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Screwworm eradication stories #8220168 03/30/21 07:54 PM
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JM Ranch Offline OP
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I thought I might share a few stories I remember hearing from my grandfather while sitting around a campfire at deer camp in the hill country in the late 70's.

My grandfather was an Aggie entomologist. He worked in Kerrville in the 60's in the screwworm eradication program when it started in Texas. He told me how the screwworms would find any open sore on any animal, mainly cows, horses, sheep, goats and deer and if not treated the animal would likely die. He told me how the program originally started in Florida. He said entomologist tried for years to find a way to kill the flies and eventually discovered that they could expose the male fly to radiation, make it sterile and release it into the wild. The female only breeds once and then dies. They would drop thousands of flies in boxes from airplanes to disburse the flies. The Florida group tried out the theory on a couple of islands and eradicated the flies in one season.

So, after successfully bringing the program to Texas, my grandfather was picked to go meet LBJ at his ranch outside of Johnson City when the flies were to be disbursed on the ranch. My grandfather said he was explaining the process to LBJ when the plane arrived early. It flew in low and slow and started dropping boxes. The secret service did not know this was the plan and started to whisk LBJ away. After the commotion died down they all had a laugh.

He was transferred by Dow to Lake Jackson to work on the project at a new location. I can remember going to the lab with him in the early 80's and seeing the rooms full of piles of ground meat where they raised the flies. You talk about stink. I have since read that a sister facility in Mission, Texas released up to 213,000,000 flies a week in the late 70's.

He was very proud of the role they played in helping to increase the native deer population. The program in Texas started in the early 60"s and was shut down in the early 80's having made itself unnecessary, due to it's success. At one point he spent several weeks in Argentina helping them with implementation of their program.

I have since read that the populations of deer increased 3X on some south Texas ranches shortly following eradication. Some estimated that 80% of fawn crops were lost in years with high screwworm numbers.

Every time I hear someone talk about the current deer populations I think of my grandfather and smile.

Any of you old timers have any memories of those days?


Last edited by JM Ranch; 03/30/21 07:55 PM.
Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220246 03/30/21 09:28 PM
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No direct memories but always heard about it and it was most definitely a BIG DEAL. Your Grandfather SHOULD be proud of his role. Thanks for the story.


Keep your gratitude higher than your expectations. RWH
Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220354 03/30/21 11:21 PM
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Long before my time but I was talking with an old rancher who used to go out with his dad to check the cattle every day.

They were driving thru the pasture feeding cake and an old mama cow came up and started scratching her but on the back of the truck.

Said about a 10lb chunk of meat fell off her rear end and when it hit the ground started to vibrate with all the maggots inside of it


For it is not the quarry that we truly seek, but the adventure.
Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220376 03/30/21 11:53 PM
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good friend of my (died a few years ago) told me about fighting the screw worm epidemic, said he was in the saddle day light to dark trying to keep his herd


hold on Newt, we got a runaway
Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220405 03/31/21 12:32 AM
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I still remember helping my dad when I was a kid, doctor cows and calves that had the worms. Pretty gross. They would eat holes into the flesh. We would pour in a syrup like solution and then wait a few minutes and start digging out the worms. Eliminating those flies was one of the best things to happen to live stock .



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Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220452 03/31/21 01:08 AM
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Love stories like this!

Awesome to have someone so close to a solution to a horrible issues.

Thank you for sharing


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Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220478 03/31/21 01:39 AM
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We had hundreds of head of goats at the time. We would check them at least twice daily for wormies. Some days were OK but other days made up for it. Being in the brush country where everything has thorns, we stayed busy. I remember having a wet back come through at one time with a sore on his back that the flies had laid eggs in. It was where you couldn't reach it. I used the same dope we used on our cattle & goats to fix him up. He was very appreciative of that. Glad those days are gone. We had a scare a few years ago when they hit the islands off Florida. Killed a lot of a certain species of deer before they got it stopped.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220498 03/31/21 02:08 AM
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I had to google it. Case in point of truth is stranger than fiction.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220643 03/31/21 10:44 AM
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I remember as a youngster finding the boxes scattered after a drop. Glad it worked!


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Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220676 03/31/21 11:49 AM
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Spot on about the Screwworm program doing more for wildlife numbers than anything else in recent history.

I used to have to help my grandfather doctor cattle for screwworms. He'd cuss them.

I remember the drops and the boxes I'd find over the ranch, even years later.

Wish they'd do something as effective for fireants.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220861 03/31/21 02:27 PM
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One of the few government programs that worked because it was run by educated and dedicated country boys. I remember doctoring wormies with Dad. We had the pink stuff in a bottle and a purple spray can that we applied to the wound. When you sprayed the wound, hundreds if not thousands of worms would crawl out of the gaping hole. The stench of those wounds is unforgettable to this day. Sometimes the animal recovered, sometimes not. It depended on how much damage was done by the time you found them. They had to be put into a pen and doctored every day until they recovered or died. That meant catching them everyday and throwing them or putting them in a squeeze chute to doctor them. When you doctored them, they would sling their head or thrash around and sling worms and stench all over you also. I do not miss that ordeal.

It was disheartening to see fawns and other wildlife with half their side or head eaten off by worms and still running through the pastures and not being able to help them. I would find them in a couple of days dead. A lot of deer and wildlife succumbed to those damn things. I'm glad those days are gone.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8220894 03/31/21 02:44 PM
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The program was a life saver for the sheep, goat and cattle industry. I also remember the there were some ranchers who were totally against the program and resented the assessment based on number of head they owned. The program was a wonderful. We used a product called pink lady, another that was white and another that was black. We would pen sheep at least 3 times a week and work calves as soon as they were born. The calves we treated the navel and if the calf was more than a day old it would have eggs on the navel and maybe worms.


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Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224451 04/03/21 07:10 PM
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In my teens and roaming the hills with my .22 I remember finding those empty boxes scattered around in the underbrush and trees. They had a bullseye printed on the box with sterile flies printed on the box.
People don't realize this was in the 60's when large areas of Texas had very few deer if any, and trophy hunting was pretty much non existent.
The old 30-30 and 30.06 ruled!

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224539 04/03/21 09:34 PM
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I remember Screw Worms being a huge problem in the late 60's and Early 70' in Central and South Texas.

For years there were even permanent boxes set up along highway easements to act as 'release' boxes for the sterile males in areas they wanted to target.


Spartans ask not...how many, but where!
Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224597 04/03/21 11:10 PM
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Wow! Cool stories guys. I had always heard of the screw worm problem, but never realized what is it was, crazy. JM Ranch, Thanks for the story


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Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: Simple Searcher] #8224703 04/04/21 01:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Simple Searcher
Wow! Cool stories guys. I had always heard of the screw worm problem, but never realized what is it was, crazy. JM Ranch, Thanks for the story


Yep. A little before my time but very cool

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224713 04/04/21 01:36 AM
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Originally Posted by JM Ranch
I thought I might share a few stories I remember hearing from my grandfather while sitting around a campfire at deer camp in the hill country in the late 70's.

My grandfather was an Aggie entomologist. He worked in Kerrville in the 60's in the screwworm eradication program when it started in Texas. He told me how the screwworms would find any open sore on any animal, mainly cows, horses, sheep, goats and deer and if not treated the animal would likely die. He told me how the program originally started in Florida. He said entomologist tried for years to find a way to kill the flies and eventually discovered that they could expose the male fly to radiation, make it sterile and release it into the wild. The female only breeds once and then dies. They would drop thousands of flies in boxes from airplanes to disburse the flies. The Florida group tried out the theory on a couple of islands and eradicated the flies in one season.

So, after successfully bringing the program to Texas, my grandfather was picked to go meet LBJ at his ranch outside of Johnson City when the flies were to be disbursed on the ranch. My grandfather said he was explaining the process to LBJ when the plane arrived early. It flew in low and slow and started dropping boxes. The secret service did not know this was the plan and started to whisk LBJ away. After the commotion died down they all had a laugh.

He was transferred by Dow to Lake Jackson to work on the project at a new location. I can remember going to the lab with him in the early 80's and seeing the rooms full of piles of ground meat where they raised the flies. You talk about stink. I have since read that a sister facility in Mission, Texas released up to 213,000,000 flies a week in the late 70's.

He was very proud of the role they played in helping to increase the native deer population. The program in Texas started in the early 60"s and was shut down in the early 80's having made itself unnecessary, due to it's success. At one point he spent several weeks in Argentina helping them with implementation of their program.

I have since read that the populations of deer increased 3X on some south Texas ranches shortly following eradication. Some estimated that 80% of fawn crops were lost in years with high screwworm numbers.

Every time I hear someone talk about the current deer populations I think of my grandfather and smile.

Any of you old timers have any memories of those days? The



Great write up! 11 years on this forum and I finally learned something.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224759 04/04/21 02:15 AM
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We even had an old shaggy dog that got them. He got over them but the hair only grew back about 1/4 length.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224857 04/04/21 04:20 AM
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To this day, as a grown man I can't pop a pimple on myself or one of my kids without gagging. Being serious. Anything that squirts pus, I will puke and I have a pretty hard stomach.

Wanna know why?

Screwworms. As a teenager working cows sometimes you'd get one in the squeezer that had screwworms. Ol' rancher would have an empty glass Coke bottle. You had to climb up there and put the mouth of that bottle over the center of the wound, and then hit that bottle as hard as you could to extract the worm and of course all of the puss. I want to throw up just typing this. You wanna talk about stink. Whatever you do, don't get that [censored] on you. sick

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224886 04/04/21 06:54 AM
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My dad and I would saddle up every morning during calving time and ride the pasture checking for newborn calves. Sometimes both morning and evening. If we could get to the baby calves quick enough, a smear of a pine tar type of goop on their navel would be sufficient. Otherwise, the maggots would have to be dug out and then the black smear. Black 64 or something like that. There was another treatment that we used but darn....that was 60+ years ago.. Any scratch that was enough to bring blood was fair game and my god, it was awful.
Eradication changed our world. When you think of the time lost and the value of the cattle lost, the economic impact is staggering. How many of you hunt deer? Dumb question on this forum but you wouldn't be hunting on my ranch because I wouldn't have enough deer to hunt. Same with my neighbors place and so on. The survival rate in my area was barely above zero before the eradication program. Another question. How many of you have a few cows on that 100 acres you bought to have your own place to hunt and maybe build that retirement home overlooking the valley. Those old cows sure keep the taxes down, don't they? Prior to the eradication, think how many times you would have to get off early and check the cows. Mama cow about to drop a calf...don't plan anything. Lots of changes that I have seen from the landowner's side and I could go on with more examples. We shot a rocket to the moon and it was pretty neat but we eliminated the screwworm and made every day of my life visible better.


Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8224891 04/04/21 09:48 AM
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We used White King and 10-38 worm medicine. As someone said it was a government program that worked. Gov. Dolph Briscoe was a leader in the process to get the program started.

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8235597 04/14/21 03:52 AM
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I work for the USDA lab in Kerrville and we are still fighting the screw worm. We have a satellite facility in Panama that rears sterile flies by the millions and releases them every week to keep them from coming back north.
There was an outbreak in the Florida keys about 5 years ago that killed many Key deer and infected a few pets. It occured about the time the bucks were shedding velvet which gave the flies a place to get started. They suspect that the flies came from Cuba on uncommonly strong winds. We were able to get them wiped out quickly by releasing sterile flies into the area and monitoring animals coming out of the zone. It is certainly interesting work!
Hey JM, pm me your grandfather's name and I'll see if I can find out any good stories about him from some of the retired oldtimers that I am fortunate to visit with from time to time.
-Wayne

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8235599 04/14/21 04:01 AM
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I work for the USDA lab in Kerrville and we are still fighting the screw worm. We have a satellite facility in Panama that rears sterile flies by the millions and releases them every week to keep them from coming back north.
There was an outbreak in the Florida keys about 5 years ago that killed many Key deer and infected a few pets. It occured about the time the bucks were shedding velvet which gave the flies a place to get started. They suspect that the flies came from Cuba on uncommonly strong winds. We were able to get them wiped out quickly by releasing sterile flies into the area and monitoring animals coming out of the zone. It is certainly interesting work!
Hey JM, pm me your grandfather's name and I'll see if I can find out any good stories about him from some of the retired oldtimers that I am fortunate to visit with from time to time.
-Wayne

Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: JM Ranch] #8235823 04/14/21 01:26 PM
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We had a family owned place outside of Junction, Texas. I can remember finding the boxes in the pastures that the male flies were dropped in. The deer numbers started up when we started seeing the boxes in the pastures and we also did not have to watch the cattle or the Angora goats as closely.


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Re: Screwworm eradication stories [Re: BenBob] #8236398 04/14/21 08:56 PM
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My family hunted the hill country since the 1950’s
In the early 70’s the screw worm problem was terrible.
In 1972 Washington co. Where we lived had 32 confirmed cases the ranch we hunted on in Gillespie co which was about 600 acres had 32 cases itself.
After the eradication later in the decade the deer population exploded.
We did find one of the boxes dropped from an airplane in my grandpas hay patch in Washington co.
I can’t remember what year that was.

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