Vets Might Fly, page 10
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
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
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."
"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.
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
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