But, I was a quick learner.
I had been taught the basics, by nook or crook, trial and error and with the grace of a few well respected Ranchers from the "old school" in my early days, but in this instance my experience fell short.
My objectives, convictions and ideas lay, conservatively speaking, outside the dogma of the "old school" and more experienced Ranchers surrounding me, and I was well into my metamorphosis of becoming "a lunatic farmer", one who was as rooted in ecosystems and symbiotic regenerative agriculture as they were the conservative, long-standing, pass-it down traditions-type that my grandfather was.
Then my favorite Cow contracted the bovine version of Pink Eye - and it was completely my fault.
You see, not a week earlier, I had detected a bit of a stumbling problem in her walk and noticed she had the need for some calcium in her diet. A common problem with the heritage breed milk Cows, the kind our great-great-grandparents took with them crossing the western plains, was something called "Milk Fever".
Most, if not, all homestead families in those days had a milk Cow in tow as they lumbered from the east in search of whatever the great west held in perpetuity. With rich, abundant prairie grasses, consisting of as many as 40 species in any given acre - the family Cow, would produce abundantly. Repeleat with calcium drawn directly from the plains, this portable milk machine would provide rich cream, daily milk and abundance of other foods all at a conversion ratio that would put most modern dairies to shame.
The overall concept was simple enough. Due to the lack of modern refrigeration, the milk would be produced on the go. Stopping each night, the wagon train, with as many as 40 families would begin the next day in earnest by milking their Cows. Cream, Milk and of course a trip down to the stream, where cold, snow melt water flowed would be sufficient for 30 more minutes of butter churning, to produce everyone's favorite - butter!
It was the ultimate camping experience to say the least - room and board, all in one!
Without a supplement and rich alfalfa leafs, the Cow will mobilize calcium from its nervous system - thus the aforementioned stumbling. They look like a drunken sailor. I had learned properly to recognize the symptoms, and treat them correctly. Pen her up (so the others don't eat the alfalfa) feed, and observe. Have a bottle of calcium solution and and IV on hand in case she collapses. Its pretty simple really.
Now, with that being said - I did just as I had been taught. I penned her up, fed her well and waited for recovery. She did fine! After a few day she was on the road to recovery.
But... (and there is always a "but" when you are learning the ropes)
In the few day of being penned up, she contracted pink eye. Its very common for Cows in confinement to get pink eye. The flies hatch in the manure, and without chickens present, multiply rapidly. This makes for a nasty condition of flies landing on the cows face and transferring fecal bacteria, however small, to the soft mucus membranes of the Cow's eye.
There is only one cure - she must receive antibiotics. If not, she will go blind and this is a terrible way for a Cow to live. So I did what any good Rancher would do - I treated her. She healed, and I was able to keep my favorite Cow. Of course, I couldn't drink the milk for 90 days, but eventually, her system cleaned up and she served us many more years.
Here is the key point - the illness, pinkeye, was a direct result of MY MISMANAGEMENT of the Cow. If I had let her out for the day to graze, and then brought her back into the corrals for supplement and alfalfa, she would have been fine. I could have observed her recovery in the pasture without any more risk to the operation - in short, I did what was expedient, not necessarily what was excellent.
The default position of nature is health. Cattle on pasture don't get sick anymore than an entire herd of Elk suddenly fall ill. Sure, one or two might, but not the entire herd. A group of sick Cows is a sure sign of poor care. Animal illness is always a result of mismanagement. Period.
Paging through, you notice the issue focus almost completely on the concept of detectable levels and enforcement. The piece drags on, and on, using terms like "Parts per Billion" and "background exposure". It asks why the USDA sets too high cutoff thresholds for detection. By the time you finish the column titled "The Struggle for Enforcement" you're ready to grab your proverbial pitchfork and call those lazy bureaucrats in D.C. demanding change!
Before you do, let me ask this... What makes you believe that the USDA, (who promoted the concept of feeding dead cows to cows, thus bringing down upon its constituency the plague of Mad Cow Disease) would be efficient at detecting drugs in meat in the first place?
No, dear friend, the problem is not in detection or enforcement. The problem is in the management of the animals. The problem is the whole method of animal husbandry, writ large, sanctioned and promoted by the USDA.
The whole system is flawed! Do I need to say that again? The whole system is flawed!
In this case, the baby and the bathwater must go.
Eighty plus percent of all antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. today are used in the cattle industry. My question is this... with that number in mind, is it any wonder that drugs are detectable at all levels in our meat supply?
We must, as a Nation, repent of our ways with respect to animal husbandry. The CAFO (confined area feed operation) is flawed and must be scrapped. Pasture based livestock is the only way to avoid drugs in our meats. The best way to do this is to support pastured based Ranchers and Farmers. These small, local producers know how to care for animals without using routine, prophylactic drugs.
You can make a difference.