Marilyn Hershey
There is a lot of talk about viruses these days.

I respect the serious response that people are paying to coronavirus. I would rather have precautionary measures put in place than potentially have an overwhelming epidemic.

Working around viruses is not new for farmers; we deal with germs and bacteria every day. Aside from the unique strain, even coronavirus is not new for our animals, employees, or the environments we work in.

The many recommendations on how to handle the virus, are not far from the standard protocols on our farm. Like most dairymen, we vaccinate against viruses and infections, we wear gloves when working with the animals, and we sanitize.

But we all know that viruses still live, even on farms where standard operating procedures (SOPs) are strictly followed. Viruses and bacteria are prolific, and if left unattended, their numbers grow.

Calves need a strong immune system to keep them healthy in this volatile environment. Colostrum is their best defense. The natural immunities from colostrum builds strong barriers for the newborns, and with this immunity, they can typically fight off the bad bugs.

Healthy conditions are needed for them to continue through with good health, especially for our newborn housing, vaccinations, and SOPs. As soon as that mindset goes sideways, so does our success rate.

A few years ago, our veterinarian recommended that we wear latex milking gloves when working with the calves. It significantly reduces germs traveling from calf-to-calf, and it is much safer for the person who is working with the sick calf.

There are, however, times that I forget. One time I had been working on a sick calf and forgot to take off my gloves right after leaving the hutch. While walking back to the barn, I lost my hair tie and instinctively reached up with messy gloves to tie back my hair. That smell churns my stomach, so I did not even make it to the barn. I went right to the shower and washed and rewashed my hair until the smell was gone. Hey, at least I didn’t cover my mouth to sneeze. That would have been a worse reminder.

This past winter, some of our preventative measures were set aside. I am not exactly sure what went wrong first, but vitamins were not given at birth, colostrum was not properly administered, and the weather was volatile. We soon found ourselves with an outbreak, and the calves were not faring well.

Stopping an outbreak is not easy. It starts by stepping back and resetting current practices.

Germs will spread on clothing and boots, so I tried to keep one person designated to sick calves, and they start by treating the least sick and finish with the most sick. I also tried to make sure the person dealing with sick ones did not get near the calves that were healthy.

Thankfully, the mess slowed and eventually stopped. Although it is not enjoyable, an experience like this knocks us back to reality and reinforces the importance of cleanliness, SOPs, and the value of nutrition.

We can certainly apply that to our current day coronavirus situation. We understand what it is that brings us through these germ-infested situations. There are times, though, when we are blindsided by life and viruses. One such memory we have is from a Hershey Easter dinner.

Some hours after a delicious and lively Hershey Easter celebration, Duane and I fell violently sick. I do not ever remember a time when I was so furiously sick with a stomach bug.

The texting among family members soon started, and Duane and I realized that we were not alone. Others in the family had it, too.

Naturally, we started talking about certain foods that were served, but nothing ever made sense. Most had salad, but only some of the salad eaters got sick, and the same was true for the oyster stuffing, fruit salad, and ham. There was not one food that all of us had that day.

Finally, Duane’s sister, Bev, figured out the mystery as the question went around, “Did you take jelly beans from Wyatt?”

Our 2-year-old grandson was having a great time passing out jelly beans to anyone who would take them. Duane and I were first in line to grab them, along with everyone else who was violently sick that week.

Wyatt had been exposed to the stomach bug prior to the dinner. Evidently, he dodged that bullet, but as a carrier, he passed it to everyone who took jelly beans from his little fingers.

The “Hershey’s Jelly Bean Handout” will go down as an epidemic in our family’s history books. It gets a good laugh from us now, but I guarantee you, none of us were laughing as we were running for the bathroom.

The experience certainly reinforces the importance of cleanliness, sanitation, and bringing a box of milking gloves to the Easter dinner.

The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.