Note: I have learned much about all areas of life from things here on the farm the last five or six years. Things that I probably would never have learned if we did not have a pasture based farm. This article shares some things that I have observed, learned, and that have been rolling around in my mind.
In spite of the technological advancements in modern medicine and a renewed focus on eating organic and eating healthy, Americans are still having a serious problem with major illnesses – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. Health care costs keep rising, indicating a growing health problem. We are looking at all areas of our lives to see what might be contributing to these problems. To continue doing the same things that everyone else is doing but hoping for different results for ourselves, is foolish.
When we first started our pasture based farm, I tried to find all the information that I could about raising chickens on pasture. Years ago, it was common practice for chickens to be true free-range. But when the poultry industry converted to confinement raising of chickens, there was much information lost about raising chickens on pasture. I went to the Library of Congress on several occasions and researched in old books about how to raise free range chickens. One of the things that I found in an old book was that the author had observed that chickens do best in the winter if at least part of the south side of the chicken shelter is left open all winter. He stated that chickens need plenty of fresh air and that totally closing the building to keep them warm was more detrimental to their health than the cold. I decided to try it and found that he was right. For the last eight winters, except for one year, we have left the south end of the chicken shelter open day and night all winter. I have been amazed how healthy the chickens have been through the winter months. On average, we have had few chickens die during the winter. When we have young hens that have started laying in the fall months we have had flocks that have laid 80 to 90% all winter without using artificial lighting (80-90% is the number of eggs per day that are laid per 100 hens).
This was during one of the big snows this past winter. Note how the end of the hoop shelter is wide open. The small building on the right is the nest house where the hens lay the eggs.
There were several winters that I felt sorry for the hens, with the end of their shelter open all night and temperatures below freezing. I closed up most of the south end of the shelter. One year we closed up the entire south end at night. But the hens did not do as well. In trying to help them be comfortable, a number of them got sick and died. When we had the same results the second time, I realized that my compassion was misguided. But I still did not recognize the significance of what we had observed.
Earlier this year, one of the things that stood out to me in a seminar that I listened to of Carey Reams, is that for both people and animals, 80% of our food energy comes from the air and sunlight. Only 20% comes from the food we eat. He further stated that of that 80% of energy from the air, 60% is taken in through our lungs and 40% through our skin. While I have not been able to validate that claim, it has made me do some thinking and researching about how our body uses air. We don’t see the air and the nutrients for our bodies that is in it, and so it is easy for us to overlook its importance. Air is a very important part of health and life. We can live for weeks without food, but only minutes without air. Air contains not only oxygen, but also many trace mineral elements. These trace minerals are put into the air through the action of the waves breaking in the ocean. One of the things that helped bring about Dr. Jordan Rubin’s amazing recovery from Crohn’s Disease was that he went to the ocean and lived on the beaches for a number of months. His lungs and skin absorbed minerals from the ocean air and from the sunshine.
One of the things that my mother taught me when I was a boy, was to NEVER get into an empty freezer or refrigerator. She told me that if I did, I could suffocate and die. Here recently, after finding out that the nutrients in the air are more important for our health than what I had realized, I got to thinking about how similar the modern house is to a super size refrigerator in being air tight. Is the modern house a dangerous place to live? In the interest of energy efficiency, houses have been built so that air from outside doesn’t get inside the house, and the heated or cooled air from inside does get wasted by going outside the house. When a house is built, there are multiple layers that seal the air from being exchanged. Outside is the siding. Under the siding, the house is wrapped in Tyvek. Next there is a layer of sheathing, either plywood or an insulation board, both of which seal out air. When I worked in construction, the insulation company even caulked the 2×4 walls where they met the floor and anywhere there were pieces of framing nailed together, to prevent air from getting through the cracks in the stud walls. Inside the house, the walls of each room are sealed with drywall. The only place fresh air can get inside the house is through the windows and doors. Windows and doors are being engineered to seal as effectively as possible to keep air from passing through them and we are being encouraged to replace older windows and doors with these more air tight windows and doors. What is energy efficient is not necessary in our best interest health wise.
Most people today run their air conditioner all summer and the heat all winter. The windows are seldom opened. The average person spends a significant amount of time in a sealed insulated "refrigerator" box of one form or another, living and breathing their stale exhaust with its depleted oxygen and minerals. They spend part of their day in their sealed insulated-box home. They drive to work in their comfortable "sealed box" car. Then they spend eight or more hours in the sealed insulated-box office.
We breathe a huge volume of air each day. The quality of the air we breathe is important. It is an important part of our health.
But there is more about air – the air needs of our skin. Our skin is the largest organ of our body, and yet it is easy to overlook its needs. I was listening to a recording from the 1970’s of a man talking about Iridology—the study of the iris of the eye. The different spots and coloring in the iris of the eye have been found to point to trouble spots and its location in the body. He explained how they could tell when women started to wear nylon stockings and then pantyhose because they could see trouble in those areas in the eye. What really got his attention was when women started wearing wigs as part of the fashion years ago, and it too showed up in the iris of the eye. He said that underwear used to be made with polyester or other synthetic fibers and it caused vaginal infections in women. The manufacturers quietly changed the crotch in pantyhose to cotton instead of nylon. Most underwear was also changed to cotton. I had thought that the reason that almost all underwear and t-shirts were now made out of cotton was because it did not last as long and it provided job security for the clothing manufacturers. I had several polyester t-shirts that had lasted 15 or 20 years.
All this has made us do some thinking and reevaluating of what our family wears. If a woman wears a very thin nylon screen (nylons) – which would appear to breathe – on her legs, and that shows up as a problem spot in her eyes, what about all the other synthetic fibers that we wear? Many clothes have a high amount of polyester in them so that they can be taken wrinkle free from the dryer. Almost all jackets and coats have polyester in the shell, lining, and/or insulation. Many leather shoes have synthetic materials for the insole and inside lining. Many sofas and chairs are made with synthetic fabrics and foam, so when we sit down, the back part of our body is covered with plastic which blocks out air. Our beds are made of synthetic fibers or foam, and we cover ourselves all night with polyester, either in the sheets, blankets, or comforter lining. Has breast cancer has become more prevalent in part, because most bras are made with synthetic fibers that don’t breathe properly? Are we preventing our skin from receiving the nutrients from the air by wrapping our bodies in plastic?
Some of my uncles and aunts and their families are part of a very conservative Mennonite group. They live clean lives. They don’t smoke or drink. They grow a lot of their own food. Many of them live on farms and breathe lots of fresh air, but many of the older people in their group are getting cancer and other serious diseases. One of the things they do, is dress from head to toe in polyester. They make their own clothes, and polyester lasts much longer than cotton. Is the fabric of their clothes contributing to their cancer and other diseases? I don’t know, but it makes me wonder.
Seeing what plenty of fresh air has done for our chickens and realizing the importance of plenty of fresh air for our own health has made our family do a lot of evaluating of what we wear. We do not feel like we have all the answers and we feel like we are merely looking through a keyhole into the next room. We are on a quest to find all the pieces that are needed to have true health and vitality. Eating right is very important, but it is not the whole answer. We would appreciate hearing any of the puzzles pieces that you have.