Herbs for Sheep
I first became interested in herbal medicine around 2015, when I met some people who were using both herbal medicine and homeopathy for themselves and their livestock. Around that time, I started using an herbalist for my own health needs and then decided to use herbs as medicine for my sheep. At that time, I could not find a qualified herbalist who worked with animals, so I researched the Internet, as well as purchasing Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s book, “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable”. I also talked to people I knew who were using herbal medicine with their animals.
I was brought up on a Beef and Sheep farm in Breconshire and like all other farmers I knew, when stock fell ill, antibiotics were the “go to” treatment, in fact, probably the only treatment available, as far as I was aware .By 2015 I had been keeping and breeding sheep, sheepdogs, pigs, beef cattle and poultry and had begun to question the wisdom and effectiveness of routine antibiotic and vaccine use with farm livestock. I felt there must be a better and more natural way of keeping stock healthy.
I have not undertaken any formal training in herbalism, so my knowledge comes from experience acquired over time from many different sources. I have a large writing pad in which I have noted which herbal remedies are most effective for treating certain illnesses or diseases. This is an ongoing process and I am constantly adding both illnesses and remedies as they arise in our livestock. We have not had any antibiotics on the holding for about 4 years now, though we occasionally use a conventional wormer e.g. Albex, as well as a product such as Crovect or Clik for blowfly strike prevention or treatment.
Up until a year ago, herbal medicine was the only treatment we used with the sheep but since attending various homeopathy for farmers courses, we now use a mixture of both homeopathy and herbal remedies, either separately or together, depending on what we are treating.
My first herb I usually look to when an animal is sick is garlic, with its antiseptic and anti-toxic properties. It is especially good as a febrifuge and vermifuge. I use molasses to administer the garlic and it is what we have been using to control the worm burden in our sheep .The sheep seem to sense its medicinal qualities, for they seek out wild garlic and graze it right down. More recently I have been experimenting with improving on this remedy, with the addition of other powerful herbs which are good natural wormers. These are Wormwood, Cinnamon, Cloves, Thyme and Cayenne. We are hoping by using these that we will not have to use chemically manufactured anthelmintics again.
Slippery Elm Bark is another favourite herb of mine. It is used in the treatment of scours, especially with honey to stop scours in baby lambs. It is soothing and gentle on the digestive tract and intestines.
We use lavender and tea tree oil for treating scald or foot rot, though occasionally we use Stockholm Tar with either barleymeal added or crushed Himalayan Rock Salt. These may not be herbs, but they are natural substances that work.
Again, not a herb but a most magical substance which we use a lot of, especially at lambing time is local Honey. Not so long ago, I was advised by a newly qualified conventional vet, that I might think about putting some honey under the tongue of a weakly new born lamb to get it up and suckling. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had been doing that for years!
Two other incredible substances [not herbs] that we use all the time to maintain stock health are Seaweed Meal and Himalayan Rock Salt. The seaweed meal contains Boron, Calcium, Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Iodine, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, Potassium, Selenium, Sulphur and Zinc. The sheep love it and will even eat it from the hand as if it were sugar beet!
We always make sure that there are lumps of Himalayan Rock Salt in each field and shed so the sheep have access to it at all times. I will not list them here, but this amazing product is said to contain over 84 minerals and trace elements. I do not know whether the sheep know or care about that but again, they avail themselves of it regularly.
Regarding our current management of blowfly strike, we are still experimenting with things like Eucalyptus, Oregano, Neem and even Linseed oil but as yet, have no conclusive results.
Herbal medicine differs in several ways to homeopathy. Unlike homeopathy, herbal remedies are not so easy to use if you have large numbers of stock to treat. Most remedies will need to be made up by hand and administered at least twice a day for perhaps several days or longer. This obviously involves catching the animal, restraining it and then administering the remedy, usually as a drench. This can be time consuming and is possibly not feasible if your stock are not readily accessible or you have no holding facilities.
Also, Herbalism tends to treat the disease rather than the whole animal in the way that Homeopathy does. In that respect they differ but they have similarities too. E.g. both use plants like Calendula and Arnica for healing.
My medicine cabinet could easily double as my kitchen cupboard, for in it you will find ginger, cloves, thyme, marjoram, cinnamon and sage to name but a few. Like all the best medicine cabinets it also contains red wine and brandy, after all, I always reckon, if it is good enough for the sheep then it must also be good for the shepherd!
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified herbalist but am simply a stockperson and farmer who uses herbs with my animals to keep them healthy and happy. The herbs and remedies I have named are examples of what I have found to work with my stock.
About the author: The WHAg team love to showcase farmers and supporters who epitomise the ethos of ‘Whole Health’. We live and breathe this approach, which flows through us in farming, work, and family.