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Chapter 3 Breeding Cows,Maximizing Milk British Veterinarians and the Livestock Economy, 1930–50 Abigail Woods World War II precipitated dramatic changes in British agriculture, as enemy action and the need to preserve scarce shipping space undermined the nation’s traditional reliance on food imports. Formerly a marginal industry that had struggled for economic survival throughout the interwar depression, agriculture became central to the health, strength, and fighting capacity of the nation. Under the direction of the state, the prevailing “low input–low output” approach was replaced by a drive for production at almost any cost. Milk was central to this campaign. Interwar advances in nutritional science had designated it a “protective food” essential for health.1 Moreover, there was considerable capacity for its production within Great Britain.Interwar dairy farming had proved relatively immune from foreign competition and attracted many new converts, especially following the 1933 establishment of the Milk Marketing Board, which stabilized prices. Government officials therefore hoped that in wartime, increased domestic milk production would provide a substitute for foreign meat, butter, and cheese imports.  | Abigail Woods The wartime demand for milk impacted directly upon Britain’s livestock economy. Shortages of imported feed prevented a substantial expansion in the national dairy herd; therefore, improving milk yields was dependent upon a growth in productivity. To this end, the bodily economy of the dairy cow was subjected to enhanced state scrutiny. Applying an industrial model of production, inputs (feed and labor) were weighed against outputs (milk and calves). Cows that fell below the required standards were branded “passengers” and recommended for culling. Encouraged by high set prices and threatened by eviction if they failed to follow official advice, dairy farmers swiftly adapted to this new system.2 As a factor that impacted adversely on milk yields, disease was awarded new significance within the context of war. Highly contagious livestock diseases had beentargetedbystate“stampingout”(or“cull-and-slaughter”) policies since the later nineteenth century. During the interwar period, public health concerns over bovine tuberculosis resulted in several new state initiatives . However, diseases of production were traditionally regarded as the farmer’s responsibility. Due to a shortage of capital and a lack of regard for veterinary ability, farmers rarely sought professional aid. Instead, ailing cows were marketed, sent to the butcher, or treated with family and patent remedies.3 To circumvent sterility (the failure to breed) and abortion (the premature termination of pregnancy), many farmers kept “flying herds,” maintained by the purchase of freshly calved cows that they sold when milk yields dropped.4 The increasing frequency with which cows changed hands facilitated the spread of disease. In 1934, the Economic Advisory Council’s Committee on Cattle Diseases reported that the average dairy cow survived only half of her useful life. Disease—most importantly reproductive disease—accounted for around half of all disposals from herds and cost farmers 2.5 million pounds a year.5 Since cows produce milk only following the birth of a calf, reproductive disease posed an important challenge to the wartime drive for more milk. Moreover, the new focus on productivity meant that interwar responses to disease were no longer appropriate.6 British veterinarians responded to this situation by devising countermeasures to sterility and abortion and winning state support for their application on farms. Their activities were highly significant: they extended the state’s “reach” over wartime agriculture, contributed to the production drive,created new forms of veterinary expertise , and generated new relationships between veterinarians and farmers. Yet, existing historical accounts have largely ignored such developments. Histories of agriculture in wartime tend to regard the transformation of dairy farming as a political affair, the natural outcome of negotiations be- Breeding Cows, Maximizing Milk |  tween government officials and farmers. Consequently, they do not problematize new farming methods or their development and application by new sets of experts.7 While veterinary histories document the profession’s activities, they do not subject them to detailed analysis on the basis that the benefits of veterinary intervention were self-evident.8 The flawed nature of this assumption is revealed in the following account, which opens with a brief examination of the veterinarian’s role in interwar Britain. I reveal that when war broke out, the increased demand for milk did not automatically translate into a demand for veterinary services. Rather veterinary expertise had to be constructed actively and made relevant to the new context. The profession’s leaders performed this task through the creation of a “Scheme for the Control of Certain...


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