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An Interview with 2014 Acres U.S.A. Eco-Agriculture
Achievement Award Winner Dr. Richard “Doc” Holliday

By Susan Beal, DVM

Added April 1, 2015

Waukon, Iowa veterinarian, Richard “Doc” Holliday, was presented with the Acres U.S.A. Eco-agriculture Achievement Award at the 2014 Acres U.S.A. Conference and Trade Show held in Columbus, Ohio in early December 2014. This award, presented yearly to an exceptional leader in the eco-agricultural community, honors “Doc” Holliday for his over fifty years of work in the alternative veterinary and holistic agricultural communities.

A 1959 graduate of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, Doc studied relationships between animal health and soil fertility under William Albrecht before entering into private mixed practice in northwest Missouri. It was during this time that Doc Holliday began to explore the concepts of feeding self-regulated individual minerals to animals.
Always one to push the envelope, and continually learning, in 1988 Doc became one of the first certified veterinary acupuncturists and served as the president of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Association from 1992-1994. Continuing to be active in his eighth decade, Doc works as the senior veterinary consultant for Advanced Biological Concepts, based in Osco, Illinois.

Doc Holliday was lured to the stage at an evening session at the 2014 AcresUSA meeting on the guise of recognizing him for the publication of his new book, A Holistic Vet’s Prescription for a Healthy Herd, co-authored with the late Jim Helfter and published in December by Acres U.S.A. (and reviewed on page 13)Once he was on stage, the assembled group recognized Doc as an inspirational leader in the agricultural community who had dedicated his life to the betterment of man and beast and who generously and freely shares his knowledge and experience with others - supporting and encouraging better, healthier farming and animal husbandry practices.

I’ve known Doc since the 1980s. I’ve learned many things from him – and some of those things even have to do with veterinary medicine! He does stunning beadwork, beautiful leather work (both braiding and embossing), precise enlaid woodwork and has made numemrous cedar strip canoes. I hold Doc not only as a friend, colleague and mentor, but also as a wise older brother, as well as a father of three daughters and proud grandfather of 14 grandchildren. It seems appropriate to have Doc share some insights and talk a little about his life in a more formal manner than he usually does. He’s broken a lot of trail for those of us who have followed him – and I’ll always appreciate that. Besides, it’s not often you get to talk to someone who’s studied soil with Albrecht!

Tell us about your past practice and career?

I graduated from the U of Missouri Vet School in 1959. I conducted a mixed animal, solo vet practice for 25 years when I went to work for the Impro Company in 1984. I guess my title would have been Technical Service Vet and I was involved almost exclusively with organic or alternative dairies. I initially worked for the Wisconsin distributor. After a couple of years I was moved to the home office in Minneapolis and in 1991 we moved to Waukon to be employed by the Impro manufacturer. In January of 2008, I became employed by Helfter Enterprises as the Senior Veterinary Consultant (‘senior’ because I was old and the only one).

What got you excited about holistic practice and integrative methods of health care for animals?

My earliest exposure was through Louis Bromfield’s books Pleasant Valley and Malabar Farm. I also studied soils under Dr. William Albrecht. In about 1960, I was exposed to “Organic Gardening and Farming” magazine. After a few years of exploring organic gardening and human health I finally made the quantum leap – “Hey, this would probably work for animal health too.” I can’t say that I never really practiced as a holistic vet but mostly practiced holistic stuff on my own animals. Used lots of vinegar and cafeteria style minerals. There wasn’t much holistic stuff available back then and you had to be careful who you spoke to about holistic or you would be considered a little daft. My transition was gradual over many years.

Where did you receive your training in the various types of holistic medicines that you’ve practiced?

I attended training at the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) but mostly I learned from good holistic dairymen and from other experts in the field.

What animals have you worked with?

For the first 25 years I worked with any animal whose owners would pay me money; probably about 75% large animal, dairy, beef and horses. I really liked working with horses. With Impro it was mostly dairy. With Helfter – large animals.

What have been some of the high points in your career?

I enjoyed working with cattle and horses. It was a kick to be able to deliver live calves. Highest point has been the association with the holistic/alternative movement.

Are you finding growth in the number of organic dairy farms – and the number of people who are seeking holistic care for their herds, be they dairy or beef or other species?

I have no way to assess this. Remember, I am 81 years old and don’t get around much anymore.

What are your favorite modes of treatment – and why?

I was intrigued by acupuncture even though I never had much chance to practice it. Of course, I worked a lot with colostrum whey products over the years and began using cafeteria-style minerals in the very early 1960’s.

I guess I don’t have a favorite form of treatment. Having to treat an animal is somewhat of a failure of husbandry or vet advice. One of my instructors in Vet school advised us to be teachers to help owners do a better job of animal husbandry. I think that should still be a big part of our role. He also advised us to pick a town to practice in that had lots of saloons and brothels, as that was an indication that ‘money’ was available and moving. I don’t know if that still applies or not!

(Sue’s note: Hue Karreman’s advice when looking for a site for a potential practice is to look for lots of big blue silos. I kind of think Doc’s idea about assessing moving money might be more accurate!)

Are any of these more suited to dairy animals? Why or why not?

Both colostrum and a good mineral are valid for all animals but especially good for dairy cattle.
Can you describe a couple of interesting cases on which you’ve worked and that still stick out in your mind?

I treated a 10-year-old Holstein “pet cow” that had been diagnosed with senile atrophy of the ovaries with acupuncture and she subsequently came into heat and was bred and produced a healthy bull calf that they named Richard.

I had a lot of eye opening experiences watching animals experience the joys of cafeteria- style mineral supplementation.

What are some conditions in dairy cattle that you have treated successfully with alternative therapies?

Colostrum whey was successful in treating mastitis problems and reproductive problems. It was most successful when used as immune support to avoid problems rather than as treatment.

Can you tell us what led to the writing and publication of the book you co-authored with the late Jim Helfter?

It was a collection of articles I had written over the years on basic holistic animal health along with what little pertinent information we could assemble relative to self-selected minerals. A lot of it has been printed before in company booklets. We approached Fred Walters to see if could all be put together in a real book form. I think they did a good job. I was sad that Jim did not see the completion as I know it was a goal of his to see a book like that published.

If you could distill your many years of practice and life experience into a few short sentences, what have you found to be most significant in your relationships with humans and animals?

Can you share a couple of pearls with us?

Looking back on my 55+ years of veterinary experience, I can say that I enjoyed most of it and would do it all over again but (would) try to do a better job. I believe I did a greater service for animals and people during the last half of my career when I was a teacher, than I did the first half when I was just putting out fires.

I am pleased with, but hopefully not prideful of, what I accomplished. Having said that, I know that in the grand scheme of things my vet career was only the mechanism to finance the truly important life work – that of building a family and a circle of friends.

Ruth and I have been married for 60 years. We have 14 grandchildren and 6.5 great-grandchildren. We also have many close friends that we cherish as if they were family. We are so thankful we could share this life experience with all of them.

What advice might you give the farmer that is most likely to serve him/her – and his/her stock - well in a variety of situations?

First of all, read my book.

Whether you are a livestock producers or a grain or produce farmer, always remember that you are producing foods for people or animals to eat and not just producing a commodity for profit.

Strive for fertile, highly mineralized, biologically active, high organic matter soils. Soils and crops free from herbicides, insecticides, antibiotics and GMO contamination. Go beyond organic.
Strive for a nutritious, high forage diet for ruminants. Use only feeds that are inherently “natural” to the species … feeds that are appropriate to the species, age and intended production. Avoid urea, animal fats, cottonseed and excess protein.

Provide an environment or lifestyle as close as possible to one inherently natural to the species.

Provide free choice individual minerals, trace minerals, salt and kelp.

Provide immune support at critical stress periods. Focus on the pregnant female & the newborn.

Schedule regular, frequent checks of water quality, stray voltage, production equipment, and handling procedures. Avoid stress.

Avoid inbreeding and cull vigorously.

Believe in what you are doing. Trust your own powers of observation.

Be skeptical of bought-and-paid-for research.

Ponder on the wisdom of William Albrecht, Albert Howard and Charles Walters – and our other pioneers!

What advice might you give to a veterinarian (aspiring or experienced) who is interested in holistic practice?

First of all, read my book.

Develop a view of the natural order of things and learn to work with the animal’s innate constitution to encourage health.

Be respectful of the animals we are responsible for.

Pick a main treatment mode for which you have an affinity. Learn this one well, and if and when the need arises - pick another mode.

Treating animals has to do with energy/spiritual relationships as well as chemical/physical relationships.

What do you see as the future of the organic dairy business? The larger world of farming?

I think organic dairy will grow, as the toxin-based conventional system will eventually implode. Same for conventional agriculture based on rescue chemicals.

What do we have to watch out for?

I know we need to pull back from killing things as an answer to problems. I fear the biggest worldwide threat may be the unholy alliance between companies of Monsanto’s ilk and “the best government money can buy”. Individually, we need to guard against getting sucked into extremist views in agriculture and politics as well as religion. We need to become more self-reliant and above all – we need to pray a lot.

Dr. Susan Beal, DVM, Laughing Oak Farm, Punxsutawney, PA, can be reached by email at alchemy@penn.com.