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Old country wisdom can save our farms
Scottish Daily Mail2 Sep 2015
Having been a farmer for 20 years, I know that few jobs demand more commitment, integrity and sheer hard graft than livestock farming. The supermarkets’ grip on ‘farmgate prices’ suppresses the realistic costs of production in the primary world of agriculture. and farming is primary. The fundamentals of life should be woven into every step the farmer takes because the natural world depends on his being lightfooted and intuitive; a healthy farm is the reward that nature bestows on a farmer who is fully conscious of his duties towards it. agriculture nowadays is beset by science-driven land and animal husbandry schemes. destructive economic stresses have reduced the number of small family farms, leading to fewer farmers managing ever larger tracts of land and ever greater numbers of livestock. an agriculture gripped by heavyhanded materialism can only betray a more life-filled land culture in which the farmer perceives intuitively the interconnectedness of the natural world without feeling threatened by its wild inhabitants — the badgers, foxes etc. The TB debate raging in england shows how farming is manacled to one-sided science, obsessed with microscopic investigation. This ‘dead’ science has spawned any number of toxic products, agrichemicals and erroneous feeding regimes, but a farm’s place lies within the macrocosm. a fertile, productive and healthy farm can exist only in concert with a healthy wild scene. how could anyone imagine that without birds and insects, worms and beetles, and the activities of higher mammals such as badgers and foxes, the countryside could provide nourishment for the farm, its domesticated inhabitants and those higher up the food chain? Wild species are our ‘canaries in the mine’: they have been giving us warnings for a long time and are now joined by our domesticated livestock. Recent years have seen BSe, foot-and-mouth disease, bird flu, swine flu and now TB, which is
Particularly prevalent in England. Our widespread ignorance of natural reality has left hard-pressed farmers and scientists living with mistaken ideas. We are not ‘trying to turn back the clock’ against those who ‘have to feed the world and its growing population’. I have yet to meet the farmer who gets up in the morning declaring that he is off to feed the world. Anyway, the 255,000 cattle lost to TB since 2008 would, in better circumstances, have provided much meat and milk for that hungry world. Our industrialised approach to farming has dealt a mortal blow to bucolic wisdom. So-called ‘progress’ has robbed the farmer of the intuitive skills of his forebears. The causes of TB have been examined before. The philosopher Rudolf Steiner asked: ‘When picturing a dirty room filled with flies, do we consider it dirty because of the flies, or are the flies there because the room is dirty?’ It is wrong to consider bacteria as the progenitor of illness. ‘When the forces needed to restrain organic combustion are not present in the body, various forms of tuberculosis develop because a suitable medium is created for the TB bacillus,’ he continued. ‘The undue praise of indoor feeding of cattle will lead to a prevalence of TB in them; even if they give more milk or what not for a short time, their state of health deteriorates through the generations.’ Nowadays, huge numbers of cattle are reared indoors. consuming only foodstuffs derived from intensive farming methods. In all sectors, animals are killed at ever younger ages, well before they show any physical manifestations of latent illness. Yet all is not lost; a handful of farmers have realised that TB is born not of cow, badger or bacterium, but is a symptom of a wider farm condition. They have rediscovered their wisdom and have succeeded in banishing it from their farms by not using weedkillers, leading to a fall in toxic residues. They also use mixed grazing of sheep and cattle and horses to manage the sward, recognising the feed value of many common weeds (the nettle, for example, carries calcium, sulphur, potassium and iron, and yarrow is almost miraculous in its ability to grasp sulphur, phosphorus, carbon and nitrogen, organically). Grass for silage or hay is cut much later than usual, never before mid- June, ensuring that ‘calcium forces’ are assimilated in the fodder. Artificial NPK or nitrogen fertiliser is never spread directly on to the fields. The granules are carefully incorporated into manure heaps before rotting down for several months over winter, to be spread in spring. This helps to nullify harmful nitrous oxide that stems from the use of such synthetic products. Their cattle have ‘come and go as you please’ strawed barn systems, whatever the weather, meaning a cow can choose to be in or out according to its own metabolic needs. And, very important in winter, lumps of pure rock salt are provided for the cattle to lick at will. Protein pellets and barley are replaced with small quantities of rolled oats (the mighty oat!) and field beans, given with roughage of straw. Unlike much farm practice where maize or barley silage is strewn alongside barrier feeders, making it available to rats, badgers and any other foraging animals, feed is never placed directly on the ground but in elevated feeding racks to avoid contamination by other species. Field feeding is by raised troughs, too. The happier, more productive agriculture resulting from these fundamental changes has given the badger the chance to sort himself out, returning to his preferred diet of slugs, snails, worms, larvae and beetles. His nocturnal excursions into the farmyard can be welcomed again. Badger and fox have a voracious appetite for rats, a favourite prey whose numbers pose a real threat to our countryside.
IAN BELL, address supplied.
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