Guest Post: Fallout for Cows

04/04/2011 at 7:46 pm Leave a comment

Media outlets recently reported on radioactive fallout, specifically iodine-131, from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant appearing in the Pacific Northwest’s milk supply. They say the public shouldn’t be concerned, and the levels of toxin found are significantly below the levels at which the government would issue warnings of concern, but…

I read these stories and I picture cows in Hazmat suits grazing on glow in the dark fields of grass, a la The Farside cartoons.

In 1966, Extension was doing Gary Larson one up with a publication called: Protecting Family and Livestock from Nuclear Fallout. It was written by Extension educator R. Cavaletto in response to worries from Oregon dairy farmers during the height of the Cold War.

Today’s guest post comes from an Extension employee of the Boomer generation who remembers some of the earlier radiation scares.

My memories of the Cold War involve air raid drills, when as little kids, we practiced hiding under tiny school desks to save ourselves from a nuclear attack.  As if, we thought. Duck-and-cover became the stuff of a generation of jokes, and 40 years after the fact, the thought of a barnful of cows doing the same thing made us chuckle. Ah, those were the days, we thought.

Then the earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

We heard reports of damaged nuclear power plants, partial meltdowns, and contaminated crops and milk downwind from the crippled reactors. Elevated levels of radiation forced families to evacuate the area. But, of course, you can’t evacuate a farm. Japanese dairy farmers stayed with their herds and continued to milk because the health of their cows required it.

I wondered if these Japanese dairy farmers had a safe place for their cows – and themselves. I wondered if the well-stocked bunkers described by Professor Cavaletto in his Extension publication would have made any difference to the health of the cows and the quality of the milk.

Thankfully, Oregon dairy farmers never had to test the effectiveness of nuclear fallout shelters for cows. The publication describing their design was pulled from the Extension catalog after a few years, lingering only as an entry in the OSU Archives.

The current Extension catalog contains research-based information on dairy health, mad cow disease, and problems that seem much more immediate than protecting cows from nuclear fallout. But since March 11, Professor Cavaletto’s publication doesn’t make me laugh so much. It was right for its time. What will we need to know tomorrow? — The Zetetic

Entry filed under: Current Events.

To Till or Not To Till Where There is Risk

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