THE DAILY TELEGRAPH,
Wednesday 21 March 2001, p. 6.
by Charles Clover
ONLY one exception to the policy of slaughtering all stock with foot and mouth disease has been allowed by the Ministry of Agriculture since 1878. That was on the Duke of Westminster's Eaton Hall estate in Cheshire during the 1922-24 epidemic.
The second duke's herds manager, Henry Pakenham Hamilton, later wrote a pamphlet explaining how he had nursed about 400 cattle, including the celebrated Eaton herd of dairy shorthorns, 300 sheep and 250 pigs, almost all pedigree stock, through the outbreak of 1923-4.
When the disease was diagnosed on Nov 2, 1923, the duke, who was opposed to the slaughter policy, told the ministry that his farms were almost isolated because so many of the surrounding farms had had their stock slaughtered.
He pointed out that the ministry, at that time, refused to pay compensation at above the commercial rate for pedigree stock.
The ministry agreed to let the duke treat his stock, provided that he bore all the losses and expenses involved, and conformed to the ministry's isolation regulations. These were to last until the end of June 1924.
The duke's staff and vets began treating a disease of which none had any experience. A system of treatment recommended by the vets proved too complicated to carry out because of the numbers of cattle involved. Hamilton and his staff fell back on simple remedies recommended by old men who remembered what was done before the slaughter policy was introduced.
These consisted of syringing the feet and mouth with a solution of salt and water. When the blisters burst the feet were dressed with Stockholm tar and the tongue recovered without further treatment.
To prevent the cattle standing in manure or urine which could re-infect them, a round-the-clock watch was kept and their droppings removed. Hamilton said: "That was the answer. Keep the cow's feet clean for two to five days after the blisters burst until the sores healed up and all our troubles were over."
He wrote: "Among the milking cows we did come up against blisters forming on the teats. They sealed the end of the teats over and when we did have to draw any milk from the udder we had to break the blisters every time to get the milk out of the end of the teat."
Nature provided an answer to this problem, as the animals were so ill for the days the fever lasted that they produced almost no milk, and they did not return to their previous yield until the following lactation.
The cows were off their food for a few days until the blisters on their tongues burst, but recovered swiftly and within two to three weeks were back to normal, except for the few that got septic feet.
Two cows did die during this period, but neither death could be put down to foot and mouth.
An indication of the success of the cure was that several animals that had had the disease in November and December were exhibited at the Royal Show on July 1 and won several prizes.
When Hamilton wrote up his recollections 44 years later, during the 1967 outbreak, he said: "The treatment of the disease is quite an easy matter if good accommodation is available for the animals being treated, and sufficient experienced labour is available during the first week of the outbreak, during which time keeping the feet clean is most essential."