You know we are in some kind of new era when the most intriguing information about farming comes from big city newspapers rather than farm magazines. Last week (Nov. 10), the Sunday Review section of the New York Times carried an article about how we are suffering from an “epidemic” of allergies and that relief just might be as close as your nearest barn reeking with manure and murky with hay dust, especially if you are drinking lots of raw milk at the same time.
You think I’m joking, don’t you?
The latest study backing up the healing effects of cow stables (there have been other studies in Europe) was inspired by a curious observation: Amish farmers in northern Indiana, spending much of their lives tending livestock in their barns, were remarkably free of allergies compared to urban populations. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis, investigated. About half of Americans have “evidence of allergic sensitization” but he found through testing that only 7% of Amish children on working farms were so sensitized. Amazing grace.
Having spent more of my lifetime in barns than in bathrooms I provide evidence of this theory. The only thing I know for sure that I’m allergic to is the TV reality show. By spending so much time stomping around in manury cow barns and dusty hay mows, and drinking lots of raw milk (easily a gallon a day in my twenties), I gained a life free of allergic distress. What hath the gods wrought! I have long considered my barn to be my church and now it turns out to be my health spa too.
For the sake of honest journalism I have to mention my wife’s brother who spent most of his working life in a dairy barn but who occasionally suffered severe asthma attacks all his life. I also know of farm boys so allergic to hay that they had to quit livestock farming. At least that’s the excuse they gave. Maybe the reason farmers seem more immune to allergies is a result of the occupation weeding out over time the ones not fit for it.
But I like the idea that barns and raw milk have been my allergy salvation. Strangely enough, the scientists leading the way in this investigation do not advocate drinking raw milk. They say it can contain deadly pathogens. Note that they say this almost in the same breath they draw to point out the healthfulness of Amish children who drink only raw milk. Nor do the scientists advocate more small livestock ventures as I surely do. They want to find a way to isolate the rich microbial life in the dirt of the livestock barn and chicken coop and apply it directly to allergy victims who live high in their sterile city apartments.
So now we have one more product that we can sell from our little local food farms: bottled microbial life from our barns along with bottled raw milk. Need a brand name here. How about “Barn Aire?” A sniff a day keeps the asthma away.
Barns have other social advantages, even the more modern ones. For instance, if during courtship you want to find out whether you and your beloved will get along okay in marriage, spend some time milking cows together, like in the operator’s pit of a herringbone milking parlor. That’s what Carol and I did, occasionally dodging the rich microbial life spattering down on us from the cows looming above, compared to which allergies and asthma seem preferable. I figured if she could endure a week of milking cows in a “parlor” (however it got that name is another one of those unsolved mysteries), we could probably endure marriage for at least a century.