I have been reading the three volumes of An Encyclopaedia of Agriculture that belonged to my late grandfather. He had signed and dated each volume in 1918, so I presume he bought them at the end of the First World War on his demob from the army. My grandfather fought for the entire duration of the war as a gunner in some of the fiercest battles.

Until the Royal Veterinary College was instituted, the medical treatment of animals had been in the hands of farriers, who, by reason of their connection with shoeing, and lameness incidental to the work, were increasingly appealed to by horse-owners for assistance. Over the years there grew a class of animal doctors more or less divorced from the forge from which they sprang.

Anyway, grandfather's generation was the first to have access to trained vets with early modern veterinary cures, although his encyclopaedia contains many older ones.

Take ringworm as an example. It's a nasty skin infection caused by a fungus that affects both cattle and humans. In the worst cases the body becomes covered in unsightly and painful sores. An old-fashioned cure was to hang a sprig of male holly in the cattle shed. The cure that my grandfather swore by was to regularly dab a mixture of creosote and waste engine oil onto the sores.

Creosote was often used as the main ingredient in cures for external parasites. For instance, when mixed with lard it was smeared on hens to kill off mites.

Internal parasites of livestock such as stomach worms and liver fluke have always been a problem The encyclopaedia recommends that treatment of the land and disinfection of stables, sheds and sties offers the best prospect of reducing parasitism. "Salt at the rate of 8 cwt (about 400 kg) to the acre, spread twice a year and rolled with a heavy implement, has been found highly beneficial as a destroyer of a great variety of parasites."

Husk or "hoose" in young cattle is caused by a thread-like worm that attacks the air passages and causes the animals to cough - and can be fatal. A similar worm causes gapes in chickens and other fowl like pheasants. The encyclopaedia recommends spreading salt and soot upon the land to destroy the immature worms.

Previous generations liked strong smelling potions, probably assuming that the stronger the smell the greater the efficacy of the concoction. I well remember one old shepherd who used to sniff strong-smelling sheep dip and then declared: "That's powerful stuff". I later learned that sheep dip manufacturers gave their products a strong smell simply to get that response from their customers. Invariably, the active ingredients in the dip had no smell whatsoever.

As you would expect, cod liver and castor oils were popular tonics for sick animals, as were Epsom salts. Drenching cattle with iodine to cure wooden-tongue is just as good a cure today as it was before antibiotics were developed.

A lot of diseases are triggered by mineral imbalances, so many farmers offered seaweed meal to their animals to overcome this. Milk fever is one such condition that can be a killer of freshly-calved cows, particularly dairy breeds. Using a bicycle pump to pump air into a cow's udder through the teats sounds daft, but was a useful cure for milk fever before modern drugs became available. The air temporarily curbed milk production and stopped the loss of calcium, the main cause of the disease.

Newly-farrowed sows sometimes don't let their milk down when the piglets are trying to suckle. Nowadays such tension is easily cured with hormone injections, but a favourite trick in my grandfather's day was to feed bran mash made with beer to such sows. Half sozzled, those sows relaxed and let their milk down for their hungry piglets.

Whisky and brandy were also common cures for many animal illnesses. Very strong tea mixed with whisky made a tonic for sick cows, particularly those that wouldn't rise after a difficult calving. I preferred to keep spirits in the drinks cabinet for my own consumption.

It's easy to laugh at our forefathers and their simple remedies. What we forget is that because they had limited medicines available to cure diseases, they farmed in such a way as to prevent disease occurring in the first place. Put simply - a lot of animal diseases can be prevented by reducing stress through good husbandry and feeding appropriate diets.

A hundred years on from the purchase of his encyclopaedia my grandfather would be amazed at the bewildering array of medicines available today.