Friday, June 24, 2011
"Are You Organic?"
We received an email today from somebody asking us if our cheese is organic. We get this question every week at the farmers markets and I've wanted to write about it for a long time. This week is an especially good time to write about it because of a lovely little 2nd freshening 2 year old that is on the milk stand being milked right now.
Two weeks ago, I was called out to look at her. She had snot running out of her nostrils, she was warm, she was lethargic and weak. She didn't want to get up to come in and be milked and when we did bring her in, she wouldn't eat. She didn't have any milk. If we had done nothing, chances are she would have died in a day or so, of dehydration if not from the Pneumonia she had contracted. The cool spring nights, along with really wet weather, affected her, as it does at least one doe every year and she was really, really ill and it came on really, really fast.
We live a long way from the Vet and we've learned to do quite a bit on our own. I had Penicillin in the fridge and I gave her some right away. We put a special collar on her and a brightly colored band on her hind leg so that front, or back, she could be identified as receiving antibiotics. She was milked by hand, separately from the others, and her milk was discarded, though at first she hardly had any. We gave her injections morning and night for five days. By the second day, she was eating and drinking again. By the third day, she was getting her milk back and grazing in the sun during the day, chewing her cud to prove that her digestive tract was working again. At the end of five days, she was her old self and had a really full udder. The manufacturers label said to withdraw her milk from production for an additional 72 hours after the last dose was administered but we always play it safe and triple that time.
We milk 35 does. They've been born here. They've been raised here. We've raised their dams back ten generations. We have lots of time, lots of grain, lots of milk into them before they ever begin to return that investment. By the time they produce heavily, we've fed them for several years already.
If we were organic, my choices in this situation would have been: to put her down, to let her die, to treat her and then sell her, or treat her and move her over into a parallel non-organic herd. Large dairies with 100's of goats operate dual herds like that and simply move sick goats over to the non-organic herd. We are much smaller than that. Our relationship with individual animals is more direct than that.
We try to use antibiotics responsibly. We don't feed them or administer them routinely but I always tell people that in the event that an animal gets sick, my first responsibility is to make that animal more comfortable, to relieve the pain, treat the infection, restore that animal to health just as you would a sick child with Pneumonia or Meningitis.
So, we have chosen to remain small, to use all the modern tools available to us and to NOT be "organic". Do I go out of my way to buy organic vegetables? Yes. Do I use the same standards for the care of animals? No.