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Sepp Holzer on animal husbandry

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17053
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
I spent yesterday at an all day workshop with sepp holzer: "Creating a Food Forest for Integration with Livestock"

I guess I thought there would be lots of handouts and a strong agenda.  Something that would take a huge slice of stuff from Sepp's head and transfer it to ours. 

The format was far more organic.  Sepp was there and we asked questions.  If he saw something he didn't like, he would talk about it.  It started to rain and the class was moved indoors. 

I feel like I have a lot of really strong opinions on animal husbandry and Sepp shook those to the core. 

For example:  Sepp believes that any animal should always be in a space that has a plethora of plants.  ESPECIALLY poisonous plants.  Because those poisonous plants are medicinal.  And what makes good medicine for an animal is something that they manage by instinct.  If we limit their feed, we take on the responsibility to monitor their health and administer medication - which is something that is not organic, nor is it working with nature. 


Pure beauty of truth. 


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Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
the goal of raising animals in a natural way is admirable and we should all try to work towards that. I personally use anthelmentics very judiciously as well as any medicines. I don't vaccinate except for rabies in my dogs and feed an almost grain free diet (treats  ) to my goats. I would be interested in learning more. I think the goal must be to do things as naturally as possible, but the needs of most domestic animals may not be able to be met in a completly natural way. domestic animals are entirely unnatural. they produce unnatural ammounts of milk and eggs, they are unnaturally 'meaty' they are unnaturally docile and they are unnaturally lacking in many instincts. they will eat poisonous plants even if they aren't starving (as some people suggest). they will not (even wild animals) self medicate (at least it has not been scientifically proven at best and wholly unproven at worst. if there is new evidence to the contrary I would seriously love to here it but so far, to my frustration, I have seen nothing but anecdotal evidence, hearsay and poorly designed 'studies'. I have been involved with animals my whole life and have seen first hand the effects of "natural care" gone awry and it is the animals that suffer. naturally animals would die of parasites and disease in the wild. naturally 50% of offspring (at best) would reach adulthood. naturally they would not produce extra milk or eggs and would not carry any more flesh than was absolutley neccessary.  naturally they would not carry  humans or walk on their roads or live in their barns or pull their loads or gaurd their livestock.  we have exchanged some wild traits for human freindly ones and in doing so we have an obligation to fill those needs in in other ways.  it is a compromise for both the animals and us. but it can and is mutally beneficial.

pictures of baby goats whose mothers ate corn lilly


"One cannot help an involuntary process. The point is not to disturb it. - Dr. Michel Odent
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17053
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
Sepp talked for a while about the things he has done in observing what an animal would eat and then running the animal's poop through a centrifuge and looking through a microscope. 

I get the impression that Sepp is not just guessing.

Susan Monroe

Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
The first I had ever heard of animals self-medicating (if that is the proper term, which it may not be) was in Pat Coleby's book "Natural Land Care" (or something like that).

There are farmers who believe they should provide many plants in their pasture so the animals can pick and choose.  But, as Leah points out, DO THEY?

Around here, there are two major plants that I see in neglected pastures (of which there are many).  One is the noxious weed tansy and the other I think is called ox-eye daisy.  The animals don't seem to eat them if they have anything else.  They only eat the tansy if they're starving.

I don't know enough about ruminants to even guess one way or another.  What I don't understand is if, and how, ruminants can TELL what plant they're eating, if they bite into mouthfuls of various plants.  Ruminants can't see the ground in front of them.  What if they're eating something that is exceedingly toxic, like the famed 'loco weed'?

A safe middle ground might be to provide the largest collection of non-toxic plants that you can. 

But it would be nice to have some definite answers.

Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
some toxic plants contain unpleasant tasting compounds that animals take a few bites of and just say yuck and go on. but for instance to replicate a natural enviroment for cattle requires intensive grazing just as the large herds of bison or wildebeest move through and decimate an area then leave it to recover with a fairly evenly dispersed deposit of manure over the area. high competition stimulates the animals to consume some of the less tasty plants which in the end is good for the grasslands and good for the cattle. the partial reason why we have lost much of our native grasslands in oklahoma is because the bison are gone. famers are beginning to realize that big pastures where the animals get to pick and choose at their leisure what plants they want to eat resulting in a reduction in the biodiversity and in the cattle make manure deposits in clusters around the yummy food leaving large parts unfertilized, reducing the health of their animals and the health of the sod. this is a large part of why intensive rotational grazing is becoming more popular. but. in a high competition grazing situation where the whole point is to get the cattle to consume less desirable plants you would also run the risk of that tansy, corn lilly or loco weed getting mowed down.

I agree with sue about the compromise, lots of plants, leave out the toxic ones. and really think about what is "natural" for animals, sometimes passive eating in a super diverse enviroment isn't natural. and sometimes people get caught up in the idylic farm scene or thinking that it is only natural for animals to exist in small numbers/low stocking rates when it isn't.

rose macaskie

Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
Would Sepp Holster maybe  be willing to take certain losses to get his animals back to a more natural way of living, that someone less interested in the animals natural abilities would not have sufficient motives to explore perhaps? Normally if you are enthusiastic about an idea you risk a bit for it. I teach my dogs to walk in the city without a lead there is always a slight risk that they will get run over when i teach them, but it means they aren't always tied to me, it means a happier more relaxed life for them.
    I saw a documentary on bears about an American or Canadian who rescued baby bears and then returned them to the wild.
    He took them round the  woods and himself ate the plants he knew would be good for bears and let them smell his breath so that they new what he had eaten. I think he had seen mother bears do this. He taught them what to eat and what not to eat.
  When i was a child they were always talking of instinct and the idea was that animals just know what to do. Since then there are lots of documentaries of mother animals with their young teaching them what to do for months or years. The ways of looking at animals has changed at least in some parts.
  It sounds as if pigs in Austria were always outside, had not Sepp seen pigs wallowing all his life, that is the impression i got. Pigs were always shut up in my childhood in england  and an English sow could not teach her children what to eat and what not to eat. YOu have to find out traditional mountain pig farming in austria to understand Sepp maybe.
  I have a book on the English meadow . It seems that before the meadows were full of different plants, grasses and  flowers. May be Sepp has pigs for whom the tradition of finding food in pastures that are varied has never been broken, maybe you have to buy a teacher pig from Sepp, or a sow who will teach her children  and breed your herd from her, and in passing sepp will hav ea new source of income. 
  On the other hand, that men are as close as all hell and usually don't really teach much, even while they pretend to be teachers, is something i found out when I went to art school and had male teachers for the first time in my life and could not believe and had to learn again the hard way and again, i got cheated a lot. 
      They really have a, learn for your self attitude, that was really difficult to handle for someone brought up as i was with women, who digest it for you and spoon feed you. It is also a darned, not to say a worse word, nuisance, learning is so much faster if you get the information and then can weigh it up. In theory the learn yourself method gives you more opportunity to be yourself, in fact it is confusing and is a method that seems to give others maximum ability to herd you without seeming to.
    Knowledge is power, men are used to keeping there paws on the power, they don't give up knowledge easily and their distraction technic is to pretend that it is money that is power.
      You don't get anywhere near money without know how, you get so miserably poor that others really have an enormous handle over you and if you complain they say you are looking for power and that it is bad to want power, they are as knowing as can be, as if you had wanted to be the boss when you only complained because your position was so incredibly low.
      I like men but i have learnt to treat them with respect, instead of the calf like trust i used to have. rose macaskie.
subject: Sepp Holzer on animal husbandry