I was the veterinarian for a livestock company in the northwest. We had 10,000 cows on six ranches in five states with a progressive, well-managed cow/calf operation. The year was 1976.
In October, I preg-tested our cows in Owyhee county Idaho. The conception rate was 92 percent.
Albert managed that set of 2,000 cows and he was concerned…it should have been 94 percent. We discussed it. I thought 92 percent was pretty good and he conceded the range was worse than last year. I made no effort to find a cause.
The next fall we worked the cattle again and the conception was down to 90 percent. Albert had been right. I learned a lesson and set about seeking an answer. I must say that infertility and abortion in big herds is very difficult to confirm. I went through the testable disease: vibrio, lepto, IBR, poison plants, selenium, foothill abortion, metabolic disorders and finally Trichamoniasis.
It was a wild longshot! I had never diagnosed it, nor had I ever heard of anyone who did. But, I went through the collection procedure on 12 head of Albert’s bulls. I had a small laboratory and was good at parasitology in vet school. There, under my microscope, swimming across the petri dish, was a one-celled protozoan with flagellae breast-stroking itself across my screen!
I examined all of the dishes several times and found it in two more bull samples. Over the next month I called several authorities, professors, state veterinarians and recommended cow vets. To a man each told me it didn’t exist anymore, it had been eradicated, my sample was a rumen contaminant, it hadn’t been seen since the 1930s.
To humor me my parasitology professor offered to send me some Diamond media to send back samples. I did. He was stunned! It was like I had struck oil or won the Super Bowl! After the discovery smoke had cleared, I set out to find a cure. The old vet books said Trich is related to the protozoan that causes Blackhead in turkeys.
Let me condense the next several months: I diagnosed Trich at EVERY ranch - Positive bulls were culled – all others were treated individually, orally with a 16 oz. dosing syringe – black bucket, caught, haltered, head pulled up with a ten-foot A frame with block and tackle, and tied it to my rear bumper for 5 days in a row.
Sarcastic remark: It really got fun by the third day.
I put on meetings for the neighbors, the local vets, the state cattlemen; I became a minor authority. The lesson I learned was to pay attention to Albert. I read articles nowadays discussing the control, prevention and treatment of Trich.
To me it seemed a monumental task, but the hard way was the only way. I remember a call from a cattleman in Las Vegas, NV whose herd had been diagnosed positive. He was griping about having to treat his bulls, so much work, what a pain, is there any other way…He went on and on.
Finally I said, “Just quit yer cryin’, bite the bullet and man-up for goodness sake!”
He said, “You don’t understand…my bulls are Longhorns!”
Baxter Black is a cowboy poet, former large animal veterinarian and entertainer of the agricultural masses. As he puts it, “he has a narrow following, but it’s deep!” He resides in Benson, Arizona. Additional information about him can be found at baxterblack.com.