A Home Remedy Tale: Bloat in Horses

Reader Contribution by John Klar
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When my wife and I began farming, we learned to raise calves by buying newborns at the local livestock auction (now closed) in Orleans, Vermont. Dealing with illness, various injuries, and scours (calf diarrhea), we routinely consulted our vet or supplier for prepackaged electrolytes and other needs. In time we learned to make our own, much less costly, concoction for treating scours — salt, baking soda, yogurt, an egg; maybe some molasses if we had to use a feeding tube. We also raised sheep, pigs, horses, and cows — there are home remedies, old-time methods, and innovative contraptions to surmount all form of husbandry hurdle, unique to different breeds and circumstances. But generally they share a demand to “make do” either by spending less money, saving time, or both.

While we are very fond of our vet, we try to do what we can ourselves, and often we learn from experienced farmers. We were blessed while we worked our farm in Barton, Vermont with a neighbor named Henry LaBrecque, a retired dairy farmer who was always pleased to stop by and teach me how to make hay, fix a machine, winch cedar, or overcome a milking problem.

One of our draft horses suffered a case of bloat. Reflexively, I phoned Henry (instead of the vet). With no hesitation, he began to recite an old home remedy. “Oh, let’s see now….” he said:

2 tablespoons turpentine
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons ginger
½ cup milk….

When I heard “turpentine” I paused in my napkin scribbling. Suddenly Henry’s “remedy” sounded like animal abuse — I had no intention of pumping turpentine into my horse. I politely thanked Henry for his counsel, and engaged in some discussion of the weather I think.

After hanging up with Henry, I called our veterinarian and explained about the horse with bloat. “Sure, I have a recipe that will help!” he offered. I took up my pen and napkin, and he began:

2 tablespoons turpentine
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons ginger
½ cup milk

This time I wrote it all down. Then I protested to the good doctor: “John, I can’t believe turpentine would be a medicinal ingredient! I called Henry and he gave me the same recipe and I figured he was cracked, so I called you.”

His response: “Well, I’m pretty sure that’s where we got the recipe from, and it works better than anything else…” (By this I think he meant the doctor from whom he’d taken over his practice, who would have obtained the valuable recipe decades earlier from Henry LaBrecque.)

So, yeah, we made up the crazy brew and it worked like a charm — probably saved the animal’s life.

There is a wealth of home knowledge that has been too lightly abandoned with the advent of new technologies and modernity. And sometimes things that sound fantastic turn out to be quite sensible. In the case at hand, our veterinarian (now retired) later explained how the mixture worked. The turpentine is key, acting as a defoaming agent to reduce gas. The pepper “moves things along.” The ginger is soothing. The milk prevents the turpentine from burning the esophagus and digestive tract. (Note: it is illegal to administer turpentine to food animals.)

In recent years, a number of Amish families have purchased farmland in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Our doctor tells me of this potion that “The Amish have a lot of horses, and they love it!”  I guess they keep some turpentine on hand….

Photo by Jacqueline Klar)

John Klarraises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operated an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. You can connect with John onFacebook.

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