Who are your heroes? For most of us nowadays they are the firefighters, the healthcare workers, EMTs, and the first responders. They are our men and women and the farm families providing food for the community and the workers in our local grocery stores.
As a little girl growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s, I couldn’t wait to hear “Hi-Yo Silver! Away!” on the radio and to follow Roy Rogers and his beautiful Palomino, Trigger, along with Dale Evans and Buttermilk and the Sons of the Pioneers on my record player., My father, grandpa, and Jesus Christ also were there to keep me on the straight and narrow. To me these were true heroes. After all the cowboys could save the damsel in distress, catch the bank robbers, and turn the stampeding herd of cattle away from the canyon rim; Dad and Grandpa were always there for the family; and worship at the local Lutheran church played an important part in my life.
Later when television came to the farm, Lassie and RinTinTin joined the ranks of heroes in this young farm girl’s life.
A knight in a shiny truck
It wasn’t until I started my 4-H sheep project in 1954 that I realized I had found another hero. Oh, he did not come riding in on a beautiful white horse, but rather he drove up the drive in a blue Ford truck. Tall, dark, and handsome, Dr. James Welch and his wife Ruth had moved into the Clinton village in 1946 shortly after completing his tour of duty as a captain in the U.S. Army. He had spent most of his military career stationed at Ft. Snelling as a U.S. meat inspector for the meat being sent to feed our troops during WWII.
Ann Welch, Dr. Welch’s youngest child shared that her Dad and Mom decided to start a practice at Clinton, since it was near her family in Kewaunee and his father’s vet practice in Waukesha. Up until that time, farmers generally relied on some sporadic veterinary services or neighbors who had good husbandry skills.
The barn was always off limits to us kids when trouble loomed. Note: At our farm, women were not overly welcome in the barn at any time and never when “The Vet” was on the premises or calving was taking place. However, this was not always true for daughter, Ann, who often accompanied her father and stood at the head of a cow to calm it when needed.
During the 1950s, Dr. Welch spent much of his time working hard on eradicating tuberculosis, controlling brucellosis, treating a bad case of milk fever or mastitis, relieving the symptoms of bloat, or assisting with a difficult birth. Putting magnets in the cows or flipping stomachs and dehorning cattle also were occasionally done at the farm.
Dr. Welch did not have to come too often, but when his truck came in the driveway, we knew there was a problem.
Problems in the sheep barn
The cows were always the breadwinners of the farm, so conversely, the sheep were usually the last ones to receive extra care. Grandpa Herman believed that sheep were “put on this earth to eat grass, keep the orchard mowed, and to produce enough wool to pay for the shearing each year.” Most vets and farmers believed in the adage that “a sick sheep was a dead sheep.”
However, I wasn’t buying that. One morning I went to the sheep barn to check on a 2-week-old, big muscular Corriedale lamb. His mother had been feeding him well, so I was upset to find him lying on his side with his head thrown back and his front legs protruding stiffly forward. Had the ewe laid on him? At this time, I only had five registered ewes, so every lamb was precious, and I had never seen this affliction before.
I quickly ran to the barn, “Dad, the single buck lamb looks like he’s been stepped on. He can’t get up.”
Just then Dr. Welch drove in. After impatiently waiting out in the cold, damp sheep shed and trying my darndest to get the lamb up and to nurse for what seemed like hours, I looked up and there he was. My hero had come! Oh, what a relief! I just knew Dr. Welch could fix this lamb.
He checked the lamb over carefully, talked to Dad for a few minutes and then offered a little advice. “The best thing you can do is feed really good leafy alfalfa to the sheep a few weeks before lambing,” and then he prophetically added, “Not much chance that it will survive ‘cause a sick sheep is usually a dead sheep.”
Then the veterinarian reassured me saying, “You’re doing a really good job with your sheep, so keep up the excellent work.”
There’s help in the asking
Now, I would like to tell you that the lamb lived, but it did not. However, I never had another lamb get White Muscle Disease until we moved to the selenium deficient area of Wisconsin near Rhinelander. However, by this time I knew what we were up against and figured there had to be a treatment besides Vitamin E from alfalfa by the ‘70s. I contacted Dr. Art Pope at the UW-Wisconsin and he informed me about Bo-Se which served the purpose at that time. Feeding mineral with selenium was also recommended.
Overeating Disease, Sore Mouth, E. coli, foot rot and other diseases have been researched and cures or treatments found. We have our local vets to thank for their expertise and knowledge. Lots of large animal vets like working with dairy cows, a few enjoy hogs, but every once in a while I come in contact with a vet who really likes sheep and knows the ins and outs of raising these smelly, sometimes stubborn, often slow in the head wonderful animals.
Finally, a sick sheep is not automatically considered a dead sheep due to the veterinarian heroes in our midst. Dr. Welch continued the practice until 1977 and then moved to the Mondovi area. He was nobly assisted along the way by other great vets, including but not limited to Drs. Clefish, Rosenberger, Burns, Sirnek, King, Hahn, Mueller, Ibling, Hargarten, Stevens, and a whole new generation of men and women who continue to supply herd and animal health in the Clinton area and beyond. We are so fortunate. Thanks to all our hero veterinarians!