The Countryside Museum
Farrier and Dentist :: Keeping Horses in Condition :: Laminitis :: Cattle and Sheep :: Foot and Mouth

Foot and Mouth Disease

This has been a dread to the farmer with cattle and sheep since 1839. Cumbria experienced serious outbreaks in the 19th C: 1845, 1849-52, 1861-63; 1865-72. Alongside F&M there was "rinderpest", or cattle plague, a highly fatal and contagious disease, which wiped out seven per cent of the national herd between 1865 to 1867. Cattle movements were halted, agricultural shows were cancelled, just as they were in 2001.

The old methods of dealing with viral infections have an innocent charm compared with the 2001 British methods of slaughtering, and firebreak "culling". Whether they were effective is very doubtful.

Need Fire

One method of attempting to cure animals, and render healthy ones immune to the disease, was to kindle the "need fire" or "neat fire" named after "neat" or "oxen". Garnett quotes Wm Pearson who described the use of needfire in 1840 in Westmorland:

"... an angel was said to [have] descend[ed] and set fire to a tree in Yorkshire; this strange sight attracted the curiosity of the cattle, and those which were affected were cured, and remained ever after immune to the disease. The angel left written directions that the fire was to be handed on from farm to farm, and the cattle passed through the smoke and all would be well, but in the event of it going out it was to be rekindled by means of rubbing two pieces of wood together which had never been in a house, all the fires in the houses being extinguished during the time the kindling took place." (ref)

In 1840 the needfire had been set going at Killington, near Kendal, and was passed through all the county to as far as Skirwith in Cumberland.

"Damp litter and green wood was used to produce the greatest amount of smoke ... cattle were driven close to the fire and sometimes through it ... It arrived at Howgill at midnight, yet most of the farmers cheerfully complied and as cheerfully forwarded the fire to their neighbours. A few, whose idleness outbalanced their superstition, remained in bed."

The last recorded use of needfire was at Troutbeck in 1851.

Other remedies for "murrain" (the old name for cattle diseases that may have included foot-and-mouth disease) included this one from T Beaumont's "The Complete Cow Doctor" published in 1863:

A draught of myrrh, Epsom Salts, sulphur, antimony and diapente powder mixed with a quart of rue tea.

FMD Diary for 2001

Article about book on History of foot-and-mouth (Woods, 2005, in Westmorland Gazette)