Where have all the bovines gone? Not to Europe, where herds have been slaughtered in the past few years in an effort to eradicate the twin scourges of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (that’s Mad Cow Disease to you) and hoof-and-mouth disease.

Seems one Hamilton grocer was under the impression that American cows were disappearing from the landscape, sent across the pond to supplement the dwindling Euro-herds. How else to explain the currently outrageous price of butter?

Not so, says Keith Nye, manager of Darigold, the farmer-owned, Bozeman-based dairy company. The national dairy cow herd is down 91,000 cows from last year, says Nye. That’s a decline of 1.4 percent. Nye says the cows-gone-to-Europe theory is new to him. “I haven’t heard that one.”

Herds are down for a lot of reasons, he says, but not because England’s greener pastures beckon. Dairy farmers nationwide are selling off their cows, partly because many have come to the end of their productive lactation years, and partly because, with dairy farmers opting out of a tough business, good breeding heifers are hard to come by these days.

The incredible shrinking economy has also had an impact. It’s not just the dot com-ers and other high-tech gadgeteers that have been financially hurt. Even the little people, it seems, are feeling the pinch. Consumption of milk, cheese and that other luxury item —$4 a pound butter—is currently down. “It doesn’t really take a big swing to change things (in the dairy business),” says Nye.

The good news, though, is that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which has something to say about the price of butter, is currently selling butter fat at $1.27 a pound. That means butter prices should come down dramatically and stay there through the high-fat holiday season. Even better, American cows are staying right here at home where they belong.

So, you think you got germ problems? The occasional use of anthrax to teach somebody or other a lesson is at least as old as the Bible—God gave Pharaoh’s Egypt a good dusting with it in chapter nine of Exodus—but the systematic weaponizing of the disease really began in earnest during WWI, when many of the future combatants of WWII began seriously experimenting with the military applications of Bacillus anthracis and other biological agents. In 1915, German agents managed to infect large shipments of sheep bound for Russia, and there even exist reports of German saboteurs in the United States plotting to infect American horses.

Japanese forces occupying Manchuria during the 1930s established an experimental biowarfare facility, dubbed Unit 731, near the city of Harbin. Before it was blown up and the last of its prisoners liquidated by the retreating Japanese, experiments with anthrax and bubonic plague at Unit 731 resulted in the deaths of some 9,000 Chinese subjects.

An unusual testament to the intensity of British anthrax testing from roughly the same period—as well as to the difficulties incurred in cleanup—can still be seen (from a safe distance, mind you) off the coast of Scotland. Gruinard Island, a bony 520-acre islet between the Highlands and the Hebrides in the high northwest of the country, was off-limits to the public for almost 50 years following a 1942 experiment in which 60 sheep were tethered and exposed to the fallout of a small bomb impregnated with anthrax spores. In 1990, after a thorough scrubbing with 280 tons of formaldehyde and 2,000 tons of seawater, the island was declared safe by then-Junior Defence Minister Michael Neubert.

Yeah, and now you can hardly find a spot for all the people swarming to picnic there.

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