The Government decided to assist in what would now be called “Opportunities for Farmers”– or was it “Opportunities for Cows?” They sent a huge, perfectly built animal named “Rayalta Faithful General.” He looked like the side of a barn. In his pen in the barn he looked frightening but actually was quite gentle.
The required time passed for his offspring to start arriving. But nothing happened. Then a few calves were born in scattered areas. Again the rounds were made and again the same results — only a few calves. We went for two years with no cows having calves. In fact, one spring we had to buy canned milk! Every farmer, including ourselves was in a rage! Calves that should have been bred weren’t even born.
A Government Bull Inspector along with a veterinarian arrived at the time we had custody of Rayalta. They discovered he had a rare disease, undetected, that had affected every cow he had tried to breed and which prevented them from having calves. Apparently he was not curable, so he was shipped out. The inspector arrived when we were using canned milk and I told him in no uncertain terms how much us and the whole country were upset. I was furious. He got into his car, stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Do you want me to send you the ring out of his nose for a souvenir?” Then he left pretty darned fast! Fortunately the cows were curable when bred to good stock. The herds grew and soon there was milk, butter and beef for sale again.
Follow up to Mrs. Hopkins’ account: Mrs. Hopkins’ story was not fully told. The “disease” was commonly called “contagious abortion” in cattle and had been identified for some years. The brucellosis bacterium had first been isolated in goats on the island of Malta. There, too, it was discovered that it could be transmitted to humans in unpasteurized milk and butter made from unpasteurized cream. Some time before 1934 it had been appearing in what was called “Malta fever” or “undulant fever” in humans on the prairies. Many fine dairy herds were put out of business, and compulsory pasteurization of creamery dairy products was hastened.
Not only did an infected person develop an often-mystifying health condition of recurrent attacks of low fever, weakness and profound depression. But sometimes it took an acute form which might resemble tuberculosis (without bacilli in the sputum) or arthritis, or “glandular fever” or “rheumatic fever” or other such conditions. It frequently left the heart or kidneys badly damaged and resulted in early death. More shocking was the discovery that it could also cause spontaneous abortion in humans.
In an era where “dairy butter” was a cash crop that kept many households in groceries, if the farmwoman made an acceptable product, probably few people were not exposed. Once established there was no cure for the condition which tended to recur, almost regularly. The author [DHC] was one of those who somehow contracted the disease, with the consequence of a year of invalidism in 1954-55. Ordinary newly introduced antibiotics could not stop the recurring fever.
Dr. Hugh J. O’Brien must be given the credit for bringing hope and assistance, when, on his return from a course in an Eastern Medical School, he was able to prescribe a combination of antibiotics that “arrested” the brucellosis. It can never be cured.
Because blood samples could not be kept properly for air-transport to the city for testing, Dr. O’Brien had to rely on his outstanding ability as a diagnostician — and the patient’s willingness to risk the sometimes dangerous drugs.
Looking back one could see that there was an extreme incidence of severe — and often fatal — rheumatic fever in the thirty’s and forty’s, not to speak of lost babies through miscarriages.
The price of Rayalta’s unfortunate contribution and that of other reported diseased animals in the area cannot be assessed.