INSIDE IOWA STATE
March 15, 2002
Heritage room shows Iowa veterinary history
by Teddi Barron
George Beran holds an antique microscope that is on display in the
Veterinary Medicine Heritage Room. Also pictured are other items from the
collection. Photos by Bob Elbert.|
George Beran is looking for a rumen magnet.
To go with the balling gun.
He has plenty of catchers and notchers and tongs. And more than
a few hooks and scopes. There's a very fine fetotome and two hard-to-find
fleems. Even a nose twitch and a mouth gag.
Yet within the dozens of dusty boxes and musty bags filled with hundreds of
veterinary artifacts that were contributed to the College of Veterinary
Medicine's new heritage room, there was nary a rumen magnet.
It's not surprising, really. There probably aren't many rumen magnets
around. When a cow inadvertently ate pasture grass containing pieces of
metal, a balling gun was used to insert a rumen magnet into the first
chamber of the cow's stomach. The magnet grabbed and held the metal, keeping
it from puncturing the stomach, explained Beran, a distinguished professor
emeritus and the catalyst-caretaker for the R. Allen Packer Heritage Room.
The heritage room is named for Packer, who taught at the college for 34
years and envisioned the veterinary museum long before his death in 1999.
The collection of more than 2,000 artifacts and books chronicles the
everyday efforts and extraordinary achievements of Iowa's veterinary
practitioners, educators and researchers.
No less extraordinary is Beran's effort in guiding the project through fund
raising, design, remodeling, collecting, cataloging and furnishing. By the
time the heritage room opened last October, Beran had spent nearly 1,000
hours doing everything from polishing rusty instruments to categorizing
What once was an abandoned air handling room is now a museum and center for
veterinary historical research, designed not only to preserve a heritage,
but also to replenish it through continued study.
Instruments of healing
The six antique microscopes on display, for example, will one day be used by
veterinary medicine students and visitors to examine historical tissue
slides of extinct diseases. A small brass microscope, crafted in the
mid-1700s and still usable, is the oldest item in the collection.
To the uninitiated visitor, many of the instruments -- the 2-foot long
stainless steel prongs, pullers and hooks, for example -- look more like
tools of a plumber than instruments of a healer.
These inventive devices were conceived to calm wounded animals before
tranquilizers existed, or rescue horses in difficult parturition before
antibiotics emerged or save milk cows from collapse before calcium
injections were even envisioned.
"It's really great to have someone in their 80s who practiced veterinary
medicine all his life come in and say: 'Oh! I used this!' It's very
interesting to talk to them about the conditions and how they used it,"
Beran said. "That's the most exciting part of this for me."
Hundreds of books dating back to the 1820s record the history of diagnosis
and control, and in many cases, eradication of specific animal diseases,
Beran said. Many are first-edition textbooks written by former ISU
veterinary medicine faculty.
"It's so challenging to catalog these books, then put them into the cabinet
without reading them," Beran chuckled. "I would love to have time to read
Manual of Examinations and Medical Formulary, 1860 Stock Doctor, 1891
Diseases of the Chest and Air Passages of the Horse, 1853 Homeopathic
Veterinary Medicine, 1874 Milk and Its Relation to Public Health, 1908
Meat Inspection, 1900.
"The powers of observation that the veterinarians had then, without
laboratory tests, the way they knew the behavior of animals and could spot
abnormalities and lesions and diseases so quickly and accurately was
amazing," Beran said.
Among the most unusual and valuable collections in the heritage room is the
hog cholera exhibit, Beran said. Syringes, vials and photos tell the story
of the conquest of hog cholera and the important role played by ISU
By 1879, when Iowa State opened the nation's first veterinary college at a
state school, hog cholera was among the most prevalent and devastating
diseases threatening the fledgling livestock industry. Although the first
case was identified in Ohio in 1833, it wasn't until 1978 that the disease
was finally eradicated. Between 1850 and 1950, hog cholera accounted for
about 90 percent of all pig deaths.
Until 1905, the best minds in veterinary medicine believed hog cholera was
caused by bacteria. Vaccine development and testing carried out by
veterinarians from ISU and the new USDA Hog Cholera Research Station in Ames
helped establish that the disease was viral. Their live-virus hyperimmune
vaccine made historic advances in the control of the disease.
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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