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Cattle Scab


Western North Dakotan cattlemen were in an uproar on this date in 1904 after hearing of a ranchers' meeting in Helena, Montana the previous day. The meeting was called to select a committee to travel to Washington and argue against proposed legislation requiring the dipping of cattle to prevent the spread of cattle scab.

Scab, or mange, is a skin infection of microscopic mites. It results in itching, hair loss, and damage to an animal's skin. The parasites are similar to lice in behavior, but are relatives of the spider family. They spread through physical contact, making livestock herds especially vulnerable. In the early 1900s, scab became rampant on the western frontier, most commonly spread when cattle were rounded up prior to shipment east or when ranchers imported animals, creating a path of infection. In response to the scab epidemic, many states, including North Dakota, enacted strict measures. Some states, however, refused to deal with the issue, and scab became prevalent. North Dakotan ranchers were especially upset with neighboring Montanans, who did nothing to eradicate scab, presenting the risk of spreading the infection across the state line. Many North Dakota herds subsequently became infected.

In 1904, Dr. Hickox of the Bureau of Animal Industry conducted an investigation on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. Hickox's findings led the Secretary of Agriculture to issue an order requiring the dipping of all cattle prior to shipping in states with a high prevalence of the infection. Dipping submerges cattle in a bath with insecticide to kill the mites. The cattle are sent through a trough filled with the dip and swim to the opposite end. At the time, dipping and spraying were the only treatments available, although today injections are frequently used.

The Montana ranchers hoped to send a committee to Washington, D.C. to persuade the Secretary to rescind the measure. However, Hickox found that scab was rampant in every county in Montana, save four. He advised the Secretary that Montana must adhere to the order for at least two years if cattle scab were to be eradicated. North Dakotan ranchers applauded the decision, and breathed a little easier knowing their herds would be slightly more protected against the nefarious scab.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Saturday (Evening ed.), July 2, 1904: p. 12.


Imes, Marion, 1918. Cattle Scab and Methods of Control and Eradication. United States Department of Agriculture, Farmer's Bulletin 1017: Washington, D.C.