The challenges and the rewards of busy season

Now that we’re at mid-May, it’s hopefully not premature to predict the winding down of the super-busy out-of-hours season for our farm vets.

Livestock farming is an activity that has very few slack periods, particularly if you have cattle and sheep, and more so if you calve your cows in the autumn, as well as in the spring.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many calvings you’ve done in your career, there’s always a sense of nervous anticipation as you drive to them.

And collectively that’s what our farm clients do, so we’ve got to be available 24/7 to attend to emergency situations whenever they arise.

March, April and May undoubtedly provide the highest demand for emergency farm calls due to lambing and spring calving coinciding.

Many of the call-outs are life and death situations so we need to be sure that we have extra vet power available.

This means extra weekends to be worked and time sheets regularly showing 70 or 80-hour working weeks.

Days are hectic, with the office staff arranging dozens of call-outs every day and making sure that vets are deployed to emergencies immediately.

Stress levels can escalate on the turn of a phone call, and the day’s work never seems to work out the way it is on the diary in the morning – flexibility is the name of the game.

Nights and weekends are something else again – there’s no knowing if, or when, there will be an opportunity to eat or sleep. My policy is to do both whenever an opportunity presents.

Our out-of-hours telephone service has a team which passes calls on to us in a efficient and breezy way, no matter what the hour of the day or night. I do my best to respond in kind, but when sleep has been scarce and they wake me in the early hours, I’m sure my mumbling, faltering response betrays how I feel at that moment.

As the spring weeks progress I begin to notice that it’s also taking its toll on Mrs Macfarlane – her normally youthful radiance gradually succumbing to the regular disturbance of my emergency phone ringing at ungodly hours. (Followed by lights-on as I trip into my work clothes and stumble off on another call).

But, despite all of this, some of our most rewarding results of all happen during this busy time.

Every day (and night) brings the satisfaction of more lives saved and farmers’ difficulties resolved. And on most occasions they are great fun too.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many calvings you’ve done in your career, there’s always a sense of nervous anticipation as you drive to them.

You never know if the calf will still be alive, if the cow will behave (I’ve only had one bruised leg from a well-aimed kick this year), or even if a Caesarian Section will be necessary.

And this year saw another stressor added to the mix – it seemed that all of our farmer clients had spent their evenings relaxing in front of the TV watching This Farming Life on BBC2. So when we show up to perform just about any job, our best efforts are scrutinised and compared to events on last night’s programme.

The veterinary star of This Farming Life was Paco, from the North East of Scotland, who had a peculiarly direct and dynamic approach to his calvings and lambings. It is now common that, if any procedure doesn’t go entirely as planned, our farmer informs us that “Paco wouldn’t have done it like that.”

I normally respond along the lines of “After a long and illustrious career etc, etc…..“, before wending my way back home to wake Mrs Macfarlane up once again.

Roll on next spring.

• Alnorthumbria Vets is a mixed practice that treats all species of domestic animals (and a few wild ones as well). Within the practice, vets have developed special interests so there are separate teams dedicated to the care of farm animals, horses and small animals, with nine centres across Northumberland.