Thursday 18 June 2015

Foot and Mouth

Having seen a programme on the television the other evening regarding past rural matters and including an item on lime production and the uses it was put to, I was reminded of Foot and Mouth, and of the time this disease came to the area around Kingsley. Not recalling the dates of this particular event I resorted to the magic of the internet and there appears to have been two major outbreaks. As far as I can establish the outbreak which I recall most vividly would appear to have been that of 1957. Given that I was twelve at the time and travelling to school in Alton on a daily basis, I think this is probably the outbreak which came back to me so clearly. There was, however, another outbreak of the disease in the mid sixties but that seems to have been confined to areas rather more to the north of Hampshire centring upon Cheshire.

So assuming, as I am, the following events took place in the fifties. As is the case today, the Government of the day went into their standard procedure for dealing with Foot and Mouth. All movement of cloven hoofed animals was stopped within a wide radius of the infected farm or farms .This meant sheep, cattle and pigs. But in the area close to the infection all farm movements of almost every farm product ceased. Local markets and abattoirs were closed down causing a major impact upon the rural economy. It was widely believed and, the internet tells me, the outbreak in question was as a result of infected beef products from Argentina. In those days large amounts of beef was imported from that country. Not least Fray Bentos corned beef.

The standard Government policy then, as now, was to slaughter large numbers of farm animals. Not only were the infected animals slaughtered but also healthy stock from farms all around the infection zone. Foot baths appeared at the gates of all farms and anyone entering or leaving the farm premises had to walk through these disinfection sites. I can only imagine the impact that terrible outbreak had upon the local farmers. Of course the Government compensated the farmers for their imposed losses, but as with all things official the wheels of government do not move with any great speed. Since many of the farmers in the Kingsley area were livestock farmers I imagine they had a pretty tough time of it for a fairly prolonged period.

Not with standing all of the above, my most vivid recollections of this disease were the sights which met the eyes when witnessing the disposal of the huge numbers of dead animals. As far as we were concerned one of the local disposal sites was at East Worldham. Upon leaving Kingsley and travelling along the B3004 and along Green Street towards Worldham the site was on the left hand side. As one reaches the bottom of Worldham hill there is a wooded hill on the left which is known as King Johns Hill, between it and the road was a grassy field forming something of a bank. It was into this bank the slaughtered stock found their last resting place. Various diggers and bulldozers gouged out huge white trenches, white because of the chalk. Into these trenches load after load of bloated carcases were dumped from high sided lorries. Each time we passed in the bus this was the spectacle that met our eyes. Truly awful. The whole thing seemed to go on for ages but, I suspect, it was days rather than weeks. Having dumped the carcasses into the trenches they were covered with quick lime which burns when it becomes damp. This, I understand, has the double effect of breaking down the volume of the dead bodies and killing of any infection that might remain active. I don’t know if quick lime is still used for such purposes or, indeed, if it is still produced in sufficient quantities. I seem to recall in the most recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth disposal of carcasses was achieved by incineration.

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