D. E. Larsen, DVM
There was nobody around when I pulled into George’s place. I started to get out to knock on a door when I spotted everyone out at the barn. We pulled around the hillside to the barn.
This was great, all the cows were under cover, and the chute and crowding alley were set up in the barn. There would be no working in the rain today.
“This is great, George,” I said as I got out of the truck and shook his hand. “I was thinking that I would be working in the rain today.”
“Yes, this makes life a lot easier for everybody,” George said. “We set this up a couple of years ago. It has proved to be one of my better decisions.”
“I think we have a lot to do today,” I said. “You have made me hit the books a bit. I don’t often see a diagnosis of Johne’s Disease.”
“When the USDA started this program of Johne’s free herds, we decided that it would be a good thing to get in on the ground floor,” George said. “If we are one of the few purebred herds in the state that can advertise as being Johne’s free, that will have to feather in the hat.”
“You’re probably right on that count,” I said. “This is a brand new program, and I am not confident they have all the bugs worked out of the system. But we can at least get the initial herd test done. That will give you a big head start.”
“What do you know Johne’s Disease, Doc?” George asked.
“Not much, George,” I said. “I have no memory of it growing up. But those were different times. Most of the herds were small, and most were closed herds. If anyone bought a replacement heifer, it usually came from a neighboring herd or from another herd in the extended family. There wasn’t a lot of movement of cattle through the sale barns except for cows being sold from the farm. I can’t remember a cow coming onto the place from a sale barn.”
“They say it is becoming more of a problem,” George said.
“I am sure it is,” I said. “I think it is a bigger problem in dairies. My understanding is that it is transmitted to calves at a very young age. That is more likely to happen in a confinement situation than in an open pasture.”
“What about in people?” George asked.
“I was talking with the state veterinarian the other day,” I said. “He was saying that they have tried to link it to Crohn’s Disease for years. The problem they run into is with people like you and me. We have been exposed to cow manure since day one, and most of us have no problem. As far as I know, there is no definite link to people.”
“Well, I want to get certified anyway, so let’s go ahead and get these samples,” George said.
We worked through the herd in a relatively short period of time. Official identification of registered animals is not much of an issue. I only had to collect a tube of blood and a fecal sample from each cow.
When we were finishing up, this large wild turkey suddenly landed in the middle of the barn.
“Where did that guy come from?” I asked.
“This is our resident tom turkey,” George said. “He showed up a couple of years ago, and he seldom leaves the barn. He roosts in the rafters, then flies down to clean up the managers after we feed the cows. I have to admit that I throw a little extra grain out for him once in a while. He can’t get around very well. He has a pretty bad bumblefoot.”
“Boy, I could use one of those tail feathers if he ever sheds one or two,” I said.
“If you only want one or two, I can grab them,” George said.
George walked over and made a grab for the tail on the tom. He missed the first try, and the turkey sort of jumped a squawked a little. But on the second try, George came away with two prime tail feathers.
“What do you use these for?” George asked.
“I tie flies,” I said. “These make great Cate’s Turkey flies. I go through quite a few of these in the spring, up on the high lakes.”
“Well, if you need any more, just let me know,” George said.
“These will last me a long time,” I said. “One of these feathers with tie four or five dozen files.”
We worked George’s herd through the certification process, and he was one of the early beef herds in the state to gain Johne’s Free status.
George told me sometime later that one of the guys he worked with had bought his grandson a shotgun and asked if he could bring his grandson up to shoot the old tom turkey. George consented.
The guy brought the grandson up, and they shot the turkey. Then they took it to some sporting goods store and had it measured. Having lived a few longer than he would have lived in an actual wild situation, the old tom turkey scored very high on the Boone and Crocket chart.
Some Turkey group out of Ohio purchased the bird to have it stuffed.
“The guy never said how much they paid,” George said. “But if I had known that, I would have had one of my grandkids shoot the old guy.”
Photo by D. E. Larsen, DVM