Because animals have been indoors for much of the last four months, they are more likely to have developed skin problems than in spring, summer and fall. Not only is sunshine the best cure for skin diseases or parasites, but it may “brighten” animals’ spirits – as it does for many of us – thus improve the functioning of their immune system, and thus fight skin problems indirectly as well.
Three common skin conditions to consider are lice, mange and ringworm. Some management methods will help control all three problems. The most important is cleanliness. Animals need to have clean bedding on a regular basis, so either clean out the existing straw or sawdust or add fresh material to a bedded pack. If disease is present already, then even the walls and stalls of the barn need to be cleaned or white washed. If this task is impossible now, plan to do it as soon as you can.
Animals that are showing any signs of intense itching, hair loss or reddened skin should be isolated if possible, since all of these problems spread by contact. Also be aware of the nutritional status of infected animals. They could be given extra vitamins A, D and E, either as very good green hay or by injection. These animals will also benefit by ingesting fresh garlic that is mixed with honey or molasses and flour to make balls, or powdered garlic added to their grain.
When a sign of mange or ringworm is present, clip the infected area or areas, scrub them with a good soap, then apply a treatment. For ringworm a mixture of 20 drops of tea tree oil to a pint of water can be put on the infected area and then sprayed on the animal’s back and face. This mixture can/ also be sprayed on any structure that the animal contacts a lot to kill the fungus. Other possible herbal solutions mentioned in Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable are tobacco leaves and garlic boiled with a pint of water or fresh lemon juice applied directly to the affected area. Crystal Creek (1-888-376-6777) from Wisconsin offers a nosode (a homeopathic remedy made by diluting and shaking) for ringworm.
Lice infestation requires a different treatment because they will spread over larger areas of the body faster than mange or ringworm. One method for controlling lice is to clip the hair on the back of the animal and dust it with diatomaceous earth. Wear a dust mask when you apply the powder so that you won’t inhale it. Crystal Creek has a dust for lice that contains a mixture of diatomaceous earth and garlic. Another treatment for lice is to mix 20 drops of lavender essential oil with one gallon of water, then spray that solution on the animal’s back and on any other areas where you see irritated skin.
One particular homeopathic remedy – sulfur – is often recommended for any skin condition that involves itching and irritation. You can use sulfur for any of these conditions, but don’t combine it with tea tree oil, which will antidote the sulfur.
Other homeopathic remedies to consider are sepia, graphites, tellurium, calcarea, arsenicum, lachasis – and more. Get out your Materia Medica and a repertory. The key things to remember in treating any of these problems are cleanliness in the housing and clipping and treating the infected areas until they are healed. This will involve a fair amount of work, but healthy animals make you feel better when you see them, and they will produce more for you.
We recently received a book called Organic Livestock Handbook for the MOFGA library. This project of Canadian Organic Growers Inc., edited by Anne Macey, contains information about the basic principles of organic animal care. Management tools for specific topics, from health care to grazing and from marketing to record keeping, are also discussed. The third section has chapters on different livestock species – even rabbits. General management techniques and some particularly interesting techniques used on specific farms are given for each animal.
Diane is MOFGA’s assistant technical director. You can reach her at the MOFGA office.