Vets share the highs and lows of farm life

It is not easy to scratch with a hoof. Cows near Old Hartley. Picture by Jim Jones
It is not easy to scratch with a hoof. Cows near Old Hartley. Picture by Jim Jones

A little while ago I turned up at a farm and as I was putting my wellies on at my car, the farmer turned up with a bucket of hot water.

Puzzled, I looked at him and he replied that he’d read in the farming press that vets complain they don’t get enough hot water on farms for washing down with. He’d made it extra hot so it would still be warm when we’d finished. That simple gesture put a smile on my face all day.

As farm vets, we ride the highs and lows of the industry with farmers. Whether the frustrating lack of action against TB, falling prices, terrible weather, losses and diseases, we feel it too.

Ask any vet student why they want to be a vet and they will always reply with the standard answer – “because I love animals”.

Perhaps the reason is because, like me, they don’t know how to express it. There is just a gravitational pull to that role that is indescribable, even in a university interview, and can only be expressed as ‘a love of animals’.

I knew at four years old that I either wanted to be a race horse trainer or a vet. By six years of age, I knew that I wanted to be a farm vet and even at the age of six, my Year 4 primary school teacher telling me that I was “too thick to be a vet” did not put me off.

Thankfully, I have had some incredibly inspiring teachers since.

Having met up again with one of my secondary school teachers later in life, I was asked what drives me because she remembers me being so determined, blinkered towards my goal of getting into vet school, and because I wasn’t the brightest in my class, having to work like the devil to get there.

A work ethic that I believe comes from my farming background and has stayed with me. I know what it’s like to work until you drop, to drive a tractor all night because rain is forecast in the morning, to come home from school and go out to work on the farm for three or four hours feeding and bedding stock, then come in, have tea and start on homework at 9pm.

Growing up on a livestock farm gave me great insight into the farming industry and also a great connection with it, which has only grown stronger overtime.

As farm vets, we ride the highs and lows of the industry with farmers. Whether the frustrating lack of action against the rise of bTB, falling prices, terrible weather, losses and diseases, we feel it too.

Often as a small animal vet, there isn’t the relationship developed as with farm vets and farmers – the highs and lows of farming families lives, often three generations all on a farm together, weddings, funerals, the stressful emergency of a calving, then the surreal moment of sitting around a kitchen table with everyone drinking coffee at 3am after a successful caesarean. A farm vet often experiences it all, along with farmers and their families.

Also, I do love cows. Cows are amazing. And I like sheep too, and pigs.

People often comment on vets like me who have their own livestock at home.

Again, I think it’s that pull towards the industry, the production, the satisfaction of selling or eating something you have produced yourself, but also coming home at the end of the day to be greeted by your own stock after a long and tiring day looking after everyone else’s.

So, starting out it was my ‘love of animals’ that initially got me here, but it’s the people and the industry that keeps me here.