This post contains an article from Marias River Livestock Associations November 2012, Post Rider newsletter. The information is still relevant today.

I just wanted to add this excerpt from an article on APHIS efforts to eradicate brucellosis to help put it in perspective.

Efforts to eradicate brucellosis caused by Brucella abortus in the United States began in 1934 as part of an economic recovery program to reduce the cattle population because of the Great Depression and concurrent severe drought conditions. A number of states saw this as an opportunity to reduce the level of brucellosis, which was the most significant livestock disease problem in the US at the time. In 1934 and 1935, the reactor rate in adult cattle tested was 11.5%. In 1954, the magnitude of the brucellosis problem in the United States in terms of economics to the cattle industry and human health prompted Congress to appropriate funds for a comprehensive national effort to eradicate brucellosis. The brucellosis eradication program was designed as a cooperative effort between the federal government, the states, and livestock producers. As the science and technology of brucellosis has developed over the years through research and experience, the eradication program has been modified many times. As of 31 December 2000, there were no affected cattle herds in the United States. This was the first time in the history of the brucellosis program that the United States had no known brucellosis affected herds.

Post Rider,   November 2012

A while back I was on the phone with Val Tuma, from over in the Cut Bank area, and she said something that really stuck in my mind.  “We need to share the history of Brucellosis with the younger people.  We need to share while there is still people who remember about grave yards full of babies who died of Whooping Cough, about the friends who were crippled as children due to Polio, about the Bangs infected milk cow in the barn.  All of these diseases have faded away and people don’t take them serious anymore, but they could be back in a moment if we don’t take care.”

Well, the opportunity to share jumped out at me during our last Membership meeting when we had Brucellosis as the topic.  Jeannette Rankin from Kicking Horse Gelbvieh, stood up and mentioned that she had worked in a lab that tested for brucellosis in cattle back in the 1950’s.

I got a hold of Jeannette after the meeting and asked for more information, which she was glad to supply including copies of old newspaper articles she had gotten from the lady whom she had worked for back then.

Jeannette Rankin had never been involved with cattle when she first married George and moved to the ranch in the Sweet Grass Hill, so at that time she didn’t understand  all the fuss about brucellosis.  In the mid-1950’s about 1955, she applied for a job with Ed and Kelly Dashaw, who needed a person to run brucellosis tests on blood samples from cattle.  Jeanette had been trained as a lab tech and was qualified for the job.  Ed use to worry though as she was pregnant and he was afraid she would knock things over with her growing belly.

Brucellosis or Bangs can cause abortion in cattle, but doesn’t  in humans.  Dr Wilkins, State Veterinarian, in 1953, was quoted as saying.  “If we can eliminate brucellosis in cattle, we can eliminate undulant fever in humans.” Undulant Fever was common in households that drank raw milk at that time.

Deshaw’s had a portable mobile home type trailer that they pulled from town to town to do the testing.  It was a small trailer parked on the north east side of Shelby.

Jeannette would drive to Shelby and stay with her Aunt Sig Grinde all week and then go home on the weekends.

At that time there were only 3 eastern states that were clear of brucellosis.  In order for the government to come and do the testing 75 % of the ranchers owning 50% of the cattle and owning 75% of the land in the county had to agree to co-operate.  Petitions or cards were sent out to the ranchers and when enough had signed/ agreed then the testing could start.

The program began in Montana, September 1, 1953. It was a combined effort between the United States Department of Agriculture’s animal disease eradication branch and the Montana Livestock Sanitary Board.  They hoped to clear Montana’s then 2 million cattle of Brucellosis within 5 years.

The original testing and vaccination of the cattle was done at no expense to the livestock producer in the program (other than the taxes we all pay).   Testing and slaughter of infected cows with vaccination of calves was the plan to clear the counties and then the State of the disease.

It was not until 1985 that Montana’s cattle were declared brucellosis free.  It was a long hard fight, taking 32 years and 30 million dollars from the Montana Livestock industry.

The old newspaper articles are hard to read but I decided to include them anyhow as a way of honoring the dedication and hard work of past livestock producers.

Let us remember before it is too late.

Please click on link  below to see PDF of article

Article in 1954 Billings Gazette about work to eradicate Brucellosis in Montana


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