A Holistic Vet’s Prescription
for a Healthy Herd
By Richard J Holliday, DVM and Jim Helfter
Review by Geneva Perkins, Contributing Writer
Added March 10, 2015
Our world today is bombarded with new drugs, new herbicides and pesticides, new soil amendments that promise to cure, kill and repair all the woes and miseries that afflict us and the livestock that we depend upon for our livelihood. Richard “Doc” Holliday and Jim Helfter draw from their years of combined experience in treating and studying animals to provide an introduction to holistic livestock care.
The key word here is holistic. By studying the change in feeding habits of the bison roaming hundreds of acres with a veritable smorgasbord of nutrients to the modern confined living conditions with limited or no choice of food, the authors show the effects of imbalanced nutrition on livestock health and productivity. The book builds the case that conventional care focuses on treatment of specific symptoms and prevention of specific illnesses, while holistic treatment can involve a variety of approaches, including nutrition and alternative therapy. While acknowledging that sometimes the use of antibiotics is necessary, their experience has shown that a healthy, well cared for animal is more likely to stay healthy even when exposed to disease.
The book is broken down into three sections: Holistic Animal Health and Nutrition, Trace Minerals and Free-Choice Mineral Programs, and Holistic Herd Management.
The book does not provide a specific “recipe”, but instead provides the base knowledge to build the foundation of a feed and health care program in which the animals themselves will demonstrate to the farmer what they need to become and stay a profit producing herd. When given the choice of quality, free-choice minerals that complement forage, each individual animal will select the specific minerals that are needed for that animal at that time.
Through real life examples, the authors show how each animal in a herd is affected by imbalances in nutrition and how each animal has different needs at different times. A variety of stresses to an animal affects each animal in different ways; what works for one animal may not be the solution to another animal’s problem. Given a chance, with careful observation, the animal will show the herdsperson what is needed. This book promotes the belief that every animal is unique; thus the need for holistic cattle care.
The mid-section of the book gets in to the nuts and bolts of a free choice system. As knowledge grows around the effects of diet, the designs of the experiments have changed to better demonstrate the benefits of the free choice system. While some research has not endorsed the free choice system, as with any data, the conclusions are only as good as the experiment designed. The reader is recommended to other resources if more in-depth information is desired.
The book offers suggestions on how to provide a free choice system and specifics on how to troubleshoot when health issues do arise. Examples of research efforts around free choice feeding are cited. Chapter 12 focuses on the specifics of free mineral consumption. This section is very detail oriented and is a good resource which can be referenced as the occasion requires. Each component of diet intake is considered, along with a description of symptoms of too much or too little. As with anything new, problems can arise; this chapter is a good guide to which you can refer time and again.
The book concludes with specific treatments for several of the most common afflictions encountered in the dairy industry: milk fever, mastitis, grass tetany, bloat, and fetal loss.
Doc Holliday explores unconventional methods of managing the health of the herd. Giving the example of Jim, whom he met early in his veterinary career, he shares how he learned from Jim, a man known for having a way with animals. Holliday believes we all can “have a way with animals” if we take the time to develop it. This involves more of a hands-on approach, observing and “listening” to what the animal is telling you. He explores the use of acupuncture as a method of diagnosis and treatment.
Finally, he emphasizes the importance of good record keeping as a tool for learning from your experience and developing good management practices.
I found the book to be informative and an overall easy read. The health of the animal doesn’t begin at birth, but before birth. Herd health is not a quick fix, it must start from the ground up.