It shouldnt happen to a.., p.8
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.8James Herriot
"Look, we're getting nowhere," I said. "I've got a lot of other work
waiting for me. Isn't there anything more we can do."
The farmer stamped down the twist with his thumb, drew deeply and
pleasurably a few times then looked at me with mild surprise. "Well,
let's see. We could bring a dog out but I don't know as he'll be much
good. He's nobbut a young 'un."
He sauntered back to the farmhouse and opened a door. A shaggy cur
catapulted out, barking in delight, and Mr. Kay brought him over to the
field. "Get away by!" he cried gesturing towards the cattle who had
resumed their grazing and the dog streaked behind them. I really began
to hope as we went up the hill with the hairy little figure darting in,
nipping at the heels, but at the barn the rot set in again. I could see
the heifers beginning to sense the inexperience of the dog and one of
them managed to kick him briskly under the chin as he came in. The
little animal yelped and his tail went down. He stood ~i l ~1
uncertainly, looking at the beasts, advancing on him now, shaking their
horns threateningly, then he seemed to come to a decision and slunk
away. The young cattle went after him at increasing speed and in a
moment I was looking at the extraordinary spectacle of the dog going
flat out down the hill with the heifers drumming close behind him. At
the foot he disappeared under a gate and we saw him no more.
Something seemed to give way in my head. "Oh God," I yelled, 'we're
never going to get these damn things tested! I'll just have to leave
them. I don't know what the Ministry is going to say, but I've had
The farmer looked at me ruminatively. He seemed to recognise that I was
at breaking point. "Aye, it's no good," he said, tapping his pipe out on
his heel. "We'll have to get Sam."
"Aye, Sam Broadbent. Works for me neighbour. He'll get 'em in all
How's he going to do that."
"Oh, he can imitate a fly."
For a moment my mind reeled. "Did you say imitate a fly."
"That's right. A warble fly, the knows. He's a bit slow is t'lad but by
gaw he can imitate a fly. I'll go and get him - he's only two fields
down the road."
I watched the farmer's retreating back in disbelief then threw myself
down on the ground. At any other time I would have enjoyed Lying there
on the slope with the sun on my face and the grass cool against my
sweating back; the air was still and heavy with the fragrance of clover
and when I opened my eyes the gentle curve of the valley floor was a
vision of peace. But my mind was a turmoil. I had a full day's Ministry
work waiting for me and I was an hour behind time already. I could
picture the long succession of farmers waiting for me and cursing me
heartily. The tension built in me till I could stand it no longer; I
jumped to my feet and ran down to the gate at the foot. I could see
along the road from there and was relieved to find that Mr. Kay was on
his way back.
Just behind him a large, fat man was riding slowly on a very small
bicycle, his heels on the pedals, his feet and knees sticking out at
right angles. Tufts of greasy black hair stuck out at random from under
a kind of skull cap which looked like an old bowler without the brim.
"Sam's come to give us a hand," said Mr. Kay with an air of quiet
"Good morning," I said and the big man turned slowly a,nd nodded. The
eyes in the round, unshaven face were vacant and incurious and I decided
that Sam did indeed look a bit slow. I found it difficult to imagine how
he could possibly be of any help.
The heifers, standing near by, watched with languid interest as we came
through the gate. They had obviously enjoyed every minute of the
morning's entertainment and it seemed they were game for a little more
fun if we so desired; but it was up to us, of course - they weren't
worried either way.
Sam propped his bicycle against the wall and paced solemnly forward. He
made a circle of his thumb and forefinger and placed it to his lips. His
cheeks worked as though he was getting everything into place then he
took a deep breath. And, from nowhere it seemed came a sudden swelling
of angry sound, a vicious humming and buzzing which made me look round
in alarm for the enraged insect zooming in for the kill.
The effect on the heifers was electric. Their superior air vanished and
was replaced by rigid anxiety; then, as the noise increased in volume,
they turned and charged up the hill. But it wasn't the carefree frolic
of before - no tossing heads, waving tails and kicking heels; this time
they kept shoulder to shoulder in a frightened block.
Mr. Kay and I, trotting on either side, directed them yet again up to
the building where they formed a group, looking nervously around them.
We had to wait for a short while for Sam to arrive. He was clearly a
one-pace man and ascended the slope unhurriedly. At the top he paused to
regain his breath, fixed the animals with a blank gaze and carefully
adjusted his fingers against his mouth. A moment's tense silence then
the humming broke out again, even more. furious and insistent than
The heifers knew when they were beaten. With a chorus of startled
bellows they turned and rushed into the building and I crashed the half
door behind them; I stood leaning against it unable to believe my
troubles were over. Sam joined me and looked into the dark interior. As
if to finally establish his mastery he gave a sudden sharp blast, this
time without his fingers, and his victims huddled still closer against
the far wall.
A few minutes later, after Sam had left us, I was happily clipping and
injecting the necks. I looked up at the farmer. "You know, I can still
hardly believe what I saw there. It was like magic. That chap has a
Mr. Kay looked over the half door and I followed his gaze down the
grassy slope to the road. Sam was riding away and the strange black
headwear was just visible, bobbing along the top of the wall.
"Aye, he can imitate a fly all right. Poor awd lad, it's t'only thing
he's good at."
Hurrying away from Mr. Kay's to my second test I reflected that if I had
to be more than an hour late for an appointment it was a lucky thing
that my next call was at the Hugills. The four brothers and their
families ran a herd which, with cows, followers and calves must have
amounted to nearly two hundred and I had to test the lot of them; but I
knew that my lateness wouldn't bring any querulous remarks on my heads
because the Hugills had developed the Dales tradition of courtesy to an
extraordinary degree. The stranger within their gates was treated like
As I drove into the yard I could see everybody leaving their immediate
tasks and advancing on me with beaming faces. The brothers were in the
lead and they stopped opposite me as I got out of the car, and I thought
as I always did that I
ages ranged from Walter who was about sixty, down through Thomas and
Fenwick to William, the youngest, who would be in his late forties, and
I should say their average weight would be about fifteen stones. They
weren't fat, either, just huge, solid men with bright red, shining faces
and clear eyes.
William stepped forward from the group and I knew what was coming, this
was always his job. He leaned forward, suddenly solemn, and looked into
"How are you today, sorr?" he asked.
"Very well, thank you, Mr. Hugill," I replied.
"Good!" said William fervently, and the other brothers all repeated
"Good, good, good," with deep satisfaction.
s William took a deep breath. "And how is Mr. Farnon."
"Oh, he's very fit, thanks."
"Good!" Then the rapid fire of the responses from behind him: "Good,
William hadn't finished yet. He cleared his throat. "And how is young
Mr. Farnon ."
"In really top form."
"Good!" But this time William allowed himself a gentle smile and from
behind him came a few dignified ho-ho's. Walter closed his eyes and his
great shoulders shook silently. They all knew Tristan.
William stepped back into line, his appointed task done and we all went
into the byre. I braced myself as I looked at the long row of backs, the
tails swishing at the flies. There was some work ahead here.
"Sorry I'm so late," I said, as I drew the tuberculin into the syringe.
"I was held up at the last place. It's difficult to forecast how long
these tests will take." All four brothers replied eagerly. "Aye, you're
right, sorr. It's difficult. It IS difficult. You're right, you're
right, it's difficult."
They went on till they had thrashed the last ounce out of the statement.
I finished filling the syringe, got out my scissors and began to push my
way between the first two cows. It was a tight squeeze and I puffed
slightly in the stifling atmosphere.
"It's a bit warm in here," I said.
Again the volley of agreement. "You're right, sorr. Aye, it's warm. It
IS warm. You're right. It's warm. It's warm. Aye, you're right." This
was all delivered with immense conviction and vigorous nodding of heads
as though I had made some incredible discovery; and as I looked at the
grave, intent faces still pondering over my brilliant remark, I could
feel my tensions beginning to dissolve. I was lucky to work here. Where
else but in the high country of Yorkshire would I meet people like
I pushed along the cow and got hold of its ear, but Walter stopped me
with a gentle cough.
"Nay, Mr. Herriot, you won't have to look in the ears. I have all
"'numbers wrote down."
"Oh, that's fine. It'll save us a lot of time." I had always found
scratching the wax away to find ear tattoos an overrated pastime. And it
was good to hear that the Hugills were attending to the clerical side;
there was a section in the Ministry form which said: "Are the herd
records in good order?" I always wrote "Yes," keeping my fingers crossed
as I thought of the scrawled figures on the backs of old bills, milk
recording sheets, anything.
"Aye," said Walter. "I have 'em all set down proper in a book."
"Great! Can you go and get it, then."
"No need, sorr, I have it 'ere." Walter was the boss, there was no doubt
about it. They all seemed to live in perfect harmony but when the chips
were down Walter took over automatically. He was the organiser, the
acknowledged brains of the outfit. The battered trilby which he always
wore in contrast with the others' caps gave him an extra air of
Everybody watched respectfully as he slowly and deliberately extracted a
spectacle case from an inside pocket. He opened it and took out an old
pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, blowing away fragments of the hay and
corn chaff with which the interior of the case was thickly powdered.
There was a quiet dignity and importance in the way he unhurriedly
threaded the side pieces over his ears and stood grimacing slightly to
work everything into place. Then he put his hand into his waistcoat
When he took it out he was holding some object but it was difficult to
identify, 1" _
.~CI, I saw that It was a tiny, ~,"~-er~veren miniature diary about two
inches square - the sort of novelty people give each other at
"Is that the herd record?" I asked.
"Yes, this is it. It's all set down in here." Walter daintily flicked
over the pages with a horny forefinger and squinted through his
spectacles. "Now that just cow - she's number eighty-fower."
"Splendid!" I said. "I'll just check this one and then we can go by the
book." I peered into the ear. "That's funny, I make it twenty-six."
The brothers had a look. "You're right, sorr, you're right. It IS
Walter pursed his lips. "Why, that's Bluebell's calf isn't it."
"Nay," said Fenwick, 'she's out of awd Buttercup."
"Can't be," mumbled Thomas. "Awd Buttercup was sold to Tim Jefferson
afore this 'un was born. This is Brenda's calf."
William shook his head. "Ah'm sure we got her as a heifer at Bob Ashby's
"All right," l said, holding up a hand. "We'll put in twenty-xix." I had
to cut in. It was m no way an argument, just a leisurely discussion but
it looked as if it could go on for some time. I wrote the number in my
notebook and injected the cow. "Now how about this next one."
"Well ah DO know that 'un," said Walter confidently, stabbing at an
entry in the diary. "Can't make no mistake, she's number five."
I looked in the ear. "Says a hundred and thirty-seven here."
It started again. "She was brought in, wasn't she?"
"Nay, nay, she's out of awd Dribbler."
"Don't think so - Dribbler had nowt but bulls ..."
I raised my hand again. "You know, I really think it might be quicker to
look in all the ears. Time's getting on."
"Aye, you're right, sorr, it IS getting on." Walter returned the herd
record to his waistcoat pocket philosophically and we started the
Laborious business of clipping, measuring and injecting every animal,
plus rubbing the inside of the ears with a cloth soaked in spirit to
identify the numbers which had often faded to a few unrelated dots.
Occasionally Walter referred to his tiny book. "Ah that's right,
ninety-two. I thowt so. It's all set down here."
Fighting with the loose animals in the boxes round the fold yard was
like having a dirty Turkish bath while wearing oil-skins. The brothers
caught the big beasts effortlessly and even the strongest bullock grew
quickly discouraged when it tried to struggle against those mighty arms.
But I noticed one strange phenomenon the men's fingers were so thick and
huge that they often slipped out of the animals' noses through sheer
It took an awful long time but we finally got through. The last little
calf had a space clipped in his shagg
felt the needle then I was out m the sweet air throwing my coat in the
car boot. I looked at my watch - three o'clock. I was nearly two hours
behind my schedule now and already I was hot and weary, with skinned
toes on my right foot where a cow had trodden and a bruised left instep
caused by the sudden descent of Fenwick's size thirteen hobnails during
a particularly violent melee. As I closed the boot and limped round to
the car door I began to wonder a little about this easy Ministry work.
Walter loomed over me and inclined his head graciously. "Come in and sit
down and have a drink o' tea."
"It's very kind of you and I wish I could, Mr. Hugill. But I've got a
long string of inspections waiting and I don't know when I'll get round
them. I've fixed up far too many and I completely underestimated the
time needed for your test. I really am an absolute fool."
~. ~,~,~<,` ~`, a v et 1 69
And the brothers intoned sincerely. "Aye, you're right, sorr, you're
right, you're right."
Well, there was no more testing today, but ten inspections still to do
and I should have been at the first one two hours ago. I roared off,
feeling that little ball tightening in my stomach as it always did when
I was fighting the clock.
Gripping the wheel with one hand and exploring my lunch packet with the
other, I pulled out a piece of Mrs. Hall's ham and egg pie and began to
gnaw at it as I went along.
But I had gone only a short way when reason asserted itself. This was no
good. It was an excellent pie and I might as well enjoy it. I pulled off
the unfenced road on to the grass, switched off the engine and opened
the windows wide. The farm back there was like an island of activity in
the quiet landscape and now that I was away from the noise and the
stuffiness of the buildings the silence and the emptiness enveloped me
like a soothing blanket. I leaned my head against the back of the seat
and looked out at the checkered greens of the little fields along the
flanks of the hills; thrusting upwards between their walls fill they
gave way to the jutting rocks and the harsh brown of the heather which
flooded the wild country above.
I felt better when I drove away and didn't particularly mind when the
farmer at the first inspection greeted me with a scowl.
"This isn't one o'clock, Maister!" he snapped. "My cows have been in all
afternoon and look at the bloody mess they've made. Ah'll never get the
place clean again."
I had to agree with him when I saw the muck piled up behind the cows; it
was one of the snags about housing animals in grass time. And the
farmer's expression grew blacker as most of them cocked their tails as
though in welcome and added further layers to the heaps.
"I won't keep you much longer," I said briskly, and began to work my way
down the row. Before the tuberculin testing scheme came into being,
these clinical examinations were the only means of detecting tuberculous
cows and I moved from animal to animal palpating the udders for any
unusual induration. The routine examinations were known jocularly in the
profession as 'bagsnatching' or 'cow-punching' and it was a job that
soon got tedious.
I found the only way to stop myself going nearly mad with boredom was to
keep reminding myself what I was there for. So when I came to a gaunt
red cow with a pendulous udder I straightened up and turned to the
"I'm going to take a milk sample from this one. She's a bit hard in the
left hind quarter."
The farmer sniffed. "Please yourself. There's nowt wrong with her but I
suppose it'll make a job for somebody."
Squirting milk from the quarter into a two ounce bottle, I thought about
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet by James Herriot / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes