nodpa logo
resources banner
DONATE NOW
O-DAIRY | CONTACT US | NEWSLETTER LOGIN | E-LETTER SIGNUP | CALENDAR


Home

Organic Checkoff
Field Days Archives

NODPA Industry News
National News
Feed & Grain Prices Organic Pay Price
O-Dairy ListServ

Events
Farmer Classifieds
Business Directory
Newsletters
Advertising
Contact Us

Resources
Transitioning •   
Certification •   
Production •   
Recommended Books •   
Research Updates •   
Renewable Energy •   
Organizations & Links •   
Business Issues •   

Featured Farms

About NODPA
Membership
Support NODPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant Biodiversity
Livestock Farmacy and Pantry

By Jerry Brunetti

Added July 1, 2009. With feed costs being painfully high, while organic milk prices remain in a ditch, farmers and ranchers need to take a hard look at other ways to improve productivity besides “buying” extra milk production or buying organic substitutions for pharmaceuticals to address parasites, mastitis, scours, pneumonia, etc.

The farm needs to be the primary, if not the sole source of input for food and medicine to grazing animals. “Easier said than done” you might say. The reason why so many graziers hit the wall, in my opinion, is because they become seduced by the sales pitches of companies who still want to sell a lot of off-farm inputs based upon the Green Revolution paradigm that you can justify “buying” your milk or meat production; predicated upon affordable fossil fuels, affordable grain, affordable medicines and veterinary care.

Yet, while spending two weeks on grazing (dairy, beef, sheep) farms in New Zealand this past March, what I witnessed were successful practices of “minimalism” at a break-even price for milk of about $5 per cwt. In 2007-8, New Zealand endured a severe drought. Some farms I traveled upon (organic I might add) enjoyed a recovery rate of 110% from the drought one year later. The conventional farms there, hooked on monocultures of ryegrass, urea & super phosphate were at a 65% recovery rate, in spite of spending large sums of money to re-seed and fertilize, while their low input organic neighbors virtually spent nothing; or if they did, it was on the basics such as lime, free choice mineral licks and growing an annual “succotash” mix of sunflowers, peas, turnips or “Swedes” to graze and wrap bale.

Virtually nothing was expended on animal health except for that incidental flare-up which was reconciled by homeopathy or botanicals. Being in the holistic livestock remedy business for 30 years really makes your head turn when you see how much was done with so little from the “outside.”
The one practice that encouraged me was seeing the hedgerows growing around the perimeter fences. In those hedgerows were willows, poplars, fuijoa (a semi-tropical guava-like fruit shrub), flax, which looked like giant yucca or “Spanish Bayonet.” Flax was grown for its fibrous content to make rope, canvas, and cloth in the same vein that hemp was once grown in early America to produce similar manufactured goods. The native Maori use the very thick reddish gel extracted from the crown of flax as a universal healing agent. I was advised by a dairyman host that he often witnesses his cows and even calves digging up the crown and sucking this gel out of the plant. Also in the hedgerows were fruit trees (!) such as apples and pears for man and beast alike. Comfrey was included in the hedgerow, as well as dispersed through the paddock, planted amongst the salad bar of at least a dozen to two dozen species of grasses, legumes and forbs, (including what we typically call “weeds”). American hedgerows could readily consist of light canopy trees such as willow, poplar, mulberry, thornless honey locust, stone fruits (not cherry), thornless blackberries, grapes, black walnut (parasites), shrubs like viburnum, elder, some evergreens (pine/fir) for terpenes, perennials like mints, comfrey, docks, nettle, yarrow, elecampane, horehound, echinacea, melissa, and actually many of the numerous medicinal botanicals.

When we realize that the planet is clothed in a couple of hundred thousand plant species and in our cleverness to manage the need for utmost quantity we have reduced our selection to a mere handful of crops to feed ourselves (including a handful of forages to feed our grazing animals), it is no wonder that we have become dependent, even addicted to the “miraculous” yet costly and deleterious side effects of rescue chemistry: fossil fuel fertilizers, pesticides, anti-biotics, parasiticides (and their organic counterparts!). We’ve viewed our livestock and ourselves as isolated organisms, rather than recognizing them and us as “super organisms” or more accurately as complex “ecosystems” that are self organizing, cooperating, self sacrificing and constantly communicating with each other.

A big focus on “Food as Medicine” discussions are around those powerful compounds that plants synthesize called plant secondary metabolites (PSM’s), which are produced by plants to protect themselves from the extremes of weather, ultra violet radiation, insects, diseases and excessive grazing. These PSM’s become a major component in the healthy metabolism and immunity of animals and humans that consume them. So far, science has isolated over 80,000 of these compounds. Some of the more popular ones we frequently hear about are resveratrol (grapes), lutein (kale and egg yolk), lycopene (tomato), di-indole methane (brassicas), EGCG (green tea), etc. The fact is all green plants produce PSM’s and in large quantity. Grazing animals take them in and concentrate them in fatty tissue because they are fat soluble compounds.

When livestock consume dozens of species of plants there is a synergism involved that allows animals to increase the efficiency of digestion as well as the elimination of toxins, both of those inherent in the feeds (all plants contain both nutrients and toxins) and those by-products of metabolism. Considering that 70-80% of the immune system is seated in the gut, this poses to be a remarkable contribution to an animal’s ability to ward of pathogens and parasites before they become opportunistic.

As Dr. Fred Provenza points out in the research he’s done at Utah State University, “Ruminants thus discriminate the post-ingestive effects of forages with secondary compounds and complementarities among forages with diverse secondary compounds are likely not only to increase forage intake, but to improve the nutrition, production and health of the animals as well.” (See “Value of Plant Diversity for Diet Mixing and Sequencing” from Range Management, Feb. 2009).

Back in 2000, one of the hottest summers on record in Pennsylvania, I searched for nutritional information on “weeds” and woody plants that could compare their nutritional make-up to conventional forages as per criteria in the National Research Council. I could find none, other than N-P-K content of annual weeds that competed for nutrients with annual crops. So, I conducted my own study, sampling two dozen, non-legume perennial plants consisting of forbs, brambles, vines and trees and comparing such with a comprehensive analysis of quality alfalfa. dred thousand plant species and in our cleverness to manage the need for utmost quantity we have reduced our selection to a mere handful of crops to feed ourselves (including a handful of forages to feed our grazing animals), it is no wonder that we have become dependent, even addicted to the “miraculous” yet costly and deleterious side effects of rescue chemistry: fossil fuel fertilizers, pesticides, anti-biotics, parasiticides (and their organic counterparts!). We’ve viewed our livestock and ourselves as isolated organisms, rather than recognizing them and us as “super organisms” or more accurately as complex “ecosystems” that are self organizing, cooperating, self sacrificing and constantly communicating with each other.

A big focus on “Food as Medicine” discussions are around those powerful compounds that plants synthesize called plant secondary metabolites (PSM’s), which are produced by plants to protect themselves from the extremes of weather, ultra violet radiation, insects, diseases and excessive grazing. These PSM’s become a major component in the healthy metabolism and immunity of animals and humans that consume them. So far, science has isolated over 80,000 of these compounds. Some of the more popular ones we frequently hear about are resveratrol (grapes), lutein (kale and egg yolk), lycopene (tomato), di-indole methane (brassicas), EGCG (green tea), etc. The fact is all green plants produce PSM’s and in large quantity. Grazing animals take them in and concentrate them in fatty tissue because they are fat soluble compounds.

When livestock consume dozens of species of plants there is a synergism involved that allows animals to increase the efficiency of digestion as well as the elimination of toxins, both of those inherent in the feeds (all plants contain both nutrients and toxins) and those by-products of metabolism. Considering that 70-80% of the immune system is seated in the gut, this poses to be a remarkable contribution to an animal’s ability to ward of pathogens and parasites before they become opportunistic.

As Dr. Fred Provenza points out in the research he’s done at Utah State University, “Ruminants thus discriminate the post-ingestive effects of forages with secondary compounds and complementarities among forages with diverse secondary compounds are likely not only to increase forage intake, but to improve the nutrition, production and health of the animals as well.” (See “Value of Plant Diversity for Diet Mixing and Sequencing” from Range Management, Feb. 2009).
Back in 2000, one of the hottest summers on record in Pennsylvania, I searched for nutritional information on “weeds” and woody plants that could compare their nutritional make-up to conventional forages as per criteria in the National Research Council. I could find none, other than N-P-K content of annual weeds that competed for nutrients with annual crops. So, I conducted my own study, sampling two dozen, non-legume perennial plants consisting of forbs, brambles, vines and trees and comparing such with a comprehensive analysis of quality alfalfa. These charts are on my website for review and I was astounded at how nutrient dense these plants were, despite growing upon poor soils without any lime or fertilizer (see www.agri-dynamics.com).

Since I’m a fan of willows (first pollen produced for bees in springtime), I found some really compelling research from New Zealand where ranchers on the leeward side of the North Island run out of forages during summer and have successfully supplemented a lot of dry matter intake with “fodder trees” consisting of willows (Salix kinuyanagi, Salix matsudana, Salix humbotiana, Salix tangoio, all originally developed in Japan) and poplars (Kawa, Toa, Flevo, Crows nest, Neronese) for cattle, sheep and deer. These trees not only supply high quality feed, but shade and shelter as well as conserving soil. They also perform well on low fertility soils, are high in protein, low in soluble protein, high in digestibility and macro/micro elements.

I stumbled upon an American “descendent” of Japanese kiwi willows and was really encouraged as to how much protein, energy, especially dNDF, and digestibility (RFQ and IVTDN) was in this plant. See chart below.

The kiwi’s found that willows are also a good choice for wet, rush infested areas and can be an excellent anti-helminthic for sheep and goats, in that undrenched lambs grazing browse blocks performed similarly to drenched lambs. Additionally, kiwi research proved willow and poplar browse eliminated ryegrass staggers and facial eczema, a serious hide ailment caused by zinc deficiencies.
In one experiment, lambs were raised on pasture alone; pasture with one of 3 rotations into a browse block consisting of 2,400 willows planted per acre (or 56 trees per 1,000 square feet); and browse block alone. As the two tables below indicate, the undrenched lambs grazing browse blocks performed as well to drenched lambs grazing pasture.

One of the reasons for the remarkable impact these trees had upon parasite control is their high content of a PSM called tannins, one of the most ubiquitous of PSM’s. Tannins are also responsible for converting highly soluble protein into a by-pass (slow release) protein, digested in the lower gut and reducing the amount of Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN) which contributes to compromised immunity, weight loss, reproductive failure and even death.

The trees are typically pollarded, that is they are cut at about 4΄-6΄ in height, allowing it to bush out with more foliage accessible to grazing animals. For more kiwi info, check out www.hortresearch.co.nz/wprc (or) www.hortresearch.co.nz/index/page 549.

Another fan of forage diversity is Kathy Voth (www.livestockforlandscapes.com) who has been “teaching” stock to eat noxious weeds by again increasing the diversity (thus nutrition) of their diet allowing them to extract nutrients while metabolizing and eliminating toxins. She recently pointed out a Wisconsin experiment where cattle (“grazing” animals) demonstrated a preference to woody plants (browse) over grasses, following their primary preference to forbs. You can download the article at www.cias.wisc.edu/wicst/pubs/oaksavarticle.htm. All in all, it appears that we’ve been marginalizing really important practices that the wild populations of ungulates have depended upon for millennia.

The solutions to our dilemma of trying to get around the wall we’ve hit relative to being monoculture farmers, organic or conventional, is to recognize we need holistic system approaches to dealing with our challenges. This would include focusing on grass based livestock genetics, providing enough biodiverse feed on the farm so that livestock can “learn” to eat them and perhaps more importantly “teach” their herd mates to consume them through Mama, beginning in the womb to the fetus, Mama to neo-nate, sibling-to-sibling, etc. The more diversity one has the less dependent you are on the lime and fertilizer truck (and remember I’m a “soils” guy!). That’s because primitive plants have discovered the knack over eons of time to effectively and efficiently extract and mobilize nutrients. Domesticated plants need to be fed (I guess they’re not “hunter-gatherers” but are more like “country squires”).

Don’t forget to include (if you can make it work) multi-species graziers: more kinds of manure/microbes, gut microbes, different kinds of parasites that can’t colonize every host, thus interrupting the parasite’s cycle. Encourage wildlife, especially birds and bats, reptiles and amphibians. Groundhogs dig holes, bringing up subsoil, a great mineral lick for livestock. Use riparian corridors and woodlots appropriately. You’ll remove invasives, encourage natives and develop a symbiosis between the ecto-fungal dominated forest leaf litter and tree roots and the endo-fungal and bacterial dominated grassland. Create wetlands, swales and ponds to invite more water to both come to the farm and stay there as well. As the organic matter increases, the farm becomes a water magnet and the soil substrate becomes a coral reef of life for producers, prey and recyclers.
Your farm thus becomes an eco-system organism with the predominant outside-of-the-farm resources being free sunlight, CO2, N2 and H2O. Now, you can string up the hammock and experience that “less is more.”

Jerry Brunetti’s vast experience with farming, animal nutrition and his own health has led him to explore and lecture about the links between healthy soil, truly nutritious food and profitable, sustainable farming. He is founder of Agri-Dynamics, a company that offers holistic livestock remedies and feed supplements.

 

NODPA, 30 Keets Rd, Deerfield, MA 01342 FAX: 866- 554-9483 PHONE: 413 772 0444
chmlogo