Vets might fly, p.10

Vets Might Fly, page 10


Vets Might Fly

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  been no 'feel' to the soft London air and I half closed my eyes as I

  followed the tingle all the way down to my lungs.

  Mind you, it was cold. Yorkshire is a cold place and I could remember

  the sensation almost of shock at the start of my first winter in Darrow


  It was after the first snow and I followed the clanging ploughs up the

  Dale bumping along between high white mounds till I reached old Mr

  Stokill's gate With my fingers on the handle I looked through the glass

  at the new world beneath me. The white blanket rolled down the

  hillside and lapped over the roofs of the dwelling and outbuildings of

  the little farm. Beyond, it smoothed out and concealed the familiar

  features, the stone walls bordering the fields the stream on the valley

  floor, turning the whole scene into something unknown and exciting.

  But the thrill I felt at the strange beauty was swept away as I got out

  and the wind struck me. It was an Arctic blast screaming from the

  east, picking up extra degrees of cold as it drove over the frozen

  white surface. I was wearing a heavy overcoat and woollen gloves but

  the gust whipped its way right into my bones.

  I gasped and leaned my back against the car while I buttoned the coat

  up under my chin, then I struggled forward to where the gate shook and

  rattled. I fought it open and my feet crunched as I went through.

  Coming round the corner of the byre I found Mr Stokill forking muck on

  to a heap, making a churned brown trail across the whiteness.

  "Now then," he muttered along the side of a half-smoked cigarette. He

  was over seventy but still ran the small holding single-handed. He

  told me once that he had worked as a farm hand for six shillings a day

  for thirty years, yet still managed to save enough to buy his own

  little place. Maybe that was why he didn't want to share it.

  "How are you, Mr Stokill?" I said, but just then the wind tore through

  the yard, clutching icily at my face, snatching my breath away so that

  I turned involuntarily to one side with an explosive


  The old farmer looked at me in surprise, then glanced around as though

  he had just noticed the weather.

  "Aye, blows a bit thin this morn in', lad." Sparks flew from the end

  of his cigarette as he leaned for a moment on the fork.

  He didn't seem to have much protection against the cold. A light khaki

  smock fluttered over a ragged navy waistcoat, clearly once part of his

  best suit, and his shirt bore neither collar nor stud. The white

  stubble on his fleshless jaw was a reproach to my twenty-four years and

  suddenly I felt an inadequate city-bred softie.

  The old man dug his fork into the manure pile and turned towards the


  "Ah've got a nice few cases for ye to see today. Fust 'un's in 'ere."

  He opened a door and I staggered gratefully into a sweet bovine warmth

  where a few shaggy little bullocks stood hock deep in straw.

  "That's the youth we want." He pointed to a dark roan standing with

  one hind foot knuckled over.

  "He's been on three legs for a couple o' days. Ah reckon he's got


  I walked up to the little animal but he took off at a speed which made

  light of his infirmity.

  "We'll have to run him into the passage. Mr Stokill," I said.

  "Just open the gate, will you?"

  With the rough timbers pushed wide I got behind the bullock and sent

  him on to the opening. It seemed as though he was going straight

  through but at the entrance he stopped, peeped into the passage and

  broke away. I galloped a few times round the yard after him, then had

  another go. The result was the same.

  After half a dozen tries I wasn't cold any more. I'll back chasing

  young cattle against any thing else for working up a sweat, and I had

  already forgotten the uncharitable world outside. And I could see I

  was going to get warmer still because the bullock was beginning to

  enjoy the game, kicking up his heels and frisking around after each


  I put my hands on my hips, waited till I got my breath back then turned

  to the farmer.

  "This is hopeless. He'll never go in there," I said.

  "We'd maybe better try to get a rope on him."

  "Nay, lad, there's no need for that. We'll get him through t'gate

  right enough."

  The old man ambled to one end of the yard and returned with an armful

  of clean straw. He sprinkled it freely in the gate opening and beyond

  in the passage, then turned to me.

  "Now send 'im on."

  I poked a finger into the animal's rump and he trotted forward,

  proceeded unhesitatingly between the posts and into the passage.

  Mr Stokill must have noticed my look of bewilderment.

  "Aye, 'e just didn't like t'look of them cobbles. Once they was

  covered over he was aw right."

  "Yes . . . yes . . . I see." I followed the bullock slowly


  He was indeed suffering from foul of the foot, the mediaeval term given

  because of the stink of the necrotic tissue between the cleats, and I

  didn't have any antibiotics or sulphon amides to treat it. It is so

  nice and easy these days to give an injection, knowing that the beast

  will be sound in a day or two. But all I could do was wrestle with the

  lunging hind foot, dressing the infected cleft with a crude mixture of

  copper sulphate and Stockholm tar and finishing with a pad of cotton

  wool held by a tight bandage. When I had finished I took off my coat

  and hung it on a nail. I didn't need it any more.

  Mr Stokill looked approvingly at the finished job.

  "Capital, capital," he: murmured.

  "Now there's some little pigs in this pen got a bit o' scour. I want

  you give 'em a jab wi' your needle."

  We had various E cold vaccines which sometimes did a bit of good in

  these cases and I entered the pen hopefully. But I left in a hurry

  because the piglets' mother didn't approve of a stranger wandering

  among her brood and she came at me open-mouthed, barking explosively.

  She looked as big as a donkey and when the cavernous jaws with the

  great yellowed teeth brushed my thigh I knew it was time to go. I

  hopped rapidly into the yard and crashed the door behind me.

  I peered back ruminatively into the pen.

  "We'll have to get her out of there before I can do any thing, Mr


  "Aye, you're right, young man, ahtll shifter." He began to shuffle


  I held up a hand.

  "No, it's all right, I'll do it." I couldn't let this frail old man go

  in there and maybe get knocked down and savaged, and I looked around

  for a means of protection. There was a battered shovel standing

  against a wall and I seized it.

  "Open the door, please," I said.

  "I'll soon have her out."

  Once more inside the pen I held the shovel in front of me and tried to

  usher the huge sow towards the door. But my efforts at poking her rear

  end were fruitless; she faced me all the time, wide-mouthed and

  growling as I circled.

  When she got the blade of the shovel between her teeth and be
gan to

  worry it I called a halt.

  As I left the pen I saw Mr Stokill dragging a large object over the


  "What's that?" I asked.

  "Dustbin," the old man grunted in reply.

  "Dustbin! What on earth . . .?"

  He gave no further explanation but entered the pen. As the sow came at

  him he allowed her to run her head into the bin then, bent double, he

  began to back her towards the open door. The animal was clearly

  baffled. Suddenly finding herself in this strange dark place she

  naturally tried to retreat from it and all the farmer did was guide


  Before she knew what was happening she was out in the yard. The old

  man calmly removed the bin and beckoned to me.

  "Right you are, Mr Herriot, you can get on now."

  It had taken about twenty seconds.

  Well, that was a relief, and anyway I knew what to do next. Lifting a

  skier. t of corrugated iron which the farmer had ready I rushed in

  among the little pigs.

  I Would pen them in a corner and the job would be over in no time.

  But their mother's irritation had been communicated to the family. It

  was a big litter and there were sixteen of them hurtling around like

  little pink racehorses I spent a long time diving frantically after

  them, jamming the sheet at a bunch only to see half of them streaking

  out the other end, and I might have gone on indefinitely had I not felt

  a gentle touch on my arm.

  "Haud on, young man, haud on." The old farmer looked at me kindly.

  "If you'll nob but stop runnin' after 'em they'll settle down. Just

  bide a minute."

  Slightly breathless, I stood by his side and listened as he addressed

  the little creatures.

  "Giss-giss, giss-giss," murmured Mr Stokill without moving.

  "Giss-giss, giss giss.

  The piglets slowed their headlong gallop to a trot, then, as though

  controlled by telepathy, they all stopped at once and stood in a pink

  group in one corner.

  "Giss-giss," said Mr Stokill approvingly, advancing almost

  imperceptibly with the sheet.


  He unhurriedly placed the length of metal across the corner and jammed

  his foot against the bottom.

  "Now then, put the toe of your Wellington against tother end and we

  'ave 'em," he said quietly.

  After that the injection of the litter was a matter of a few minutes.

  Mr Stokill didn't say,

  "Well, I'm teaching you a thing or two today, am I not?" There was no

  hint of triumph or self-congratulation in the calm old eyes. All he

  said was, "I'm keep in' you busy this morn in', young man. I want you

  to look at a cow now. She's got a pea in her tit."

  "Peas' and other obstructions in the teats were very common in the days

  of hand milking. Some of them were floating milk calculi, others tiny

  pedunculated tumours, injuries to the teat lining, all sorts of things.

  It was a whole diverting little field in itself and I approached the

  cow with interest.

  But I didn't get very near before Mr Stokill put his hand on my


  "Just a minute, Mr Herriot, don't toucher tit yet or she'll clout ye.

  She's an awd bitch. Wait a minute till ah rope'er."

  "Oh right," I said.

  "But I'll do it."

  He hesitated.

  "Ah reckon I ought to . . ."

  "No, no, Mr Stokill that's quite unnecessary, I know how to stop a cow

  kicking." I said primly.

  "Kindly hand me that rope."

  "But . . . she's a bugger ... kicks like a 'oss. She's a right good

  milker but "Don't worry," I said, smiling.

  "I'll stop her little games."

  I began to unwind the rope. It was good to be able to demonstrate that

  I did know something about handling animals even though I had been

  qualified for only a few months. And it made a change to be told

  before and not after the job that a cow was a kicker. A cow once

  kicked me nearly to the other end of the byre and as I picked myself up

  the farmer said unemotionally,

  "Aye, she's all us had a habit o' that."

  Yes, it was nice to be warned, and I passed the rope round the animal's

  body in front of the udder and pulled it tight in a slip knot. Just

  like they taught us at college She was a scrawny red short horn with a

  woolly poll and she regarded me with a contemplative eye as I bent


  "All right, lass," I said soothingly, reaching under her and gently

  grasping the teat I squirted a few jets of milk then something blocked

  the end. Ah yes, there it was, quite large and unattached. I felt

  sure I could work it through the orifice without cutting the


  I took a firmer grip, squeezed tightly and immediately a cloven foot

  shot out like a whip lash and smacked me solidly on the knee. It is a

  particularly painful spot to be kicked and I spent some time hopping

  round the byre and cursing in a fervent whisper.

  The farmer followed me anxiously.

  "Ee, ah'm sorry, Mr Herriot, she's a right awd bugger. Better let me.

  . ."

  I held up a hand.

  "No, Mr Stokill. I already have her roped. I just didn't tie it tight

  enough, that's all." I hobbled back to the animal, loosened the knot

  then retied it, pulling till my eyes popped. When I had finished, her

  abdomen was lifted high and nipped in like a wasp-waisted Victorian

  lady of fashion.

  "That'll fix you," I grunted, and bent to my work again. A few spurts

  of milk then the thing was at the teat end again, a pinkish-white

  object peeping through the orifice. A little extra pressure and I

  would be able to fish it out with the hypodermic needle I had poised

  ready. I took a breath and gripped hard.

  This time the hoof caught me half way up the shin bone. She hadn't

  been able to get so much height into it but it was just as painful. I

  sat down on a milking stool, rolled up my trouser leg and examined the

  roll of skin which hung like a diploma at the end of a long graze where

  the sharp hoof had dragged along.

  "Now then, you've 'ad enough, young man." Mr Stokill removed my rope

  and gazed at me with commiseration.

  "Ordinary methods don't work with this 'un.

  I 'ave to milk her twice a day and ah knew."

  He fetched a soiled length of plough cord which had obviously seen much

  service and fastened it round the cow's hock. The other end had a hook

  which he fitted into a ring on the byre wall. It was just the right

  length to stretch taut.

  pulling the leg slightly back.

  The old man nodded.

  "Now try."

  With a feeling of fatalism I grasped the teat again. And it was if the

  cow knew she was beaten. She never moved as I nipped hard and wink led

  out the offending obstruction. She couldn't do a thing about it.

  "Ah, thank ye, lad," the farmer said.

  "That's champion. Been bothering me a bit has that. Didn't know what

  it was." He held up a finger.

  "One last job for ye. A young heifer with a bit o' stomach trouble, ah

  think. Saw her last night and she was a bit blown. She's in an

  outside build in'."

  I put on my coat and we went out to where the wind welcomed us with

  savage glee. As the knife-like blast hit me, whistling up my nose and

  making my eyes water, I cowered in the lee of the stable.

  "Where is this heifer?" I gasped.

  Mr Stokill did not reply immediately. He was lighting another

  cigarette, apparently oblivious of the elements. He clamped the lid on

  an ancient brass lighter and jerked his thumb.

  "Across the road. Up there."

  I followed his gesture over the buried walls, across the narrow roadway

  between the ploughed-out snow dunes to where the fell rose steeply in a

  sweep of unbroken white to join the leaden sky. Unbroken, that is,

  except for a tiny barn, a grey stone speck just visible on the last

  airy swell hundreds of feet up where the hillside joined the moorland


  "Sorry," I said, still crouching against the wall.

  "I can't see any thing."

  The old man, lounging in the teeth of the wind, looked at me in

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