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An Overview: The Cattle Industry
Chad Lattin
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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This paper will focus on a shift in scholarly focus in the cattle industry. A shift has taken place from profitability, to a focus on improved production for disease prevention purposes. Early in the period of cattle herding, diseases were not given much attention, other than their having an effect on profitability. More recently, a shift has occurred to focus on how the diseases can be controlled. The shift has taken place because many are now concerned with the threat of human illness through diseased beef contact. In the early 1900s scholars, authors and ranchers would see that their cattle would die because of disease and this would lead to a reduction in their profits. They began to look for economic solutions and not worry about the disease. Not until recently was a connection made between diseases in the beef and human illnesses, and efforts to control the diseases were made. Restrictions have been put in place and new scientific production methods have been developed to control the disease, although not solely for profit purpose, but rather public health. As George Gray, scholar and author, points out that "vigorous enforcement of rules keeps risks to a minimum, but the possibility of an outbreak cannot be completely eliminated" (14). The public wants to keep the diseases under control and not spread to food, and so the regulations have been more strictly enforced and production methods have been adjusted accordingly. To better understand the cattle industry, a look into the history is helpful to recognize the relation of disease and production. The link has always been in place, but efforts to improve based on spread and not profit have only been occurring recently.

The cattle industry has a long history in the Great Plains region. Native American tribes had actually begun herding cattle before the civil war. The tribes would export the cattle to many different places and actually created the process of herding for profit. Michael Doran points out that "the qualities of the Indian cattle were such that in the following year a missionary observer enthusiastically predicted that soon much of the market demand of the South would be supplied from the Territory" (54). This demand for the cattle would have come from the appearance alone, and not from the health of the cattle. This supply of the beef to the market in the South never took place because of the looming Civil War. The industry that the tribes had created was destroyed during the civil war, when both the North and South forces killed or stole the cattle, and the tribes had to give up the industry. The tribes could not return to the same herding practices after being nearly wiped out from the Civil War. Historians now credit the creation of the industry to the culture of the Texas ranchers (48). To better understand this information is difficult because "the only census data available for antebellum cattle are from the Chickasaw Nation, where 14,788 animals were counted in an enumeration that also listed 4,715 citizens" (53).

Much has been done to better understand the history. The history of the industry can help the current producers in their operations. For example, the Chisholm Trail, a major part of the cattle trade in the mid 1800s, ended abruptly in one year's time. The author David Galenson explores the cost issues as the reason for the trail ending, but another scholar Taylor Dennen disagrees with this view. Galenson says that cattle ranchers in Texas were pushed out by more economic means like the railroad. When the railroad industry began shipping the cattle from various regions to one destination with a mass processing facility, the cost of driving the cattle along the land was not economically ideal (353). Galenson also says that the age of the cattle in production encouraged some Texas ranchers to keep their cattle and wait to get a higher profit for the more mature cattle. On the other hand, Taylor Dennen examines the possibility of diseased cattle from Texas prompting the surrounding states to adopt quarantine laws, thus causing the trail to end so quickly. When a disease that had origins in Texas, known  as Texas fever, was expressed in the cattle being driven along the trail to the main destination in Kansas and surrounding states, those states enacted the laws to protect their cattle (458). This was done out of concern for profit and not for concern about the spread of the disease. When they could no longer drive their cattle because of the laws, profit was decreased and the ranchers then began to look for alternate markets and modes of transportation. Dennen also shows the economic impact on the Texas ranchers since, "about that same time, Colorado and New Mexico adopted quarantine laws; although these laws were less severe than the Kansas one, they still raised the costs of cattle drovers substantially" (459). The concern about profit was the major concern because many of the cattle would die before they were sold.

To examine how these diseases can widely effect the industry, the diseases are studied to better understand them. Cattle Today Inc., an information source for some in the industry, looks at the diseases and provides information on many, such as anaplasmosis, anthrax, and brucellosis. This information source tells its readers "in order to profitably operate a cattle operation it is important to know about these diseases and how to control and treat them" (Diseases of Cattle). The Mad Cow disease, for example, is described as, "extremely contagious and spreads rapidly unless it is contained, "to control it, "usually requires quarantining infected farms, followed by slaughtering and burning all susceptible animals" (Diseases of Cattle). Understanding the diseases prompted some to try and control them to improve the industry. A connection between the diet of the cattle and the growth and spread of diseases, such as e coli, has been made along with an effort to improve the diets. Jennifer Couzin, scholar on the topic tells:
The digestive tracts of cattle nurture some of the most virulent strains of E. coli, which can later find their way into beef and also into other foods that come in contact with infected manure. Since the Second World War, cattle diets have shifted from hay to starchy grain feed. And the Cornel team, …, now shows that the digestive systems of cows fed have generate less than 1% of the E. coli found in the feces of grain-fed animals. (1578)
In efforts to improve the industry, scientific methods are being used in ranching and herding. Scientific teams study the diets, like the team from Cornel in the Couzin article, as sources of disease as well as means to spread the disease.

Disease effecting cattle trade has been a problem for a long time. Mad Cow disease is the disease causing many regulations today. The trade with Great Britain, the area most affected with the disease, has been restricted because of the threat of the spread of the disease. No forms of the meat can be imported to the US, as George Gray explains, "the systems in place break the cycles by which the disease spreads." (14) This stoppage of the trade and sanctions within Great Britain are in efforts to put a stop to the disease. The trade has been effected by disease before, but Great Britain imposed regulations on the trade with American beef around 1900. These regulations came from problems with packing and shipping of the meat, thus causing the spread of disease. Richard Perren describes the problems with the earlier shipping methods, because the meat can take, "longer to pass through the critical range of temperature where the large ice crystals are formed and the damage is done" (431). More advanced shipping methods have been developed, causing the trade to increase, because the threat of the spread of the disease is now minimalized. The advanced methods showed that:
The problem of the ice crystals can be overcome by rapid freezing, but this is a twentieth-century innovation which was not available to nineteenth-century refrigeration engineers. From this point of view, it follows that the frozen beef brought from South America in the nineteenth century was less palatable than the chilled beef which cam from the United States, and this is was partly accounted for its lower price. (431)
This shows that early in the cattle industry the focus was still on profit and not on the spread of disease. The price of the beef with the better shipping methods would be sold for more money, and the beef that had lesser shipping methods would not be sold for as much. Inadvertently, the disease problem with ice crystals was solved, but the beef was restricted in order to increase profit and not for the chance that the public would become sick through the contaminated meat. Perren also illustrates that:
In the early years of the trade conditions were very bad…, but in response to public misgivings and government inquiries and inspection, the shippers were forced to improve such conditions. Also, from their point of view, with insurance and freight cost to be paid, it was ultimately in their best interests that the cattle arrived in Liverpool or London in a fresh condition with unbruised flesh and having lost as little weight as possible on the voyage. (436)
The shippers has to improve their methods for economic purposes. The bruised flesh and weight loss could have been an early sign of disease and the shippers could not afford to loose their profit by the cattle being turned away.

C.J. Phillips, author and scholar on the topic, describes in his book, Principles of Cattle Production, that, "in the long term, antibiotics will probably have restricted use as the ability of pathogenic bacteria may be greater than our ability to find new antibiotics. Farmers must therefore be prepared to use more prophylactic measures, such as reducing the stock density of cattle and keeping them cleaner, to prevent disease transfer" (444). The modern book on the cattle industry illustrates a shift in focus that is now widely held. The focus in the cattle industry has shifted from a focus on production to a link with diseases and production methods. Early authors debated on how to improve production, as to increase numbers and profit, such as Galenson describes. Now, more recently, a focus shift has occurred to examine disease and production together, such as Phillips explains. The scholars now worry about disease effects on humans, which is given much attention in main stream thought and media. The authors and scholars before main debate was to increase profit through production at any means. The threat of Mad Cow disease spreading to humans has been in wide news coverage for some time, prompting many of the changes in the industry today. The shift in focus comes from the better understanding of the disease and improving the production methods with the threat of a possible spread to humans. A link with profitability has always been in place but in order to keep the industry together, the threat of spreading the disease to humans has become the major concern for many.

Works Cited

Couzin, Jennifer. "Cattle Diet Linked to Bacterial Growth." Science 281.5383 (Sept., 1998): 1578.

Dennen, R. Taylor. "Cattle Trailing in the Nineteenth Century." The Journal of Economic History 35.2 (Jun., 1975): 458-60.

Diseases of Cattle. Cattle Today Inc. 21 Feb. 2003. http://www.cattletoday.info/.

Doran, Michael F. "Antebellum Cattle Herding in the Indian Territory." Geographical Review 66.1 (Jan., 1976): 48-58.

Galenson, David. "The End of the Chisholm Trail." The Journal of Economic History 34.2 (Jun., 1974): 350-64.

Gray PhD, George, Silvia Kreindel and David Ropeik. "Made Cow Disease Risk in the United States; Does Perceived Threat Overshadow True Likelihood of Occurrence?" Postgraduate Medicine 111.2 (Feb., 2002): 13.

Perren, Richard. "The North American Beef and Cattle Trade with Great Britain, 1897-1914." The Economic History Review 24.3 (Aug., 1971): 430-44.

Phillips, C. J. C. Principles of Cattle Production. New York, New York: CBI Publishing, 2001.

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