Friday, November 7, 2008

Nebraska Veterinary History Part V


By Dr. Leo L. Lemonds

Within this period or era of Nebraska veterinary history, there was an early period of retrenchment for the profession, a depression and a World War. In 1925, Dr. V.A. Moore wrote, “There has never been a time in the history of veterinary medicine in America when there was a like, or even an approximate succession of events which seem so to threaten veterinary medicine as those which have been recorded in the last few years.” (Jr. AVMA, July 1, 1976, p.58) This period had the agricultural depression of the early 1920’s financial panic of 1927-28 and the economic depression of the dry 1930’s in Nebraska.

The “veterinary depression” of the 1920’s may have been the greatest impetus to the advance of small animal medicine in veterinary medical practice history in Nebraska. It was also during this period that many dog and cat hospital facilities were built, usually in conjunction with large animal facilities. In 1928 the method of immunizing against distemper with the Laidlaw-Dunkin vaccine and in the 1930’s the first tissue vaccines for immunizing cats against feline distemper also gave impetus to small animal practice.

The character of the horse population had changed drastically in this era. Such factors as the movement of tractor harnessed power to the grain fields had simply wiped out the wagon hauling horses’ enroute from the barn to the field. The trolley car in the larger cities such as Lincoln and Omaha no longer used horses. Later – the automobile and truck removed the frayage horses that hauled coal, beer and other goods in most Nebraska towns.

Then came the modern road building era which helped bring farm products, along with the railroads, into the growing cities. Along with the improvement in roads, there also developed an improvement in communications through the telephone. This often expanded the boundaries of a veterinary practice.

The 30’s with its severe depression hit Nebraskans hard. Not the least of which was the veterinarians of that period. Many practitioners left to work for the state and federal Bureaus of Animals Industries in tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication and meat inspection programs. Many remained with the bureaus – others came back home when the economy improved. Some just simply stuck it out in their home towns as best they could – often taking food and other goods as pay.

The assignment to the veterinary profession of the responsibility of livestock auction markets helped many of the large animal practitioners to survive. Later in this period, farm flocks of poultry began disappearing and poultry production was the first of the industries to move into huge-mass production units mostly in southern states. In general, poultry practice was subtracted from the farm animal practice scene.

The greatest shaping influence on farm practice during this era began to occur just before mid-century as the pharmaceutical industry made available to the practitioner so many “miracles” in bottles, tablets and syringes.

The farm animal practitioner of the early 1900’s has been conducting his lonely farmyard struggle with his art and an assortment of available drugs. In his effort to treat pneumonias, septicemias and indeed all infectious diseases, he had to depend on substances which today might sound more like an incantation than ingredients for a prescription – iodine, mux vomica, gentian, ginger, pilocarpine, aconite, camphorated oil, strychnine, copper sulfate, magnesium sulfate, zinc oxide, petrolatum, chloral hydrate and autogenous bacterins.

Then at the end of this era and after World War II, from a dye (Prontosil) a host of chemical compounds was spawned including the sulfa drugs. From nature’s garden, many substances were divided and fractionated. From animal tissues, extracts were characterized and the architecture of complex body molecules unraveled in the highly productive search for new agents of therapeutic value. Products of bacteria and fungi were meticulously reaped and the miracle of antibiotics such as penicillin became a reality.

As the Nebraska practitioner systematically discarded the liquids and powders which he formerly used, he also had to divest himself of a similar amount of presumptive diagnosis and symptomatic treatments. Complex drugs did not necessarily make the job simpler and easier. The greater the drug, the greater must be the comprehension and skill of the user. Each new drug had a spectrum of features demanding understanding and respect.

Finally some of the more specific things that made farm practices easier at the end of this period, were such things as epidural anesthesia (spinal) for cattle, the sophisticated calf-pullers and by the early 1950’s the 2-way radios in almost every practice.

The 2-way radio greatly increased the efficiency of veterinary practices and literally replaced the use of the old party-line telephone. For the busy practitioner, warm meals became more common.

Following World War II, the Nebraska veterinary profession reached its greatest peak in respectability and professionalism. The post-war era was to be a great period of fulfillment for Nebraska veterinarians.

Other articles of interest

College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University
A Brief History

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