A Spit in the Face


I once saw a white man drive up, roll down his window, and spit in the face of a black teenager standing on the sidewalk. I’ve never seen anyone as furious as that girl. It may not be as dramatic, but  black America faces daily insults that are the equivalent: racist slurs, housing ghettos, inferior schools, employment discrimination, much less police brutality. Surprised they are angry?

Most of white America either contributes to the insults or is oblivious to them. Worse, they blame the victims. Go to school. Get a job. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. I’ve upped my standards, now up yours. We ignore the fact that even educated black professionals face these very real insults. A spit in the face.

Events in Ferguson and elsewhere are proving to be a tipping point, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Enough, already.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

The Chicken Wars


After the decade of Newcastle disease outbreaks in the 70s, things settled back to the routine, with emergency diseases popping up only once every five or six years.  Emergency meaning a disease that called for immediate eradication.  There were brief episodes of vesicular stomatitis, avian influenza in turkeys, anthrax.  But these were quickly brought under control and weren’t big enough to require federal intervention.  Then the bomb dropped.  Two bombs.  In quick succession we had exotic Newcastle Disease all over Southern California in fighting cocks that spread to some large commercial layers, and TB in three dairy herds in Central California.

The Newcastle started with a fighting cock submitted to the San Bernardino Diagnostic Laboratory.  Within days of the diagnosis, tracebacks of contacts with the initial flock found over 70 infected flocks in three locations: Compton, Montebello, and Norco.  And new cases were found on a daily basis.

A meeting of all available state animal health personnel was quickly held and assignments given for surveillance, depopulation, indemnity, etc.  I was assigned to surveillance.  The center of the survey was a tract in Compton that was still zoned for animals.  Besides chickens there were horses, cows, pigs, all on small residential lots. One house had stalls for six horses and we daily saw someone in Mexican vaquero gear exercising them by riding them down the street.

Only about a third of the houses answered the door, and the ones that did all denied having any chickens or knowing anyone that did, even when we could hear crowing in the back.  At one house a young boy answered the door and said, yes, they had chickens.  The father came to the door and promptly said “We just ate them.”  One place had hundreds of chickens in full view of the street.  Couldn’t hide that.  At the end of two days we had identified a total of four places with chickens.  Then we ran across a county animal control officer and asked him if he knew of any dead chickens.  Sure, he’d been picking up hundreds of dead chickens but hadn’t bothered to notify the state.  In addition to the area we had just been canvassing he identified two new areas not yet on our maps.

The next day I was asked to help with indemnification.  Dr. West was the only pet bird specialist doing indemnification and he asked me to help with some ostriches and pigeons.  I had no idea what an ostrich was worth, but Dr. West filled me in on the difference between red neck ostriches and ordinary ones.

First I had to go back to Compton and ask to see the backyard of one place we knew had chickens.  They had denied having any, but this time we talked them into letting us see for ourselves.  What a zoo!  Besides 70 chickens they had five steers, a pot-bellied pig, and about 30 rabbits.  Once in the backyard we could see into all the other backyards.  Every house on the block had chickens!

Then I drove to Alhambra to look for the owner of the ostriches and pick up some roller pigeons.  No one was home and the phone number I was given was wrong.

Every day new people were arriving from all over the U.S. to work on the task force, until we had over 1,000 people.  We quickly outgrew the office space at the Ontario District office and moved to larger quarters at a National Guard base.  The brass had their own offices in a separate building but most of us were squeezed into the large gymnasium.  Each team had their own table with a computer.  One end of the gym was filled with supplies.  A secretarial staff occupied one corner.  The depopulation and disinfection crews weren’t allowed in the gym because of their contact with the disease.  The state quickly ran out of emergency funding and the federal government stepped in.  A new director arrived from Washington.

In the meantime I was still looking for my ostrich man and the owner of some racing pigeons that had been condemned.  I drove to Montebello where the pigeons were.  From the street it just looked like an ordinary housing tract, but a river ran behind the houses, about forty feet below street level.  Along the river were a hundred horse stalls, all rented out to different people to keep chickens, pigeons, peacocks, whatever.  The depopulation crew was in full swing and dust was flying everywhere.  But no one had seen my pigeon owner.  No address.  No phone number.  As long as I was there I might as well look at the pigeons.  They were on a little knoll above the stalls.  When I went up there, there was the owner, grieving over his pigeons.  They were his life.  He had spent 10 years developing a line of champion racers.  It didn’t take long to work out a deal on the price and the depop crew had them all dispatched in minutes.  My next job was to take them to the San Bernardino lab.

I got lucky again.  The ostrich guy called and arranged a meeting at an empty warehouse in Alhambra.  He gave me a sob story about losing his shirt on ostriches and these were the last he had.  He wanted $1500 apiece for them.  It took some dickering but we finally settled on a more reasonable price for the ostriches and his roller pigeons.  We went to his home and he gave me the pigeons.  I took the two sets of pigeons to the lab and headed home to Bakersfield.

The next week I was asked to go back to Compton and take swab samples from the few flocks we had found.  They were all on the same block as the original flock that started the outbreak and I figured it would be a miracle if the other flocks didn’t have it, too.  We took all the precautions to keep from spreading it ourselves with disposable coveralls and shoe coverings, changing and disinfecting between flocks.  The disinfectant ruined a good pair of shoes.  At the last flock a neighbor told us his chickens were sick, so I had him bring one out to us to take to the lab along with the swab samples.

The task force control center called and asked me to investigate a report of chickens dying in Corona on our way to the San Bernardino lab.  By now it was four o’clock, just in time for rush hour.  It took us four hours to go 50 miles.  By the time we finally found the place it was eight o’clock at night.  I rang the bell and asked about the report.  They replied, “Just look around you.”  As my eyes adjusted to the dark I could see dead and dying chickens all over the yard, under the bushes, in the driveway.  A massacre.  I had already called the lab and told them I would be late.  Now I had another sackfull of dead chickens for them.  We didn’t get to the lab until 10 o’clock that night, but someone was there waiting for us.

The next day a new person from Sacramento had taken charge of the record-keeping department and he read me the riot act for not getting a task force accession number before submitting samples to the lab.  I tried to explain that there was no one to give out accession numbers at 8 P.M. but that didn’t satisfy him.  Then I was told that one of the places we had swabbed yesterday now had chickens dying and the owner was blaming me for bringing the disease.  And he claimed we entered without his permission.  Never mind we waited an hour before the guard dog was chained and the chicken pens were unlocked.  And the Colorado vet who had accompanied me refused to go with me again because he didn’t like my freeway driving.  Some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

I was asked to return to Corona to finish the job. – establish a quarantine, get a full history, and settle indemnity for the birds still alive.  In the daylight I could see the place was actually a compound of five houses plus a few other buildings surrounded by a wall.  The person with the dead chickens lived in the front house.  She had gotten a special deal the week before from someone she only knew as Penney.  Penney had already been quarantined for Newcastle Disease.  So much for quarantines.  The owner of the compound lived in one of the other houses.  She had a large aviary in back filled with chickens, turkeys, and peacocks.  She was devastated that we were planning to kill them all.  I explained to her that she had already seen the devastation to the chickens in front.  In less than a week the same thing would happen to her birds, or at least 90 per cent of them.  And it would continue to happen to any new birds she bought unless we killed everything, disinfected the property, and started over.  She understood, but she was still heartbroken.

The next day the depopulation crew was there bright and early, but the aviary was locked and the owner was nowhere to be seen.  She didn’t want to be there when her pets were all killed.  She returned two hours later to find us waiting.  She watched the whole thing.  They even grabbed her cockatiel out of her living room.

I turned all my paperwork in and headed back to Bakersfield.  On my way I got a call from a cattleman in Caliente saying his cows would be ready to test next Wednesday.  One of his cows had tested positive for Brucelosis at slaughter, but the only time we could test his herd was at roundup once a year.  I had a crew ready to go Wednesday and I was out of the chicken wars.


The angels came,they say, to simple shepherd folk

But did others see as well, to pass it as a joke?

My, what a pretty sight, I can’t hear a word they say

No one else would listen and believe me anyway

What’s this about a savior? A manger you say

Sirs, I eat at table, and I don’t eat hay

A multitude of angels can scarce hide behind a hill

Surely others saw them, but believers only will

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Christmas Cookies

No one in our family gives expensive presents. The thought is more important than the gift, we always say. No one is left out, and giving presents to 20 or more people could break the bank.

One year Uncle Richard gave a store-bought fruitcake, only to get it back the next year. That fruitcake made the rounds for years until it disintegrated.

But the gift that took the cake, or cookie, was pfeferneusse, a German christmas cookie. My grandparents’ neighbor, Aunt Betty,, gave them out for Christmas every year. Years later, my sister, Karen,  decided to revive the tradition and got Aunt Betty’s recipe. I guess she never saw the sacks of uneaten pfeferneusse my grandparents squirreled away in the basement. Pfeferneusse made by other people was sweet, soft, moist and covered with white icing, but this was brown unsweetened rounded cubes made with rye flour and anise seed. It looked like dog poo.

Karen was so sweet and caring that no one ever complained. Her heart was three times bigger than the rest of the family and this only made her more human. Karen finally caught on and only made pferneseusse on request.

We al knew the reaon for the season was the birth of a child.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Western Stockman’s Market


Early Friday afternoon at Western Stockman’s Market the only visible evidence of life is a lone horse tied to the fence, saddled and ready to ride.  In a few minutes a cowboy wearing spurs on his boots comes out of the main building and heads towards his pickup truck.  Another cowboy, also in spurs, comes from behind the building and walks towards the entrance.  With the taciturnity typical of cowboys they pass each other without speaking.

Inside the building a woman is mopping the floor of the empty Idle Spur Café.  A few lights are still on, but the place is deserted.

In the back, hidden by an eight foot tall plywood fence, a dozen horses, a mule and about 100 cows of various description are distributed in 20 of the more than 200 pens used for the auction.  The horses are used by the cowboys employed at the auction and the cows are either holdovers from last Monday’s auction or early arrivals for the next one.

Monday, auction day, is a different story.  The dirt parking lot fills early with more than 100 cars and pickups.  Twenty to thirty stock trailers and semis are lined up at any one time to unload at the loading dock.  The brand inspector and livestock inspector check brands and papers and an auction yard employee fills out more paper to send to the office and auctioneer.  A back tag identifying the animal is glued on and the animal runs down the alley directed by a cowboy on horseback.

Inside at the front desk people are still registering for the auction.  The café is filled with people catching a quick breakfast of steak and eggs or hamburgers before the auction starts at 10.  Over 1,000 steers, bulls and cows go through the auction ring one at a time.  Steel doors open and close for the entry and exit of each animal into the sawdust filled ring.  Each time the door opens a horse and cowboy can be glimpsed turning to get the next animal.

The staccato rhythm of the auctioneer is mesmerizing.  “We have a 500 pound steer here.  Let’s start it at fifty. (fifty cents per pound) Fifty, fifty, fifty.  Five!  Who’ll give me five?  Diddy, diddy, dum diddy fifty five.  Sixty, sixty, sixty, who’ll go five?  Diddy, diddy, dum diddy, sixty five.  Seventy?  Diddy, dum diddy seventy!  Who’ll go seventy five?  Diddy, dum diddy, dum diddy.  We’re at seventy, let’s hear seventy five.  Diddy, dum diddy, dum diddy.  Going once, Agoing twice, Sold!  At seventy to … Shamrock two.”  The doors open and close and another steer rushes into the ring.


Outside the ring the hall is still filled with people registering or trying to beat the rush to pay for their purchase.  The café is filled with ranchers catching up on the latest news from their neighbors.  Ranching is a lonely business.  Most of the year all the rancher sees is the family and cows.  Like the auction yard itself, things are pretty quiet most of the time, then spring to life at auction time and roundup.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves






Another Day at Work


Early Thursday, to avoid the crowds, I arrive at Western Stockman’s for another traceback.  A cow slaughtered at BPI had TB. The information from the slaughterhouse only named the salesyard.  Now I need to learn where the cow came from.

The brand inspectors are in their break room.  Darn!  Can’t get by without saying hello.

“Hey, Doc, what’s up?” Jerry calls out.

“The usual.  Find any hot brands?” I respond.

“No, but we do have a dispute over an unbranded calf in Isabella.  Could you take some blood samples for us?”

“Do you have the parents?”

“Just the mother.  At least, he claims it’s the mother.”

“ No bull?”

“No, it’s AI’d.  That’s the only cow he has.”

“Well, that only gives you a 50-50 chance of establishing paternity.  And someone will have to pay the $100 for the test.”

“Got it covered.  When can you do it?”

“How about Tuesday?  I’m going to Camp Owens then.”

“Too soon to contact them.  How about a week from Tuesday?”

“OK, a week from Tuesday.  Say, what do you know about Garcia?  Someone reported 300 cows died there, but he denies anything happened.”

“Yeah, he fed them raw onions and the onions killed them.”

“But why would he deny it?”

“You ask him too many questions and you’ll get a pair of concrete boots.”

“Then I could really kick ass!”

“Not at the bottom of the river.”

“So why aren’t you doing something about it?”

“Like I said.  That guy’s trouble.  We don’t mess with him.”

“Well, I still have to see Yolanda.  Take care.”

“See you.”

The office is empty.  “Hello!  Is anyone here?”

“Be out in a minute, Yolanda calls from her inner office.”  Emerging, “Dr. Hargreaves!  What can I do for you?”

“I have a suspect from BPI, dated January 11.”

Yolanda goes through her files and pulls up the record.  “Here we are.  We sold 32 head to BPI.  Got the backtag number?”

“Here it is.  Hereford cross.”

“Right.  It came from John App II in Glenville.  Here’s his address.”

“Phone number?”

“Here you are. 805-327-4826”a

Now for one of their to-die-for hamburgers and on to the dairies.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves



More #Ferguson


On my way home from Vietnam in 1977 I visited my alma mater, Michigan State, and passed through Detroit shortly after their riots. I’ve never seen anything like it – mile after mile of burned out storefronts. The “riots” of Ferguson are mild in comparison, more focused on the police than on buildings. But that’s all the media sees are riots. What will it take to make white America to see the reasons behind black anger? It’s more than the death of Michael Brown, it’s a whole system of oppression administered by the police. Protests have been held in Ferguson from the very beginning, but little attention is paid until violence breaks out. How long before anyone comes up with real solutions? This won’t go away anytime soon.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Volunteer English Teaching


I started tutoring at The Third Floor, a drug rehabilitation center in Fresno, CA. The Third Floor was a live in facility.. Half of the inhabitants were referred by the courts. The door was always locked to the outside. Members could leave if they wanted but weren’t allowed back. This place was tough. Prospective members had to sit on a chair in the hall for a week while the other members reviewed them., then the members voted on whether to accept them or not. They had to be ready to turn their life around. Once accepted they were assigned an experienced member who went with them everywhere, even to the bathroom. Druggies learn to lie, cheat, and steal, but everyone there had already gone through that and knew all the tricks.

My class was chaotic. I usually had 10 to 15 in class, but they only showed up when they felt like it. I never knew when they were going to show up. I copied off the lesson for each one and had it ready when they did come. I usually had lessons going at three or four levels at once, from first grade level up through sixth grade or higher. They also needed basic math lessons, so I gave them math problems to do while I worked with each group separately on their reading. The biggest challenge was simply convincing them they could learn. No one ever left class without learning something.

The most frustrating part was the high turnover  of students. Most stayed only three to six months before walking out. Accepting responsibility for their actions was new to them and a hard lesson to learn.Sometimes losing a student was heartbreaking.

One student, Lupe, was brought to me because no one could understand her. Could I teach her English? I quickly found the she actually knew quite a bit of English but was using Spanish pronunciation rules with a thick accent. I ran her through the phonics lessons and concentrated on English pronunciation rules. In one month she was speaking understandable English. Everyone thought I was a miracle maker.

The program was supposed to be completed in one year, but the few successful students stayed longer than that. One started out at third grade reading level. He was a regular but never worked very hard ay it. After three years I had him up to sixth grade level. Then he decided he wanted to go to barber school, but to get in he had to be reading at ninth grade level. Could I bring him up to that in three months? I had my doubts, but I didn’t tell him that. It was worth a try and couldn’t hurt. He started studying night ad day. When he took the test he came just short of ninth grade, and he talked them into taking him anyway. When he showed me his textbook I could see why they required ninth grade reading ability. There was a lot more to barbering than just cutting hair.

,   Gary was different from the others in the center. He wasn’t an addict himself.. He was referred for drug possession but was actually a dealer. I suspected he stayed in the program to hide from the other dealers who were after him.

He was educated and didn’t need my services, but came to my classes for something to do. He helped with the other students.

When he learned I was a chicken doctor he told of his weekly visit to the bank to deposit a thick roll of cash. The teller asked “Where do get all this cash?” and he leaned over the counter and whispered “Chickens.”

Then my job moved me to Bakersfield and I started in with the Kern Adult Literacy Council. Altogether I have done 30 years of volunteer English teaching first as a Freedom School teacher in Mississippi,then in Vietnam. In addition to working with chickens, I taught English to the Vietnamese specialists I was working with. Next, The Third Floor. A second job with only satisfaction for pay.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

More Thoughts on #Ferguson

The media are expecting the Missouri grand jury to release their finding not to charge officer Wilson any day now, and Cincinnati police are preparing for the worst. Has anyone considered that the grand jury could be deadlocked and can’t agree? What happens when a grand jury can’t decide? They’ve had over two months already.

Even if the grand jury surprised everyone and indicted officer Wilson and a jury convicted him, the protests wouldn’t be over. The protests have been more about a system than an individual. To the Cincinnati police, all blacks are the enemy, and to Cincinnati blacks the police are the enemy. This has been going on for a hundred years and isn’t likely to end any time soon. The death of Brown crystallized the situation and organized protests have been going on ever since. What happens when an unmoveable object meets an unstoppable force?

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Pesticide Regulations

Pesticides have been regulated in the U.S. since the 1930s. All pesticides approved for use on farms are short acting, usually less than a week, then disintegrate. Signs must be posted on the edges of sprayed fields warning of the presence of pesticides. It is illegal to send farm workers into a field while the pesticide is still active.

Farm workers aren’t the only ones concerned about pesticides. Bee keepers are concerned about their bees. Dairymen don’t want illegal pesticides in their milk. Horse owners want to keep unapproved pesticides away from their horses. To meet these concerns, permits are required that specify time and place for all farm applications of pesticides. Spraying is not allowed near homes, schools, or bees. Accidents do happen, but for the most part we are well protected from pesticides.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

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