How and why we started
HAWL is not run for profit and has no employees. The courses have to pay for themselves and profit (when there is any) is spent on advertising, maintaining a website, book-keeping and so on. Much of the work has been voluntary, much by the teachers, all of them self-employed homeopaths or homeopathic vets, all with farm experience, and we have been enormously supported by HRH Prince of Wales who has donated to us several times and kept our head above water.
The course emerged from my studies at the Royal Agricultural College when a childhood love of cows and three years studying homeopathy were combined into a dissertation looking at the role of homeopathy in the treatment of the farm animal. I found plenty of reasons why a farmer might or might not choose to use homeopathy. While some reasons may point them towards homeopathy, in reality the chances of actually being informed or supported or successful in its use are pretty small, support is more or less non existant and there were no courses available then to help them learn about the subject.
Andrew Brewer, Farmer, Cornwall
“Cost and reward are big benefits to me. It is rewarding to know you can take early action and we have less losses, lower vet bills but then we run a simple system. We use homoeopathy in stressful situations and we see the animals recover faster.”
In UK only a vet or an owner may treat for an animal. There are only about 250 homoeopathically qualified vets and of those fewer than a dozen are in farm practice. A programme* funded by the United States Department of Agriculture sees ‘the conventionally trained health-care professional’ as not being trained, and thus unable, to help farmers reduce dependence on chemical treatments or advise the farmer on the promotion of health as opposed to treatment of disease.
The Lowe report observed that while many small (companion) animal practices offer alternative therapies, farm practices offer no alternative expertise at all.
All this, as I found in my own research, leaves the farmer struggling, encouraged to use a system he does not understand, discouraged by his vet and helped only by a few books and midnight phone calls to friends.
Part of my original research included running a workshop for farmers who might be interested in using homeopathy. This attracted 32 farmers and a vet. Seven were not farming organically (which is probably a fair reflection of the ratio on HAWL courses). Only two had a homeopathic vet. The only common factor within this group was that they were farmers and they were all prepared to put time and money into improving their animals’ health. Asked why they had come, 88% voiced concerns about antibiotics, 22% thought homeopathy was cheaper, though no-one thought it was more effective. But what surprised me was a 100% agreement that homeopathy might be better for animal welfare; a serious contradiction to perceived wisdom.
After my workshop over 60% said they would like a more advanced workshop, I began to consider the possibility. This, plus the concerns of the farmers, vets and homeopaths I had met during my research, led me to discussions with the Prince of Wales’ farm manager, David Wilson. He felt there was a real need for a course; that there had been plenty of introductory days but never proper training, which he likened to constant hors d’oeuvres and no main course. Thus inspired, we ran our first course, three days over three months, for which we had 15 farmers, from all over England, of every type and every ability.
Since then we have taught over 500 farmers. After each course they have all said they felt the course was fun, worthwhile, useful and satisfying.
Surveyed some time later they tell us that the course improved their observation , that herd/flock health has improved and that vet and med bills have gone down.
**Report of the Independent Review of Dispensing by Veterinary Surgeons of Prescription Only Medicines. Min of Agriculture, Fishing and Food. MAFF (Now DEFRA) May 2001.
Our students have come to Tetbury from as far afield as Aberdeen, Norfolk, Kent, Cornwall, and Pembrokeshire and North Wales.
Why use it? Farmers receive conflicting advice. The government is anxious about food chain contamination and antibiotic resistances and asks conventional and organic farmers alike to reduce their dependence on chemical drugs, while vets cry welfare issues if antibiotics are withheld. Trade magazines are supported by pharmaceutical company advertising, vets practise ’evidence-based‘ medicine and derive a large percentage of their income from the sale of these products (**Marsh Report 2001).
These conflicting requirements, to reduce the use of antibiotics and at the same time to rely on evidence-based medicines, have not been reconciled either in conventional nor in organic agriculture, and the issue needs some untangling if one is to understand why it has been difficult for farmers to improve the use of homeopathy on their own farms.
Using homeopathy to improve health is only one part of what the farmer can do to avoid disease. Good husbandry and management is really what it is all about, but homeopathy is a powerful tool within the general strategy, which is how we teach homeopathy, not to take the place of the farm vet, but as a daily part of good farming. A sick animal is not a profitable animal. Much better to avoid problems.