We Received a Fun Mention on KQED

I just learned that someone included our farm in a short audio essay titled “On the Naming of Farms”, broadcast on KQED, the Los Angeles public radio station.

Here’s the quote that I noticed:

Quirky names, like Blue Dragon Farm, Flying Pig Farm, Fluffy Butt Farms or Wrong Direction Farm, are the ones I like best. These names dare you to imagine how they came to be selected, and wonder about the stories behind the scenes.

Peggy Hansen

I don’t know Peggy, but I appreciate her insight into our choice of a farm name.

Sometimes when I used to go to farmers markets and people would ask about the farm name, I’d flip the question and ask what the questioner thought the name could mean. It was always fascinating to hear their thoughts. For us, the name has meant different things. It originally came from the concluding lines of Wendell Berry’s poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, in which he praises being unpredictable and off-center. Here are the concluding lines of the poem:

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind,

lose it. Leave it as a sign

to mark the false trail, the way

you didn’t go. Be like the fox

who makes more tracks than necessary,

some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

Sometimes farming in the Wrong Direction is about the intentional choice to do things differently than the norm. That’s what it means when we’re feeling bold. At other times Wrong Direction has been a statement of humility to acknowledge that we’re often spinning out in various wrong directions as we try to settle on right courses. But regardless of which way we manifest Wrong Direction as an ethos and a practice, the poem’s final idea of a continuous exercise in resurrection is always close by. In farming we’re connected to cycles of living, dying, and new birth. Having the possibility of making a series of personal resurrections throughout our farming career is an encouraging concept.

Here’s the link to the original audio clip and transcript.

Flags for Moving Chickens on Pasture

If you’ve ever tried to move a flock of poultry, you’ve probably noticed that chickens don’t respond as well to herding as ducks or turkeys. While chickens do move with and identify with their flock, they just don’t stick together in a tight unit. It seems that chickens have the individualism dial turned up just a bit higher than other farm birds. So when we need to walk our pasture raised chickens to fresh grass, we’ve found a little tool that helps.

My first idea was to purchase some cheerleading pom poms. Although they were effective, the ones I found were very poorly made and fell apart within days. So I started thinking about how I could make an eye-catching herding tool from materials we had on hand.

Pasture raised chicken tools at Wrong Direction Farm
Closeup of the flags for moving chickens on pasture

We’ve been using these chicken herding flags for about four years now. Each one is made from strips of a garbage bag (the thick 50 gallon contractor-grade bags). The strips are attached to one end of a 24″ pieces of 3/4″ PVC conduit, and secured with zip ties through a 1/4″ hole drilled in the pipe.

AJ moving the chickens to a new patch of grass on pasture using his chicken herding flags.
AJ moving the chickens

While I move the shelter with the tractor, AJ comes behind and flaps the flags at the back of the coop. All the fluttering and motion works well to scoot the chickens along. After a few pasture rotations to new grass, the chickens seem to figure out where they are supposed to go. Most of them get excited and start crowding forward without much need to wave the flags. But there are always a few stragglers who insist on running the wrong way, and the flags help sort them out.

As far as durability goes, our oldest flags are four years old and just starting to wear out. I’m surprised the poly has lasted this long in the sun and wind. But for only a few cents of materials and a few minutes of time we can make replacements, so they don’t owe me anything.

How We Move Chickens On Pasture

I made this explainer video to show how we move all our chickens on pasture. Pasture raised chickens, if they are legit, are chickens that are always on the move to fresh grass. So having good mobility is important for all our infrastructure.

I’ve also written about our pasture shelters for the chickens and about the mobile feed trailers we use.

Here’s the transcript:

Hi, I’m Dave your farmer from Wrong Direction Farm.

Today I’d like to show you how we move our chickens on their pastures. Now we always talk about “pasture raised“, but how do we actually keep the chickens on fresh grass? That’s an important question.

If the chickens were to stay in one spot for too long – well, you can kind of see what’s happening here. See the ground around their feeders; it’s getting a little bit beat up. So you know chickens, they love to chase bugs and while they’re doing that, they like to scratch up at the ground. They eat the plants that are growing on the ground and of course they poop all over it. Before long the ground is just a muddy mess. So we don’t want the ground to stay muddy for too long. The chickens would destroy the plant life in that case. What we want to do is provide a good opportunity to just disturb the soil a little bit, let the plants rest. The chickens won’t be back on this patch of ground for another year. That allows some time for the manure to soak into the soil and the whole system is able to regenerate and come back stronger next year.

So yeah, let’s get this move started and I’ll show you what we do.

We use a tractor. You don’t need a very big tractor; a modest sized one will work. We’ve also moved them with pickup trucks. The only problem with the pickup truck is you have a little less visibility to the rear. With the tractor I can turn around in the seat and see exactly what’s happening behind me.

AJ works inside the coop with me. He’s been doing this job for many years so he’s got a good sense of when the chickens are moving and when they’re a little bit stuck. You can see him in there waving those flags. Those flags are just made out of old trash bags that we’ve sliced up and put on the end of sticks. And there’s my signal to stop.

Well that’s all there is to it. The chickens are on fresh grass, everyone’s happy. Time to go move the next chicken shelter. Have a great day!

Repairing Feeders for Pasture Raised Chickens

I never expected finding a reliable, effective feeder for our pasture raised chickens would be such a challenge. Over the past twelve years I have built countless feeders. And I’ve tried at least ten different commercial feeders trying to find something that really worked.

Along the way I came up with a pretty good homemade design for laying hens, but for broiler chickens I keep coming back to the Kuhl 50 lb hanging feeder as the best option. I like that it has a feed tray with a large lip, preventing the chickens from scraping the feed out with their beaks and wasting it on the ground. The solid tray dividers prevent side-to-side swipes that can also lead to spilled feed. Plus, the round design means that the chickens can access the feeders from all directions.

Providing feed to pasture raised chickens is always a challenge, and feeders need to be tough. In any situations chickens are constantly bumping the feeders, but in a pasture environment there are additional shock loads. We move our chickens to fresh grass, so the chicken shelters travel thousands of feet each season. All that movement is great for the grass and for the chickens, but it puts strain on the components of hanging feeders.

We discovered that the Kuhl hanging feeders have a fatal design flaw. They might work perfectly fine in barns, but with all our pasture rotations, they always break. The problem is that they are held together by a steel bolt threaded into a light aluminum shaft. Eventually that bolt strips out and the feed tray falls out the bottom. I have tried all sorts of things to fix it, including using both blue and red formulations of Loctite and even epoxy. None of these are durable solutions. I’ve also tried drilling out and re-tapping the aluminum, but that only buys a little time. The aluminum is just too brittle, and I have a feeling that the corrosion between dissimilar metals, especially in a wet, grassy environment may be hastening its demise.

The aluminum shaft in the center shows the most common stripped thread problem. The lower shaft is snapped off from metal fatigue. The threaded rod on top is my solution.

Rather than giving up on the feeders, I decided to repair them. But this time I’m going with all steel construction. No more aluminum. I am cutting 1/2″ steel threaded rod into 19.5″ pieces and welding on a lock washer at one end as a hanger. The other end just gets the threads cleaned up so I can thread nuts back on.

The inside of the feeder has a small raised bump and the original aluminum rod’s washer is notched around that bump. I just use an angle grinder to make similar notches in 1/2″ washers. Note in the picture below that I’m using a regular 1/2″ nut next to the notched washer, and then a nylon lock nut on the bottom. I have also applied blue Loctite on the non-locking nut, but I’m not sure if this is necessary.

Drilling out the feed pan from 12mm to 1/2″

The only required modification to the rest of the feeder is that the base needs to be drilled out to receive a 1/2″ rod since the original aluminum shaft was 12 mm. The holes in the upper parts of the feeder are big enough to accomodate the threaded rod without any alterations. One bonus to note here is that the hopper height adjustment screw works better on the rough surface of the threaded rod than the smooth aluminum. We used to always find that the aluminum shaft allowed the hopper to creep downward over time.

Reassembled and read to go.

We’ve been using several of these repaired feeders this summer and so far, they’ve been working well. I hesitate to call anything a permanent fix, but I’m confident that these new steel shafts will do a better job and allow us to continue feeding pasture raised chickens for many more years.

One of our repaired feeders, back at work with the chickens.

What Do Grass Fed Cattle Eat?

When we talk about grass fed, grass finished beef, obviously the word “grass” gets a lot of prominence. So grass and grass only, right? The answer isn’t so clean cut. As with a lot of things, the name of the practice is perhaps not the best choice. It isn’t deliberately misleading, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Instead of grass, maybe we should be talking about Leaf Fed/Leaf Finished. Or Grass+ Fed. That’s because this isn’t about being limited by the exclusivity of the grass category. This is more about providing cattle the best possible diet, one that consists of all kinds of leaves that fit within our pasture ecosystem.

Leaf Fed Beef

When I look at our pastures, I count about seven main types of grasses. Bluegrass, brome grass, fescue, orchard grass, reed canarygrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy.

But I can think of a far greater array of plants that also grow in our fields, and none of them are technically grasses. Some are legumes (red, white, and sweet clover, alfalfa, vetch, birdsfoot trefoil), some are deep rooted biennials (burdock, parsnip, wild carrot), some are perennial shrubs (elderberry, shrub willow, wild black raspberry). And then we can look at the trees with edible leaves (apple, poplar, sumac, willow) and the wild grape vines tangled through them. I started making a list of plants the cattle graze here, and after forty entries I realized I was only part way there.

For the cattle in our pastures, yes, it is true that grasses make up the greatest portion of their intake. But talking only about grasses misses leaves out some of the best parts of the story we can be telling. Our leaf fed cattle experience an abundant, varied, and complex diet. Having all these food options gives them an optimally balanced diet as different plants change their nutritional profiles throughout the year. Some plants are medicinal (like the echinacea and broadleaf plantain growing in the fields), some help with parasites (willow), some contain essential minerals drawn by deep tap roots (tree leaves). Each plant fits into an important place in the nutritional puzzle.

Rachel feeding a grass fed beef steer the leaves from a poplar tree.
Rachel feeding a steer a poplar tree branch. Poplar leaves are especially palatable to cattle.

What’s the Big Deal About Eating Leaves?

The big deal is that cattle can graze an abundant, indefinitely renewable, and locally available resource. Here in Upstate New York we can produce a lot of greenery. Our growing seasons are consistently wet and our summer days are long. We grow more than enough to feed cattle all through the green season. And we still have plenty of extra grass to bale up during the summer to feed the cattle during the winter.

So when we talk about grass fed beef, or leaf fed beef if you will, we’re talking about one of the most responsible ways to produce high quality food per acre. We can grow top quality cattle forage on land like our farm, land that isn’t suitable for crops. I’m always amazed standing in the field with my cattle, thinking about the transformation going on every day all around me.

Grass fed cattle demonstrating that grass fed is a "big tent" idea, with all sorts of nutritious forages are available to cattle. Leaf fed beef!
The one on the left is grazing the leafy tips of tender wild raspberry stems, and the one on the right is eating wild grape leaves.

So What Can’t Grass Fed Cattle Eat?

The only hard line here is about saying no to grain and grain byproducts. Even though grains come from plants within the larger grass family, their grain seeds are something cattle would never have encountered in nature. Feeding cattle grain upsets their gut microbiome, since metabolizing grain starches tilts their rumen pH toward acidity. Animals like chickens and pigs naturally have acidic stomachs, so they can thrive on grains. But cattle have a very different digestive system, one that is optimized for the digestion of huge quantities of coarse, high-fiber plant roughage. Grain feeding, especially in the concentrations used in commercial farming, leads to acidosis. Once the cattle are in ill health, they require more frequent interventions with pharmaceuticals like antibiotics and ionophores. The whole system of grain feeding slides the cattle toward compromised health in order to quickly add pounds.

Grass Fed isn’t about Exclusion. It’s about Abundance.

But even in making the statement that our grass fed cattle are never fed grain, I’d like to point out a more fundamental idea. Our focus as farmers should be to maximize abundance. Contemporary conventional agriculture orients farmers toward focusing on negatives: fighting weeds, killing pests, medicating disease, fixing machines, and tolerating low prices.

In telling the story of grass fed, leaf fed beef, I don’t want to spend much time arguing against grain feeding. Focusing on the negative (“we don’t feed grain”) tells part of the story, but it doesn’t adequately highlight the goodness of the positive (“cattle eat a wide variety of green leaves that provide them everything they need”). Grass fed is good because it is a system based on recycling leaves and plants. These are abundant, renewable feed resources, and these animals are uniquely well suited for consuming them.

When we talk about both animal nutrition and human nutrition, it seems easier to lapse into obsession over the evils and dangers, and thus to miss out on all the great options we have available before us. And all the marketing bombarding us works diligently to keep us in a state of worry, primed for the next sales pitch for something to help us battle a problem.

Accentuate the Positive

I want to farm for abundance. I can’t ignore weeds, pests, and the rest, but I want to focus on promoting the sources of excellence on our farm. What practices make the most grasses and forage plants grow on our farm? Let’s find them and outcompete the weeds. Which plants make our cattle the healthiest? Let’s feed those and avoid the need to medicate. That’s the idea.

Grass fed beef really shines when we look at food production from a positive, abundance orientation. We can look for what is good and use that to anchor everything we’re accomplishing here. Our cattle are grazing a completely renewable resource that we can’t eat ourselves. They convert it into high quality nutrition using only the resources that come from the farm. Over time, because of their synergistic relationship with these plants they improve the soil and the quality of the plants, leading to yet more abundance. This is an amazing system!

Our goal as farmers, especially those of us on the organic/regenerative side of farming, is to be abundance-workers. How can we take the sunshine, water, soil, plant, and animal resources and use them to create more abundance? Surely this is a better use of our time, and a more satisfying way of living, than just focusing on all the thing we aren’t doing.

If you are reading this not as a farmer but as a consumer, I’d challenge you to find ways to be an abundance-consumer. If you have the privilege of choosing what you buy and what you eat, can you find food that comes from a place of abundance? The mainstream market focuses on negatives, like cost-cutting and competition-squashing. Surely we can all do better than that. Let’s all support those who are doing the work of creating something better.

Grass fed cattle at Wrong Direction Farm grazing a lush, hillside pasture on a September afternoon.
Cattle grazing on a September afternoon.

So are our cattle grass fed and grass finished? Yes, we meet the grazing standards of every organization that has ever tried to standardize the definition. But we’d rather be known for abundant leaf fed cattle.

Knocking Down the Smokehouse

On the steep bank just behind our house we had an old smokehouse. The roof must have been leaking a long time ago, because even though it was re-roofed with tin about 20 years ago, the rafters and floor were full of rot. This year we noticed that as the wood foundation beams decomposed, the whole thing was in the process of slouching down the hill. It was time for it to go.

The foundation lumber gave out, causing the supports to buckle.

We never used the smokehouse for its intended purpose, or really any purpose, because it was already in sorry shape when we moved here ten years ago.

Demolition was pretty easy. I stripped as much of the weathered siding as I could. I’ll try to reuse it for some decorative woodworking. Then the boys and I gave a mighty shove and it toppled over.

I’m always interested to see how old buildings were fitted together. This was framed in the timber framing style with pegged joints. Since some of the fasteners were machine-made round nails, it can’t be as old as the rest of the house. But talking about the age of farm structures is a study of the Ship of Theseus paradox. Even though the smokehouse itself may have been built in the 1900-1930 period, the framing timbers were of different sizes and several had unused mortices in them. Like most of the other timber framing in our house, the lumber was likely recycled from an even older building.

I like looking at these smoke blackened timbers.

I wonder how many hams and bacons were smoked in this building over the years. I also wonder which, if any, of the things I build now might cause someone in a hundred year to think about the work I’m doing here. Will that future person look back and feel some sort of connection, the way I feel with that farm family who built this smokehouse and smoked their pork in it.

Introduction to Wrong Direction Farm

For anyone new to Wrong Direction Farm, I made this intro video. And yes, all that buzzing in the background is our late summer accompaniment of crickets and cicadas.

Transcript:

Welcome to Wrong Direction Farm. I’m Dave, your farmer, and I’d like to tell you about our farm and why this is such a special place.

We began farming because we wanted to be confident in the food that we were eating. We started, really just feeding our own family and a few friends, and along the way people who were looking for pasture raised and grass fed meat found their way to us.

The name… Everyone wants to know, “Where did you get that name Wrong Direction Farm?” Well, you know, it’s about choosing a different path. So much of agriculture focuses on bigger and blander. But we would rather focus on what is good. Let’s look at what’s truly good. So let’s look at: What’s good for the people here? What’s good for the animals, the farm animals, the wild animals? What’s good for the land? Now some would say this is the wrong direction, but we don’t think so.

Things stay busy on our farm with all our poultry. We have pasture raised, certified organic chickens and turkeys. Our chickens and turkeys live on pasture. This is much more than just being outside. We constantly move them to fresh pasture so that they’re always on the best grass. They have open air, sunshine, bugs to chase. The certified organic piece refers to the way the birds are fed and cared for. All their feed is free from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, GMOs, antibiotics, and hormones. Of course, birds that live this way are healthier, and you’ll know it when you taste our chicken and turkey.

We also have a herd of grass fed beef cattle on our farm. Grass fed simply means that our cattle only eat the grasses and plants that grow on our pastures. Every day we move them to fresh pasture. Our cattle are never fed grain or grain byproducts. Grass fed cattle contribute to ecological regeneration, sequestering carbon in the soil, and promoting and increase in the diversity of plant and animal species on our farm. And of course, cattle that are raised this way produce superior beef.

We view the farm as a complicated ecosystem, not just a narrow food-producing machine. So we pay attention to the insect life, to our important pollinators. When we look at the wild fruit trees growing in the hedgerows, or the clean water for the fish in the pond, we realize that all of these things are connected within the life of the farm. It’s not just about producing one single thing. It’s about the entirety of the farm. It has to fit together.

You know, farming creates a purpose for every day. We have meaningful work. And sometimes it’s hard; sometimes it’s fun. Like everything, there’s a range of experiences. But there’s an underlying goodness to it. We love this life.

Thank you for taking some time to get to know us. We would be glad to be your farmers.

You Might Be Surprised Learning Just How Cows Eat Grass: Slow Motion Footage

So everyone knows that cows eat grass. We all learned that in our preschool coloring books or nursery rhymes. And for most of us, that’s probably about as far as we’ve thought about it.

But do you know how cows eat grass? I mean, how it actually goes from a leafy stalk in the pasture and ends up in their mouths? Probably not.

I captured some slow motion video of our farm’s cattle grazing grass. At normal speeds they eat so quickly it is nearly impossible to see what’s actually going on. Let’s slow it down and take a look.

But first let’s make sure we know something about the mouth of a cow.

Grass Fed Dentistry

Here’s an important thing to know first about cows and many other grazing mammals: they don’t have upper front teeth. This is true for cows, sheep, goats, camels, and most of the other herbivore grazers. Horses and rabbits are a few of the notable exceptions. But the majority of large grazing animals only have lower front incisors, with a bald gum line across the top.

Without those teeth, cattle aren’t really nibblers. They can’t easily graze a plant by cleanly snipping off bits. Instead they have a different eating strategy. When grazing fresh, high moisture grasses, cattle can easily eat over a hundred pounds of it each day, so obviously they manage quite well without all those teeth.

It’s All About the Tongue

While cows can graze by clamping leaves between their lower incisors and their upper gum and then tearing with a twist of the neck, that’s not their preferred method and they aren’t especially efficient at eating that way. When given a pasture with a strong stand of grass, cows actually do most of their grazing with their tongues. Their tongues are their primary grazing tool.

Look at this outtake video (full video at the end of this post) to see how this steer is using his tongue to hook around the grass and drag it into his mouth. Watch carefully; even filmed in slow motion it is hard to catch:

As cattle graze their way across a field, you’ll notice their tongues shooting out in a scything motion and hauling grass back in. Most often they alternate directions, alternately swiping the tongue left and right. The tongue is so strong and nimble that it wraps around a clump of grass, tears it off and conveys it into the mouth.

Closeup of a grass fed beef tongue from Wrong Direction Farm. All the beef at our farm is from 100% grass fed cattle raised on our pastures.
Borrowing the Grass Fed Beef Tongue picture from our product listing from our online store.

Looking closely at the tongue, we see the rough surface. Cow tongues have an extremely grippy texture, almost like those sandpaper treads installed on slippery stairways. The tongue is covered in papillae, the bumps and ridges that do all the gripping. Unlike human tongues where the papillae are soft and more involved in taste reception, for cattle many of their papillae are hardened by being keratinized. That is, they are armored in keratin, the same protein that makes up their horns and hooves.

Considering all the work a cow’s tongue is doing, reaching out and tearing off a hundred or more pounds of plants every day, it makes sense that their tongues would need some keratin armoring. This is especially the case because some grasses have sharp blades (maybe you’ve experienced getting a cut from tall grass). And at certain times of the year when the plants are high in nutrients, they’ll voluntarily graze their way through spiny and thorny plants such as thistles.

And if we were to try to lick our way across a pasture? We’d have swollen, bleeding tongues within a few minutes. But it suits a cow’s tongue just fine.

Grass Fed Amazing

The next time you see a cow grazing in deep grass, or the next time you braise a beef tongue (tacos de lengua, can’t beat them), consider what an amazing organ this is. There’s always room for amazement!

What to Expect When Your Meat Delivery Arrives

Transcript:

You’re wondering, “If I order from Wrong Direction Farm what will the box look like when it arrives? What condition will everything be in?”
Those are good questions and I’d like to talk about them with you today.
I’m Dave, a farmer here at Wrong Direction Farm.

And to help answer those questions I decided while I was packing orders yesterday for our regular customers’ shipments to put one extra package together for our family and to set it aside for a whole day and open it today. I think this should give you an idea of what packages look like, how we put them all together, how the ice is stacked in there, all that stuff.

So it’s been a warm summer day. It should be a good test case for the worst case scenario. In the winter it’s quite a bit easier to get packages to you and still keep everything frozen.

So we ship all our orders to arrive via next day delivery with either UPS or FedEx. Everything’s packed in these [grunts] insulated cardboard boxes. A chicken on that side and a turkey on that side.

Let’s go take a look inside the box.

Alright, let’s open up the box and see what we’ve got.

Inside you’ll find this note from us and we would appreciate hearing from you if you have any questions about your order. Let us know. Here’s the contact information.

On the other side there’s this caution about the dry ice we use in the packaging. Be careful. It’s very cold, -109 degrees. It works great for keeping your items frozen but it can also give you frostbite if you touch pieces of dry ice. We put it inside a bag but if there are any pieces that have fallen out don’t touch them with bare hands. Use gloves.

Ok. And here we have the insulation. Now this is paper based. It’s 100% recyclable, so you can just put it out for pickup along with your regular paper and cardboard. We put a lot of effort into sourcing a recyclable product that was also effective and we’re confident in this insulation’s ability to bring packages through some really hot weather.

Removing the paper we have the liner we use to prevent excess condensation.

And inside the liner you’ll find a paper bag. This is the bag that was used to hold the dry ice. Your bag may be completely empty by the time you receive it. That’s OK. The dry ice will have done its job. Dry ice just dissipates over time. Whatever you do, don’t touch the contents of the bag with bare hands.

And now let’s take a look at what we’ve got inside the box.

Everything is still quite frozen. We’ve got some packages of chicken thighs.
I think I did one of each type of meat from the chickens. We have thighs, wings, drumsticks, boneless breasts, a whole chicken, some beef kabobs, and all down at the bottom of the box we’ve got a lot of packages of ground beef.

So that sums up ordering from Wrong Direction Farm. If you have any other questions about what’s in the box, or how the boxes get to you, I’d be glad to answer them. Let me know. Thank you.

Ivermectin: From the Pasture Point of View

No, don’t worry. This isn’t a story about COVID and Ivermectin. This is about Ivermectin, livestock manure, and a curious consequence of the drug’s widespread use.

Background

Ivermectin is a deworming drug. It protects against parasitic nematodes (filarial worms to be specific). It was developed in the late 1970s as a veterinary treatment, but it quickly was found to be a powerful tool for humans against a host of parasite-related diseases. The amount of suffering averted due to Ivermectin’s role in fighting River Blindness and other diseases is incalculable.

As Ivermectin was used, it became apparent that it also was a powerful broad spectrum drug. It proved effective against ticks, lice, and mites. Suddenly, Ivermectin became a wonder drug and it was popping up everywhere. Herds of cattle, sheep, and goats around the world are dosed with it regularly, along with companion animals and pets like dogs and horses. It remains the most widely used drug in its class around the world.

The Other Shoe Drops

But nothing in the natural order comes for free. Something trades off a debit here for a credit there.

Ivermectin doesn’t disappear once it is ingested or injected into a body. It persists, and it comes out in the manure. As a broad spectrum killer of creepy crawly things, it continued to have effects long afterwards. People began to notice that manure piles from livestock just sat there on the ground, untouched.

In the normal course of events, insects — and dung beetles in particular — break manure down and move it in small pieces into storage underground. This is a critical piece of the environmental nutrient cycle. As beetles haul the manure away and carry it below the surface, they facilitate the transfer of the critical carbon, nitrogen, and other elements into places where plants can make use of them. Manure on the surface doesn’t help plants, but manure in the root zone is plant fuel.

This manure pat in our pasture shows all the telltale signs of dung beetles. All those holes are chambers excavated by the beetles.

It turns out that Ivermectin is also toxic to dung beetles. When exposed to Ivermectin residues in manure, dung beetles experience impairments in their ability to smell (useful when your whole life depends on finding manure) and walk. They also experience paralysis in their antennae which prevent them from mating or signaling to other dung beetles. The drug essentially incapacitates beetles, leading to loss of population due to failure to find food and failure to find mates. For references, read here and here. According to the research I’ve found, Ivermectin is long-lasting in the soil, so these consequences may persist for a long time.

As with other topics, we don’t know all the other things we don’t know. We don’t know what other parts of the biological web are harmed by deworming chemicals. There may be cascading consequences that just aren’t apparent to us yet because we don’t know which other insects to look for. But I suspect that we’re spreading collateral damage to other branches of insect world, and perhaps crossing into other living things.

Regenerative Agriculture Approach

There is growing awareness in the public about the rapid pace of destruction for critical insects. We all know about the collapse of honeybee populations and the dangers facing other pollinators like Monarchs. But are any celebrities going to make documentaries about the destruction of our dung beetle population? If ever there was an insect with a branding problem, it is the dung beetle. They aren’t especially beautiful and their job is unquestionably messy. Not many people are dung beetle activists. But they could use some help, someone standing up for them. Their plight is critical to the basic biological functioning of life on earth.

Farmers can reduce or eliminate their dependence on deworming chemicals by practicing rotational grazing. By rotating animals through different pastures, the livestock avoid exposure to many parasites just by being away from that pasture for a month or two. Parasite life cycles depend on a host animal being there at just the right time, so if we can keep cows or sheep away from a field long enough we can break those reinfection cycles. We already know that moving animals frequently is better for the plants and the land, but it also has tremendous health benefits for the animals themselves.

There’s also a role for serious attention to livestock breeding. For too long, especially in the world of sheep and goats, parasite-prone animals have been propped up by deworming chemicals. This is not a trivial challenge, but for long term success breeders need to select animals that have superior natural resistance to parasites.

At Wrong Direction Farm, we follow the National Organic Protocols for drugs and pharmaceuticals, so we never use Ivermectin or other dewormers on our animals. And we rotate, rotate, rotate. Every day we’re moving this herd here and that flock there. All that movement requires commitment and effort, but we keep up with it because we see results.

There’s our little hero of the pasture.

Guess what? We have dung beetles. Everywhere you go you’ll find that the cow manure pats are perforated, with beetle tunnels running through them. This is evidence that it is within our grasp to make changes, to build a farm ecosystem that works at every step up and down the various food chains.

It may be hard to love dung beetles the same way we love monarch butterflies, but somehow we need to find conservation approaches that work for all kinds of living things. Even the ones with the dirtiest jobs.