Week 22...the last week of our 11th Summer CSA Season. Wow! Not only does 11 sound like a big number to me, but seeing the birth dates for new hires makes me feel old some days.
I prefer to think of 11 as a sign of maturity and experience. This journey has been extremely rewarding in so many ways. Most recently, I'm extremely thankful for the hard-knocks I've had as a farmer. I understand today more than ever the challenges of the small farmer and what it really takes to raise healthy, "natural" foods (natural being more than just something you put on a label).
I like to always give examples, despite my staff arguing with me that I go too deep. So, here I go. Read on if you like.
Turkeys. Yes, a very timely topic indeed. Turkeys are very susceptible to a protozoa (yes, I had to learn what this was as a farmer) called histomonas meleagradis. It's essentially a parasite that is transferred to turkeys via a worm, and the worm either lives in the feces of chickens or in the soil for a minimum of 3 years. In short, if a turkey is outside on pasture, and/or near chickens, it is highly at risk of this parasite, which causes a disease called blackhead.
So, what to do? Well, for years turkey farmers fed medicated feed with either arsenic based antibiotics or metronidazole, both of which have been banned in the feed of animals for human consumption since 2015. Anytime I've seen a turkey without energy, I pull it aside and quarantine it. It almost always dies, in which case I do a autopsy, and I find the tell tale lesions on the liver and a swollen cecal (part of the small intestine). Arg, I have it.
Knowing what I know now, I'm mortified by the medicated way of the past, and there is no FDA approved "chemotherapy" for blackhead in turkeys. Some people can still find flagyl on the black market - it's actually quite easy to get at pet stores as Fish Zole - but that's just not right.
With some serious internet scouring, I found research supporting essential oils in treating blackhead. Oregano, lemon, and garlic were all the most promising. They showed results in "in virtro" studies (in a test tube), but no solid research was shown to prove their results in production.
So I worked with two natural feed supplement companies to get a concentrated dose of both garlic and oregano into the feed. So far the results have been good. Further, by utilizing large pastures and moving the turkeys daily, I have been able to slow down the transmission of this disease. In a traditional confined feeding operation, once blackhead is detected, a producer usually expects 80%+ losses. I couldn't fathom that right now. That would literally bankrupt me.
In the end, this story turned out to be the long way to eliminate any fluff in this email and say, "Thank you for supporting this journey and supporting a farming renaissance back to traditional, healthy production practices."