A Story of Brucellosis; Just One Out of the Thousands in Armenia
The three infected cows, roughly dropped from the back of a small truck, had gathered at the shed wall and were gazing around.
It was dark when the son of farmer Yurik Aydoyan from the village of Oshakan brought home the herd of cows and sheep. A young bull from the herd tried to mount the sick cow and another licked her back. The two other infected cows merged with the herd and humbly walked to their new shed. The ground was lavishly peppered with the urine and dung of the sick cows.
The new cows were caught and tied “separately”. The shed was divided into 2 parts at the entrance. They put their own cows in one and in the other - 120 sheep and three infected cows. Here, a section was divided off by a net where mother sheep with their lambs were kept. The farmer believed that the net was adequately defending the sheep from the sick cows.
-Do you know that these cows have brucellosis? – I ask Yurik.
-Yeah, I heard something about it.
-Did you know it when buying them? – I continue.
Yurik looks at me trying to understand where the questions may lead. He is pretty nervous. I can understand him. We were following his truck the whole way from Ushi and now are distracting him from work asking strange questions. But the Yezidi farmer cleverly reacts and quickly responds.
- Of course I knew that. I bought them to slaughter and to give the meat to the special butchers for sausage. But I need to feed them for around a month before that, they are too skinny.
Armenian law permits selling meat infected by brucellosis, nor does it forbid feeding the cows condemned to the slaughter. But the infected cows have to be kept isolated. However, farmer Yurik brought them in an open truck from where their urine and dung were flowing out on a road where tomorrow other cows will walk. Within 3-4 days Yurik had purchased 13 cows and was going to buy 3 more. He sent 7 cows to Armavir - “to a special place”, he said refusing to give the address. He brought the other 6 to Oshakan, leaving 3 in the shed at his home and putting the remaining 3 with other animals on a big farm. Two of the cows we saw were not skinny and did not need feeding at all. Yurik paid around 220,000 drams for each cow, and was going to spend more money on them for a month - of course not to slaughter them afterwards.
The farmer could not understand why I was making that much fuss about “simple brucellosis”.
-So how do you explain that 13 cows got it?
- I don’t know, - he shrugged his shoulders. – It is a kind of disease; you never know where it appears from and hits cows.
-I was sick with brucellosis myself, - he said. – I spent some 10 years in different hospitals and now I am Ok!!!
While I was trying to digest this news, he “calmed me down” with one more.
-Don’t complicate your life. Half of Armenia is full with brucellosis, a few more, a few less…
Yurik bought the infected cows in Ushi, in a farm that we call Bulgakov’s “Flat number 50”. “The bad flat” belongs to Never Alexanyan. The big shed is inhabited by cows, bulls, a horse, rabbits (which never stay there for a long, but die), dogs and his workers.
The dung is thrown out on the land just in front of the farm. The odor in the shed is terrible. In summer, the smell of the dung that is even thrown outside the farm borders, almost right up to the stairs of the neighbors’ houses, is unbearable. Nver replies to his neighbors’ complaints with an ironic smile - “Around any farm there should be fields and not houses. If you do not like it, go and build your houses somewhere else.”
Two families, with 8 kids between them, live and work in Never’s shed. 5 children are of a school age, but none go to school. The whole day the children rummage in the liquid dung, fall into it, rise up, shake themselves off and go on playing, non-stop smiling. When their credit runs dry at the local shops, the families do not shy away from eating the innards of slaughtered animals, even the infected ones. Well, nothing happens to them; they are as strong as bulls. One cannot say the same about their livestock. Last year an epidemic of pasteurellosis broke out in this farm and later spread to the entire village. 2 years ago, at this farm, almost all newly born calves died of a mysterious illness.
The story of brucellosis began in November 2011. The cows in Never Alexanyan’s shed constantly had miscarriages. In mid-December we all knew that there was brucellosis in the farm and raised the alarm. The farm is just next to our stable, where calves and goats live in addition to the horses. These animals can get infected quite quickly and transmit the disease just as fast. The sanitary epidemic station sent us to the village municipality. The head of the village promised to sort it out. The process of “sorting out” started only in mid-January. Rubik Igityan, the chief vet of the region said that he had learnt about brucellosis outbreak just recently - instead of warning him Never took the blood for testing to Yerevan. At the meeting with the head of the village, attended by the chief vet and the farmer, Nver was ordered to slaughter the sick cows (in isolation), separate out healthy animals, place them under proper care and mechanically disinfect the shed.
Nver would not agree to anything, repeating over and over again that the state had to reimburse him for the loss. He refused to let anyone in the shed to count and check the cows.
-How many cows do you have? – R. Igityan asked Nver. Igityan is a very good vet and a very good-natured person. He looked at the people gathered helplessly as if asking to give him an advice on how to explain something to the man who does not want to understand anything, even the truth that the more cows die the more loss he will have.
-I had 53, - Nver replied. – 7 had brucellosis. I took them to another place, far from the farm, had them slaughtered and gave the meat to the hum factory. 43 are left. I took their blood to the laboratory and am waiting for the test result.
The chief vet of the region ordered the head of the village to prepare a statement on slaughtering of 7 sick cows. No one paid attention to the fact that in the beginning of the conversation “the place, far from the farm” was Oshakan and in the end it was Armavir. No one paid attention to the fact that 53 minus 7 never make 43! No one paid attention to the fact that the man who cared about safety that much just before the New Year slaughtered 2 cows in the farm and threw out the bowels just on the road, next to the bodies of miscarried calves and till the mid of January was taking contaminated milk to the Ashtarak Milk company.
But when I said that no one saw the slaughtering of the 7 cows, moreover, we made our small investigation and found out that he just sold the infected cows Nver started shouting that tit was true, he sold the cows, but that was his business and he will sell them all. He then ran opff, slamming the door.
The expression on the face of the village head looked as helpless as that of chief vet Hamlet Atoyan. The head of the village of Ushi is also a nice man. Everyone in the village knows about his endless kindness and supportiveness. But he also had no qualities necessary to deal with a thickheaded man like Nver Alexanyan. I looked at him waiting.
- Do whatever you want, - he waved his hand. – I just cannot deal with him.
Nver carried on selling the infected cows. The sanitary-epidemic station’s business was to find out brucellosis and report on it to the Agricultural Ministry. The rest was business of the food safety regional control center. Chief expert of the center Gevush Nazaryan and chief vet Rubik Igityan appeared in the Nver Alexanyan’s farm at the time where Yurik Saydoyan, the farmer from the village of Oshakan was embarking the three cows in the track.
-Do you know that these cows have brucellosis? – Nazaryan and Igityan asked him.
-I know it. I am taking them to a special place to slaughter, - replied Yurik who has been buying and reselling cows Nver's cows for several years.
Igityan and Nazaryan decided to trust the farmer and no one went with him; except us, of course.
When I later told them that the cows are safe and sound in the new herd and seven of them were sent to Armavir they were very much surprised and again could not understand why the farmer harmed himself infecting his own livestock. Nevertheless Gevush Nazaryan ensured that everything is under control and promised to control the isolation of sick cows and disinfection of the farm. He also promised to visit the Oshakan farm in a month to make sure that the cows were slaughtered.
-But they are in the herd already! How are you going to distinguish them in a month?
-I will find them. For me it is enough to look at the back of the cows to know if they have brucellosis or no! – Mr. Nazaryan answered.
Well, if there was such a simple and fast way, why they needed to spend money on the blood test for each cow?
In the beginning of February the situation did not change. The new arithmetic of Nver was even more interesting than the previous one. Now he had 51 cows, 16 were slaughtered due to brucellosis and again 43 were left! The samples of their blood again were taken to the laboratory. Mr. Nazaryan said that the whole process would take time. We waited for 2 weeks. In the 2 weeks none of them showed up in the farm. Nver continues selling and slaughtering infected cows on his territory, leaving lakes of blood on the rood. It has been over 2 weeks our dogs and horses did not leave their boxes. We are afraid of bowels and blood of the infected animals. The only good news was that the Ashtarak Kat Company stopped taking milk from the farm.
The last conversation I had with Gevush Nazaryan was at February 3. He said that had been ill and could not get busy with brucellosis issue (was there no one else in the center that could do that?). When I told him that Nver continued selling the infected meat he said that brucella bacteria perish at 80 degrees and that meat is safe to eat. No one argues with it. But, Mr. Nazaryan, if let us say, your wife prepares tolma how she checks the amount of the salt there: after the meat is boiled or when it is still raw? Also, Mr. Nazaryan said that Nver was allowed to slaughter cows on his territory because we had no special place for slaughtering (so why you were ordering him to slaughter the cows in a “special place”?)
What about the milk Nver was told not to sell the milk but make cheese of it! I am not an expert but three cheese makers I asked confirmed that cheese is made from warm raw milk and not from a boiled one.
What about the disinfection Nver was just told to put chlorine in the corridor of the shed, because in this country we have no mechanical way to disinfect a huge shed.
In the end Gevush Nazaryan gave me a “friendly advice” to leave alone “that poor guy whom you apparently have a personal conflict with. Otherwise the entire country is in this condition why you pursue just him? Write whatever you want but remember, you will answer for blackmailing the poor guy!”
The farm of Nver Alexanyan is never inspected, cleaned or disinfected. Newborn calves and puppies, rabbits and hens die there. Along with the terribly dirty cows and bulls the farm workers live in the shed with their children. In the farm an Armenian gampr (shepherd dog) that is considered a national treasury of Armenia everywhere but Armenia is kept in cruel conditions.
No one can get the farm owner to clean up his act, neither the village municipality, the sanitary epidemic station, or law enforcement…
The farm of Nver Alexanyan is just one of the thousands of “out of control” farms. The people who have to deal with the brucellosis in the farm keep pointing to that factor. They are frankly surprised why I make much ado about nothing if the entire country is in this condition.
But if we make ado of every such case isn’t it just possible that this terrible, but typical, state of affairs will change?