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Careful What You Spray

Treat Flies and Worms AND Treat Your Soil

By Will Winter

Editors note: This is an article printed in the June 2022 Issue of the Acres U.S.A. magazine.

The main difference between me now and me as a young person is that I’ve been painfully reminded whenever I have not followed — or have forgotten — the Four Laws of Nature:

  1. Water runs downhill
  2. There’s no free lunch
  3. Everything affects everything
  4. Nature bats last

If one is unclear as to what any of these mean, don’t worry — nature will definitely let you know when you haven’t been paying attention.

Violations of these rules are rampant in agriculture, even within the halls of our so-called centers of higher learning. It seems like science specializes in bringing out new and “improved” versions of chemistry and pharmacology all the time (that’s where the money is!).

Typically, this is all done with little or no regard as to what happens when these drugs pass through the animal or plant and then go downstream.

I bring this up specifically with regard to the decision to use any manmade chemicals on our crops, pastures or livestock. It’s as if we think that there is an “away” where things go when we flush the toilet, spray chemicals on the seeds or grass, or try to wash things down the drain.

There really is no such thing as “away,” though, and there never was. We are seeing the results of these violations after a century or more of wanton applications of antibiotics, pesticides, prescription drugs and other endocrine disruptors (over 1,000 of which are known — many in the most-common agricultural products) into the water, the air and our food supply.

Some of these man-made, carcinogenic and naturedestroying toxins are called “forever chemicals” because nature can never break them down. They go on to destroy pollinators, soil organisms and, eventually, us (nature always bats last!).

The rather obvious solution for a total planetary cure is far beyond the reach of any individual farmer or rancher. However, we can each do our best to be reBY WILL WINTER sponsible for our own usage and disposal. It’s really very simple, because every product, chemical or drug that we buy is either good for the environment or bad for it.

Actually, it’s quite easy to differentiate — just look at the meaning of the words. In “antibiotic,” is “anti” — which equals “against,” and “biotic,” which equals “life” — therefore, “against life.” Insecticide means “death to insects” — as in all insects, not just the ones we hate.

I made this decision in my career as a holistic veterinarian back in 1999. I decided that I was never going to use any of these “anti” chemicals in my practice. That meant no chemical wormers, antibiotics or vaccines. Did I worry? You bet I did. But, in reality, it took me very little time to realize that not only was I not missing anything good, but my results without drugs were actually much better. Mind you, I didn’t just pull out the chemical crutches and wait for the inevitable train wreck. I put a holistic health plan and an immune support plan in place before I began removing the chemical crutches.

What I noticed immediately was that the animals themselves were stronger, brighter and more vibrantly healthy without the yield drag of the drugs. Additionally, the vitamins, minerals and good nutrients I provided were able to make them this way, and the results were immediately noticeable.

Better yet, they passed this vibrancy down to their offspring. Before long, herds that get the typical pharmaceuticals thrown at them become, in my terminology, “drug addicts.” That is, they can’t live without their drugs, and — even worse — they pass these weaknesses on to their offspring (water runs downhill, remember?). When a herd becomes chemical-free, the producer no longer has to worry about the latest invasion of parasites, bacteria, viruses or other infectious diseases. It’s a huge relief, plus the vet bill tends to reduce to near zero.

The second thing I noticed in these herds was that the plants were actually getting stronger. Could this be, I wondered — that the soil itself was getting stronger without the frequent chemical dosing? Yes! To make a long story short, I realized that this was yet another proving of the notion that soil health — and therefore the health of all who live and grow on that soil — is highly dependent upon biology.

We call what’s living below the surface the “soil livestock.” Back when I was in ag school they taught us that soil science involved only two aspects: chemistry — such as the levels of calcium, boron, phosphorus and all the others — and structure — such as sand, clay, loam or other combinations. While they might have mentioned something about organic matter, there was no mention of the life within the soil. Now we know that soil biology can be the most important aspect of all. We all need to take care of our farm biology, and that means from the ground up (everything is related to everything!). 

In the first book written for farmers and agronomists on a specific aspect of this topic, Dung Beetles & A Cowman’s Profits, author Charles Walters wrote that the dung beetle really is the “king” of the soil livestock. There are at least 90 species of dung beetles in North America, including tunnelers, dwellers and rollers. If these extremely helpful organisms thrive and are alive in our pastures and fields, we can expect almost everything else below to be intact. It has been proven that under ideal conditions, dung beetles can control and eliminate 95 percent of the horn fly problem. Most serious fly and worm larvae require a moist manure pat to develop. The tunneling and movement of the manure by the beetles dries it out and makes parasite development difficult, if not impossible. The sad fact remains that the most popular chemical wormer in America, ivermectin, can destroy much of the soil livestock — including dung beetles. The drug also remains active in the soil for long periods of time. There are other wormers that claim to be safe for beetles, such as cydectin. These claims unfortunately prove to be untrue; all insecticides kill insects.

Additionally, the so-called “feedthrough insecticides,” which kill developing larvae of worms in the manure, are also detrimental to soil livestock. These drugs are powered by insect growth regulator hormones (IGR), which interfere with the endocrine system of all insects — and that of all living animal life, including us. 

Note too that all of the more common horse wormers are beetledestructive as well — just not quite as toxic to soil organisms as ivermectin. You won’t need them once you get the horses what they need to stay healthy.

There is a common but mistaken conception that underweight or underperforming animals must have worms. Everyone knows that, right? Actually, this is incorrect. Rather than performing fecal egg counts in the manure — which are inexpensive and easy — it is all too common that producers just go ahead and dose every animal in the herd or flock, whether they have worms or not.

This is bad practice, as it contributes greatly to the creation of resistant parasites and also the concentration of insecticides in the soil and field. In reality, we find that the most common reasons cattle don’t gain properly, or that they are in poor condition, is a combination of low-Brix forages, poor genetics or other flaws in management (there’s no free lunch!). When these ducks are all in a row, we don’t need any crutches against parasites — even the natural treatments.

Here’s the deal: if one wants to eliminate parasite problems — internal as well as external — it boils down to management issues, manure handling and overall herd or flock health, including genetics. Animals must have access to highquality minerals and vitamins, and stored forages must be high-quality, non-GMO and free of mold and rot. Since parasite larvae cannot climb higher than 2 inches up the grass stem, never graze shorter than 3 inches. If one feels somehow compelled to add a chemical wormer — fear is a powerful sales motivator — only do so in the cold of winter, when the dung beetles are hibernating or gone. Likewise, only worm animals that have a high fecal egg count (FEC). That being said, there is nothing that the chemical wormers do that cannot be done by herbal or all-natural worming programs, especially when combined with the aforementioned management procedures.

I recommend pure raw apple cider vinegar wherever I go. In addition to being a true health tonic, this golden liquid is a proven natural wormer and insect repellent. It works for everyone who is willing to figure out how to administer it properly. We give it daily, yearround, to all stages of livestock — including birds, swine, horses and all ruminants. It has the side benefit of improving overall feed digestive efficiency, to the effect that it saves the producer more money in the feed bill than the price of the vinegar itself.

Incidentally, many producers use diatomaceous earth (DE) as a americankunekunepigsociety.com wormer, and people either love it or hate it. Let’s just say that it may not work for everyone. I am on the positive side, though, and I use it for my sheep and goats — the species with the most problems with internal parasites. The Famancha test, which measures the pinkness of the inner eyelids, is a very reliable indicator of worm load. DE is completely safe for dung beetles, even though the mechanism of action within the gut remains unknown. We think it may be related to changes of the electrical charges within the gut. We do know that the DE does not slice and dice the worms physically.

Twice a year — usually spring and fall — I mix DE 50:50 with kelp and serve it (instead of the usual minerals) for one to two weeks. The animals typically like it, but mix in some molasses if they need help trying it. In spite of what some may tell you, sheep do need the anti-parasite mineral copper; select a mineral mix with at least 1,000 ppm. For horses, I do this same DE/ kelp treatment four times a year. Use only the “human-edible” brand of kelp, not the cheaper swimming pool-filter DE which is deadly to breathe in.

More and more livestock producers are switching to a wholesome, biodiverse and regenerative style of all-natural farming. They are replacing all toxic or potentially poisonous drugs and chemicals with natural methods, and, as a result, they are having better success with their crops and their livestock.

This may be the only way modern farmers and ranchers can survive against the tide of massivescale commercial commodity food production. Going natural also helps create a safe and beautiful farm that one’s children will want to inherit and treasure for life.

And the soil livestock will be down there applauding our commitment!

Will Winter, DVM, is the author of The Holistic Veterinary Handbook. He is the herd consultant for the Thousand Hills Cattle Company and raises hogs, sheep and goats at Lucky Pig Farms in Minnesota.