humility from all those producing food.

… And where does the homeopathy come in? Homeopathy is an holistic approach to health – it encourages looking at the whole picture with a view to enable self healing and for the good of the whole. It may seem just a bit far fetched, but as the climate situation – which is all our own making – is actually very urgent – those taking decisions on behalf of humanity and the planet, might be well served by adopting a similar approach and therefore make decisions that really are in the best interests of everyone.

Martin head shot

About the author: I’m Martin and have been a small upland organic farmer for more than 30 years, previously raising beef and currently I farm sheep.