Evolution of Veterinary Medicine


Confession: I am an #AgNerd. Yes, I keep most of my Animal Science class material from college classes, you can occasionally find my in the library avoiding a paper by reading recent research from the Journal of Animal Science, and I seem to collect old books and material on cattle topics. So rummaging through the office this week, I was excited to find a cattle book from 1916!

Originally published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1892, Diseases of Cattle covers many ailments and diseases affecting cattle during the early 20th Century. Compared to the modern Merck Veterinary Manual that many producers use, this book uses much simpler language, but still contains many of the diseases ranchers encounter today. Of course, there are a few included that we now have under control. The book even has diagrams of affected tissues and organs like pneumonia in lungs, tuberculosis in liver and udder tissues, and abnormal presentation of calves. Though I have not yet figured out why all of the cattle pictured have horns; not a single polled cow in the book.

The chapters go into detail describing the ailments, symptoms, and 1916 remedies for the problems. Some of the remedies are homemade solutions or using ingredients that would just seem bizarre today, but give a good impression of what veterinary medicine was like 100 years ago.

The treatment for a retained placenta is a recipe of an ounce of ground ginger, half an ounce of black pepper given with a quart of sweet oil, or 1.5 pounds of Glauber’s salt in at least 4 quarts of warm water. Other suggested remedies include flaxseed tea, rue, savin, laurel, and carminatives like anise, cumin, and coriander.

The treatment for “Foul in Foot” (Foot Rot) includes a thorough cleansing and application of carbolic-acid solution, clean stabling, and laxative food, which should “remedy the evil.” Creosol compounds, pine tar, a poultice of flaxseed meal or bran, and amputation are also recommended.

The control for flies is a homemade mixture of common laundry soap, water, crude petroleum, and powdered naphthalin.

These are just a few of the remedies in the nearly 600-page book on cattle diseases. One thing I noticed as I was flipping through the dusty pages was how far veterinary medicine has progressed since 1916. Sure, we still have home-remedies for common ailments, but we also have modern drugs, better understanding, and management skills to recognize problems sooner, treat the problem more precisely, and better prevent many things from ever happening.

Is our work in producing livestock perfect? No. Are we constantly working to improve upon what we do? I certainly have experienced improvements in animal handling, feeding, and health in my short life. Make no mistake about it, as livestock and food producers; we are constantly working to be better. It is all a part of how modern cattlemen are producing more with fewer resources.

Another great example of how veterinary medicine has progressed is the book “Up To My Armpits” mentioned on my Readings and Ruminations page.

Do you have any old books from your interest areas? In what ways have you seen technology in those areas evolve?

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2 Comments

  1. My grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Stone of Brunswick County, N.C., was a tobacco, grain and livestock farmer in the 1800’s. According to my mother, there were no veterinarians, as such, but my grandfather came to be one by his self-learned skill in treating livestock and was called upon by the farmers in the area as their local veterinarian whenever their livestock got sick or needed help. She used to tell me of some of the ‘medicines’ he used. Wish I could remember but they are long-ago forgotten. Thanks for the reminder. During our years raising cattle, we always had excellent vets available. Even managed a farm for one.

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