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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Remembering Bovine Tuberculosis

"...there is no obvious way to diagnose or treat wild animals."

By Lois Barton

Posted on Oct 15, 2006

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I was sorting through a lifetime accumulation of old papers and pictures the other day, hoping to reduce the pile meaningfully. I came across the following story in one of my college English papers. I know this is a true story because I was a teen-age milker in that dairy of about 60 big Holstein cows in 1938-40. There were six milkers responsible twice daily for milking 10 each of those animals.

December 7--1942

The big truck pulled in toward the barn from the highway. It was filled with dirty, milling cattle, restless from their long ride. Joe, the hired man, went out to meet the driver as he came across the yard toward the house.

"This the Sam Warren Place?" called the driver.

"Right you are," said Joe.

"I had a hell of a time getting here. Seems like people'd learn to give directions a guy could follow."

"What time'd ya leave Buffalo?" Joe Asked.

"Yestiddy mornin' about 9:30. Where you want these brutes?"

"We'll put 'em in the barn for a few days. You can back up here to the barn bridge then they'll be easy to run out'n the truck."

The driver got in and maneuvered the truck into position. The cows bellowed and stamped about as they were jostled over the rutty drive. A heavy plank from the bed of the truck to the ground made a satisfactory runway. The men untied the cows one at a time and with much punching and shouting got them off the truck and into the stable. Every animal had a large T branded conspicuously on her hip.

Sam Warren loved a good deal. If he saw a chance to make a dollar he was quite ready to employ any method.

A big shot in the dairy business, Sam got around to most of the public sales and visited many city stock yards. In Buffalo last week he had seen these nice-looking milk cows going for a song. They were all pedigreed Holsteins. Who among his "simple-minded" Swiss neighbors knew enough about the New York State laws to understand the T's branded on the cows stood for tuberculosis, not "tested"? And even if they did, who would dare to contradict his explanation? Sam added to his herd eight tubercular cows intended for the slaughter house. He got their pedigree papers too.

From the very first, their milk went right in with that from the rest of the herd. Joe saved a gallon or two every day from that day's milking for his family's use. He knew the children needed milk to make them grow right. The rest of the milk from that large herd of Holstein cows went to the dairy in Youngstown.

I am sharing this story with you because it has meaning in a special way. About 70 years ago my older sister died of bovine tuberculosis at age ten. We lived on a dairy farm in Ohio, which is where I first learned to milk when I was six. I remember that Dad was expected to test his Jersey cows annually for tuberculosis.

Searching the web I have learned that bovine tuberculosis has been nearly eliminated among cows in this country by the US Agriculture Department in those intervening years and is under constant supervision now. Most dairy herds all over the world are clean. A note on the web states "This disease poses a significant risk to domestic livestock, wildlife, companion animals and humans throughout the world." It is capable of infecting most mammals.

I have also learned that the disease is spread through direct contact with the respiratory secretions of a diseased animal and the breath of another warm blooded animal who may contract the disease. In the 1920s we children all helped Dad with the milking chores, including feeding the cows as they took their places in stanchions in the stable. This involved dishing out grain to each animal in the feeding trough just in front of it. Could my sister have a breathed such secretions from the cough of one of those tame, friendly Jerseys that was diseased, unknown to us? And if contagion is directly dependent on the diseased animal's breath, Sam Warrens tubercular cows' milk may not have been a serious hazard to consumers using their milk. On the other hand, his new cows could infect the herd and lead in time to death in the ranks.

In northern Michigan white-tailed deer are among wild animals that contract bovine TB. It is now curable, but there is no obvious way to diagnose or treat wild animals. Hunters are requested to submit tissue from suspected diseased deer for testing. Recent news stories on the web include a report that "Bovine tuberculosis...has now spread among buffalo all over the Kruger Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, and 12 percent of dead badgers have been found with bovine tuberculosis in Wales where legislation is pending to slaughter badgers."

This story represents an incursion into a seldom surfaced problem in our troubled world. I share it because of my childhood experience of losing my sister, and trust it will be of at least passing interest to my readers.

Copyright © 2006 by Lois Barton

Look for more stories about Hawaii coming to The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte soon!

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 88 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life-long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: What Is a Quilt?

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Quakers in the British Virgin Islands

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Manta Rays, and Dandelions, A Poem, also introducing Carolann Krohn

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Those Husky Macadamia Nuts

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Fender's Blue, a Nine Day Wonder

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Frannie and the Arrow

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Bhavia's Cambodia

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of the Smoking Chimney

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of Big Oak Stables

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Fishy Story

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Different Peace

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2006 by West By

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