Summer Update: Adventures in Organic Horsekeeping

As anyone who has tried it will attest, the life of a self-published, independent author is consumed by publishing and promotional activities that leave little time for normal life. While this has exhilarating and inspiring moments, it is also demanding and stressful. Most of us who self-published in the last three or four years did not anticipate the day to day or hour to hour changes and turmoil that has swept through book publishing and book selling.

Happily for me this summer is a lull between the second book of the Quincy the Horse series, Quincy Moves to the Desert and the third, Quincy and Buck, which is currently being illustrated by Michelle Black. I have taken the opportunity to do “regular” things with family and friends and work on horse and gardening projects at Pathfinder Farm. I thought a good way to get back to regular posting on Pathfinder Pursuits would be to share experiences of my summer along with some helpful information gleaned in my ongoing mission to make the farm and my family as “organic” as possible.

The start of our third year in Pennsylvania has been the best year yet for our new pastures. I took a pasture management course this spring that addressed the issues of pasture management and parasite control as related problems. It seems like common sense now but contained some ideas that were new to me. Foremost were new recos for use of de-wormers based on fecal testing rather than the old 8 week cycles that we have used for years.  It was also surprising to learn that fecal testing does not have to be done as often as I thought so the cost of this is not as intimidating as it might seem. This is important not only because the old method exposes horses to more drugs than necessary but because it has produced parasites that are resistant to wormers.  I learned that it is a bad idea to spread fresh manure on pastures. Parasites are not killed in this process and simply populate the pasture grasses and keep re-infecting the grazing horses. It is vitally important to compost the manure before spreading.

Our pastures have come in beautifully, however one has an infestation of Johnson grass which can be very toxic to horses in late summer and fall. It is a hard plant to kill because it grows from rhizomes. One prescription is to use Round Up on it in the late summer, but I have been determined not to use pesticides. I consulted an agronomist who focuses on organic solutions and discovered a great alternative. It is an herbicide called Green Match. Green Match is lemon grass oil, a citrus product, that kills any green vegetation that it touches. I could not believe there was no downside to something this powerful, but it is actually a food grade product. The label says it should not have contact with skin within four hours of spraying, so I have been careful to keep the horses and pets away and have used some temporary chicken wire fencing to keep wildlife away from large areas that have just been sprayed. However a friend accidentally spilled some on her bare arm and simply washed it off with no harm done.

The last thing on my list of things to share is what I have discovered from doing research on GMOs or genetically modified organisms. Sad to say, this is not a pretty picture. The way I understand it GMOs are engineered to be resistant to pesticides so that more pesticides can be sprayed on the field. This is what is meant by the designation “Round Up Ready” soybeans for example. As a result GMOs have high levels of pesticide residue. GMOs are much more pervasive in our food supply than I ever realized. Items like corn and soybeans that are basic to many processed foods are almost exclusively produced from genetically engineered plants. Actually what spurred me to do this research in the first place was finding out that sugar beets, the source of beet pulp which I have used for years as a food supplement for my horses, is now being produced from genetically engineered plants. I was already dedicated to “going organic” but learning about GMOs has provided a huge incentive to take whatever steps necessary to avoid these products. I encourage everyone to explore this topic through internet resources and have included below a link to a Non GMO Shopping Guide.


About Pathfinder Pursuits

Camille is a licensed clinical social worker and writer. She is the author of the Quincy the Horse children's books.
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