Herriot is having a hard time with a calving in the dead of winter. The calf is not properly presented for delivery, and Herriot has to endure much nay-saying and second-guessing from the farmer’s uncle. After hours of struggling with the calf within the cow, Herriot is ready to give up, but then he gets the rope around the calf’s jaw and delivers a healthy calf. “Uncle” is sure that his veterinarian could have performed the task better.
Herriot remembers the day he came to talk to his would-be boss, Siegfried Farnon, with only a little hope that he would get a paid position. Times are bad in England, and most students that graduated with Herriot are lucky to find work just to pay their board. Herriot very much enjoys the English countryside, and is surprised when he meets Farnon that he’s not German, as Herriot expected, but a regular Englishman.
Herriot goes on farm calls with Farnon in this chapter. He is grateful to be doing real work, and feels that this is the best way to show Farnon that he is qualified for the position. Herriot has a draft horse lean on him for untold minutes, while he digs for an abscess in the animal’s hoof. At their last call he gets kicked by a cow. But he has survived his first day.
Farnon and Herriot stop at a pub after finishing their rounds, and Farnon hires the young vet, for wages plus board. After a talk with a local farmer who imparts a secret about marshmallow cream being the heal-all for hoof ailments, Herriot joins Farnon at the house where he will live, Skeldale House.
Herriot is anxious to go on a farm call by himself, and he does get that chance, but the horse he goes to see has a twisted intestine, and needs to be put down. The problem is that the stable manager expected that he could be made well, especially if Farnon had come. Soames calls later to complain about Herriot, but Farnon backs Herriot up.
Farnon performs a necropsy on the valuable hunter that Herriot put down in the last chapter. He finds that Herriot was correct in his diagnosis. Herriot meets Tristan, Farnon’s younger brother, who is not like his older brother at all. Tristan has flunked both of his veterinary courses, which Farnon is paying for, and is sternly lectured. He accepts it graciously.
With Tristan and Herriot both on board, the practice settles into a stable routine. Tristan is a bit lazy about taking morning calls, which earns him more chastising by Siegfried. After working on some nearly-wild cattle, Herriot relaxes and enjoys the countryside he has found himself in, and thinks he will do well here.
In this chapter, Herriot learns that the elder Farnon is a lady’s man and someone who constantly contradicts himself. The contradictions fluster Herriot, and in this chapter, Farnon tells Herriot the wrong farm to drive to, then insists he didn’t, and then mildly berates Herriot for abusing his fine car, which is actually an old and junky car.
Tristan and Siegfried play jokes on each other, but whereas Tristan’s usually work, his older brother cannot often get Tristan to fall for any of his pranks. Later, Herriot himself tricks Tristan, telling him that a uterus they spent all afternoon pushing back into a cow has worked its way out again.
Herriot is settling into the life in Darrowby, and the townspeople and farmers are becoming more accepting of him, since he does know how to do his job. Still, he is not at all used to the laid back pace of the farmers. One family has asked him to take them to a concert he is also attending, but they proceed to eat a sumptuous lunch, and eventually Herriot is late to the concert, and has to endure the irritation of the other audience members.
This chapter tells the sad story of an elderly man in a poor section of town, whose old dog is sick. Herriot checks the dog and finds a tumor that is not operable. As much as he hates to tell the man, the dog must be put down. The old man agrees, and kneels down to tell his old dog good-bye. Herriot injects the dog, and refuses to accept money for the shot. The dog dies peacefully, and the old man gives Herriot a cigar in thanks.
In this chapter, Siegfried assigns Tristan to collect money on the day everyone comes in to pay. He seems to do well, and is congenial with the patrons, but has not yet recorded any transactions in the ledger when the payment book goes missing. So, the customers who have already paid still are billed the next month, and this does not generate any good will for the practice.
One of Herriot’s easy patients is Tricky Woo, a little dog who is owned by a rich older lady. She spends lots of money on the dog, but feeds him too much fat, which Herriot is always trying to get her to stop. Tricky Woo sends treats to Skeldale House, and Herriot learns that he must talk to the dog just like he would a person.
Farnon hires a book-keeper, to avoid another debacle with the books, but she is harsh with him when she finds out that they just stuff the receipts into a pot on a shelf. She tells them they will need to be more organized, and she is a tough lady.
Siegfried decides he’d like to have fresh eggs and bacon for breakfast, so he gets some hens and pigs and tells Tristan it’s his job to look after them. The group ends up with hens up in the trees and Siegfried sells them. Although they never laid one egg at Skeldale house, they are excellent layers at the next farm, because Tristan was not careful about what he fed them.
Tristan does better with the piglets than the hens, but they grow very large, and are always knocking him down when he tries to feed them. One time, he left the gate open, and they trampled him and escaped. They are all rounded up except one, but then Tristan finds that Siegfried’s new hunter mare got loose, and they have to travel to a neighbors house to pick her up.
The new book-keeper is very upset with Siegfried, because he keeps taking money out of petty cash whenever he needs it, but doesn’t leave a note as to how much he took or what it was for. In addition, she describes his poor receipt penmanship, and those are only on the few occasions when he actually remembers to write them down.
Herriot recalls a lesson learned, in this chapter. After having only seen a diagram of a horse in veterinary school, he decides he knows everything about horses. He sees an old, sway-backed coal cart horse, and attempts to soothe him. The horse picks him up and hangs onto him by his fancy coat until the owner returns. Herriot is properly humbled.
Herriot attends a party for Tricky-Woo, and discovers just how much he is being overfed by his loving owner. He gently chastises her and shows her the correct amount to feed the dog. Herriot drinks too much at the party, and then gets called out on a farm call in the middle of the night. He falls asleep trying to deliver a pig, since he is still tipsy from the drinking, and the farmer has to wake him up. The rest of the pigs are soon delivered.
The new book-keeper is the latest to be flustered by Siegfried’s contradictions. He tells her the money box has to be kept full, even though he empties it at will, and tells her all the bills need to go out the first of the month, even though he doesn’t give her many receipts for the work he has done himself. She is truly on the receiving end of this frustrating phenomenon.
A dog is slow in coming around after surgery in this chapter. Farnon and Herriot go on their rounds, leaving Tristan to watch the dog, who is howling constantly. He is still howling when they return from their rounds, and Tristan is drunk. The dog wakes up, and Siegfried tells Tristan to take him to his room, where it’s safe, and then the dog paces all night. Tristan is fit to be tied, and the next day, the dog finally gets to go home.
Herriot takes a dog to another vet’s office, since it is his patient, and the vet performs surgery. He wants Herriot to take the dog back, but not until the anesthesia wears off. So Herriot is stuck going on a farm call with the other vet, who has none of the pleasant characteristics that most Scotsmen do. The vet asks for his help, but he is dressed in a suit. The vet gives him a black coverall to wear, so that he can help, but he doesn’t end up needing to do much. The other vet has a good laugh at Herriot’s expense.
Herriot treats a cow with a calcium deficiency, even though the owner thinks she is dying. There are newer injectables now, and they work very well. They take the cow and her calf back to the barn, from the stream where she had been laying. Herriot is invited for breakfast, and has an excellent meal. Later, the book-keeper at Skeldale House and Farnon are arguing again, and she is winning until he takes a note she wrote for him and shreds it.
Siegfried wants Tristan to leave the house for a night, but Tristan wants to go to a dance in the village. Siegfried picks the worst task he can think of for Tristan, working on the ear of a mean old sow. Tristan makes several trips to the farm, and returns with different excuses about why he couldn’t take care of the sow. Siegfried sends him out yet again. Finally, Tristan tells Herriot that the sow wouldn’t let him in her pen, but he finally got so mad that he chased her around. As it turns out, the sow is a coward, and burst her ear growth on the wall.
Spring finally comes to the Dales after a long and bitter winter. Herriot learns about lambing, and also about how quickly the lambs can find their ewes after being corralled for vaccinations. Then he learns about foaling, which is a lot harder than delivering lambs. Even harder is the castration of the male horses that will not be used at stud. They used to drug and throw the colts and do the procedure on the ground, but the new method leaves the colts standing up. Herriot is supposed to work on a horse that turns out to be a six year old stallion, and he is afraid to do it. He hopes that Farnon will do the horse, but he doesn’t. Finally, Herriot has to work on the horse, and the horse kicks him in the leg. Herriot realizes that fear is worse than the hurt leg.
Herriot calls on a farmer with six sick steers. The farmer is waiting for some new-fangled diagnosis and treatment, since Herriot is young and fresh out of veterinary school. Instead, Herriot tells him the animals have lead poisoning, and to give them Epsom salts. The farmer is disappointed at the old-school remedy, but it works. Later, the man has a bull who is down and has a temperature of 110. Once again, he expects a new remedy, but the bull has heat stroke, so Herriot has the men spray him with water, which effectively cures him. Once again, the man is disappointed that he never got to see newer methods used.
Farnon wants the vets to display more professionalism, so he takes them along on a farm call, after donning a white lab coat. Time and again, Farnon tries to get the wire from a cow’s second stomach. Finally, he decides to lance the stomach, since there is a build up of gas. He is thoroughly sprayed and quite ill-smelling all the way home. Tristan and Herriot hang their heads out the car windows, but Farnon declares that the day was a success.
We meet the knacker in this chapter. He is the man who hauls away dead animals and renders them. He also checks for cause of death. One farmer wants to collect on insurance for a cow that he says was struck by lightning, but Herriot says the animal died of heart failure. The farmer goes to the knacker for a second opinion, and he finds a tumor that caused the heart to fail. The farmer is left with neither expert able or willing to help him get insurance money for the dead cow.
The farmer who couldn’t get the insurance money still uses the practice at Skeldale House, after complaining to Farnon about the cow’s cause of death. Siegfried sends Tristan to deliver ointment to Cranford, the cow farmer, and he also tells him to drop a fecal sample off at a local laboratory. Instead, Tristan accidentally mixes up the packages and Cranford is rubbing fecal matter onto his cows, which gives everyone at the practice a laugh.
Tricki-Woo is very ill in this chapter, having been overfed to the point of being near death. Herriot decides he needs two weeks away from his owner to regain his health, which worries her to no end. After with-holding food for two days, they bring him up to one meal a day, and he loses weight playing with Siegfried’s dogs, as well. When he recovers, his owner thinks it is a miracle of modern science, when it was just proper feeding.
Herriot is called out in the middle of the night, for a mare who is having trouble foaling. He goes out in his pajamas, with a coat over them. He repositions the foal properly inside the mare, and it is born without any further issues. Herriot drives to the local cafe, forgetting he is wearing only pajamas and a coat. He orders coffee and a sandwich, but hasn’t brought his wallet, so the waitress gives him his coffee on the house. The other people in the cafe joke about his clothing, thinking him possibly a prison escapee.
Herriot goes out to check a cow that is down, and despite some help, she will not rise. He hears a noise in her bones and decides that she has a broken pelvis and probably will not walk again. Of course, as these things go, the cow gets up the next day, and Farnon explains to Herriot that sometimes cows have a weakening of the ligaments after they have a calf, and of course the farmer tells anyone who will listen about the cow that Herriot said would never get up again, but who did.
Tricky-Woo’s owner has bought a pig, and she keeps it in the kitchen, much to the chagrin of her cooks, since pigs definitely have their own odor. Herriot convinces her that the place for pigs is outdoors. He checks the pig once because the owner thinks he is sick, stopping and starting during urination, which is normal for pigs. Now Herriot has two nephews, and Farnon gives him some grief at having a pig for a nephew, but he gets more treats and gifts.
Dr. Grier, the other vet in the area, needs help at his practice, and Herriot goes, but is not happy about it. He gets plain porridge three meals a day. He is called out for a cow who has a prolapsed uterus, and Grier tells him not to put in retention sutures. Herriot does as he is told, even though he normally puts in the sutures. Predictably, they get a call that her uterus is back out, and Dr. Grier reinserts her uterus and then puts in the stitches he told Herriot not to, while Herriot must listen to comments about his less than adequate veterinary skills.
Dr. Grier falls sick again, so Herriot must help him once more. A client calls and says her dog has a bone in his throat, but Grier tells Herriot that it will actually be pharyngitis. Herriot examines the dog, who appears fine, and tells the owner what Dr. Grier told him to tell her. As it turns out, Dr. Grier is having an affair with the woman who owns the dog, and there is nothing wrong with the dog. An assistant is hired by Dr. Grier, and Herriot happily returns to Skeldale House, even though the first thing he hears there is the Farnon brothers arguing.
Herriot works on the cow of a poor farmer. The cow has mastitis, and even after treatment and cleaning, she will never produce milk from all of her teats. The farmer gladly says he will clean her out if it means he can still milk her at all. The next morning, Herriot stops by to check on the cow, and the farmer has spent the whole night cleaning his cow out, and she is doing better. The farmer, dead on his feet, nevertheless goes on to his other job.
Farnon watches Herriot stitching up a dog at Skeldale House, and tells him he’s using too much suture material. Farnon finishes himself, using the bare minimum. When they go to suture up a foal together, Herriot remembers the lecture and only uses a bit of catgut at a time. Farnon is frustrated, and pulls off a huge length, so much that he must stand to stitch. Farnon chastises Herriot in front of the farmer about not being so thrifty, and Herriot just grumbles at this latest contradiction.
We learn about Mr. Worley, a pig-breeder, in this chapter. He is very successful, contrary to what the locals believe he should be. Herriot becomes one of Mr. Worley’s favorites when he works on a sow’s foot, and the breeder has him over to his inn for liquor, against local regulations. Worley has a pig give birth and then not produce milk, but Herriot gives her a shot that helps almost immediately. He shares a round at the inn, not realizing he bought the round. After he leaves, the bar is raided by a visiting constable, and they are fined. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone, though.
Tristan drives Herriot to a farm call in this chapter, since Herriot has an infection in his arm. They are driving the older Austin, since Tristan had an accident in his car the same week. After the call, they are relaxing, until they see the Austin rolling down the hill, since Tristan forgot to set the parking brake. The car spews veterinary instruments all over and crashes into a shed. The car is none the worse for wear, but the shed is destroyed. It was leased by a local golf club. The farmer says he won’t tell anyone what happened. The next day, Farnon is still ill and Tristan and Herriot have to use his Land Rover. Someone sideswipes them, and the Land Rover is damaged. Tristan tells Siegfried and the elder Farnon fires the younger again, but they both know he doesn’t really mean it.
Herriot is called to look at an injured calf, and he can’t find it at the farm, so he knocks at the house. A young lady named Helen takes him to the place where the cow is. Herriot puts a cast on the calf’s leg, and has a pleasant talk with Helen. He learns from the Farnons that Helen is popular with the men, but picky about who she dates.
Herriot does a spell of work as a veterinary inspector, which means checking all the local cattle for tuberculosis. At the first farm, six calves cannot be caught, until a neighbor with a unique skill imitates a fly, and all the cows come running.
Herriot is already behind on time on his TB testing, after that first farm. At the second farm, he has to clean all the ears of the cattle, because the farmers can’t remember which is which. Herriot realizes he needs to schedule fewer farms per day to check, and the rest of the farmers this day are angry with him. Some have even turned their cows back out, since they think he’s not coming. They don’t like to clean the barns, so the cows are usually left outside in the summer. At the next farm, no one is there but the cows are in, so Herriot starts checking them. One particular cow keeps pummeling him and kicking him, so he pulls his way into the hayloft. The farmer is amused. At the last farm, Herriot checks the last cow in line, only to find he’s checking a bull, instead. This farmer is also amused by Herriot.
Miss Stubbs is a poor, older woman, who has five animals, all but one of which is ill. Herriot visits her often, helping the sick animals. After a favorite dog, Ben, dies, she says that she’ll be next. She passes away and Herriot hears about it second-hand. He rushes to her house, fearing for her animals. But they have been taken in by her housekeeper, and they greet him like the old friend he is.
Herriot is trying to woo Helen Alderson, whom he met on a farm call. He goes to concerts she attends, since she likes music, but he is too shy to make much headway. When they clean up after a concert, he asks her out and she agrees. But he is worried that he might have pressured her into accepting.
After discussing an article that says small animal breeders love their animals more than do breeders of large animals, Herriot goes out to float the teeth of two horses, at a successful farm owned by John Skipton. Herriot discovers the horses are older, with so much white hair that they look like roans. They are indeed older horses, who need their teeth kept floated and smooth, so that they can digest their food. Skipton says the horses were slaves when he was. He obviously cares very much for them. One horse has two long, sharp teeth, and he doesn’t even react when Herriot is able to snap them off, since he is used to good care.
Herriot’s assistant passes out during a bloody surgery, and this reaffirms his belief that large men are more prone to this. He remembers another occasion when he asked for help and a big man volunteered. He, too, passed out, and the small farm owner came to assist Herriot. He has one farmer pay him money before his work begins, and he will wait until after the castrations to give the man his change. The man faints, so Herriot leaves the change, which wakes the man up, and he says he’s short on his change.
Mr. Sidlow always waits until the last minute to call the veterinarian, causing his animals to be in pain for longer than they need to be. This man has been a client of Siegfried’s, but now Herriot has him. The current call is for a bullock that swallowed something, and the farmer has tried to push it down his throat, and in the process cut his windpipe. Herriot tells him that the bullock must be put down, but the man does not agree. Herriot signs a form stating that the meat is alright to buy for butchering. Later, Herriot is called to a local track to stitch up a horse, and he is nervous, since the horse’s usual vet is very well-known as an excellent veterinarian. The stable boy gives him a tip on a good bet, and Herriot goes to the bank and gets out money to bet, then changes clothes and is ready to head back to the track when Mr. Sidlow calls Skeldale House. He has a gravely ill cow, and by the time Herriot gets to the track, the race is over, and the 10-1 horse he had a tip on has won.
Herriot will take Helen on their first date today. Herriot has a quickly-altered suit that is out of style and fits poorly and then after he picks Helen up, their car ends up on a road that is washed out. They go to her house for shoes, and he has to wear an ill-fitting pair of her father’s shoes. Add to this a flat tire, and the fact that he needed a hotel reservation to eat at the hotel restaurant. The date feels uncomfortable to Herriot, and he’s sure that Helen hadn’t wanted to go, anyway.
The brakes in the Austin are shot, and Herriot has to drive it for some time like this, since Siegfried always forgets to have it done. Finally Siegfried has to drive the car, with Herriot along, and he has a very hard time stopping the car. Afterwards, he chides Herriot for “not telling him” about the brakes. Herriot just remains silent.
Mr. Denham is a millionaire but still plays football pools. He makes vet calls to Siegfried, since he won a pool once, on betting days, but they are always non-serious issues. He just wants to know who to pick in the pool. When Herriot is called to see Denham’s Great Dane, she is afraid he is there to steal her newborn pups, and she bites him nastily in the leg. Siegfried jokes about it until he sees how badly the dog bit Herriot.
It is Herriot’s second winter in Yorkshire, and there is more snow than the previous year. Herriot drives as close as he can to his farm call, but has to get out and walk. The snowfall picks up and he wanders around, quite lost, until he ends up at the right farm. The farmer says it seems like a plain day.
Farnon half-listens to Herriot detailing a case, and he hears the details wrong. Herriot repeats himself, but Farnon still doesn’t catch it. He tells Herriot that after he has been a vet for awhile, he won’t be so easily confused. This irritates Herriot. Herriot speaks to Tristan afterward, and the younger Farnon says it’s probably not Siegfried who is bothering Herriot, but the events with Helen. Herriot suspects that Tristan is right.
A poor farmer named Rudd has finally saved up enough money to buy a cow, and he is pleased when he can finally get her. Herriot gets along well with the family, and discovers that the way Mrs. Rudd feeds all 7 kids is feeding lots of pudding so they’re not as hungry for the main course. Sadly, the new cow develops a throat abscess, and while he treats it, she steadily gets worse. The family appreciates his efforts, but this just makes him feel guilty.
Herriot finally decides to lance the abscess on the cow’s neck, but fears she is too far gone. Instead, she recovers, and he and the Rudds are very happy that she is back to her regular self again. Herriot looks back now, knowing how much harder everything was back then, and wishes he had some of our techniques and medicines in earlier years.
The worst problem at Skeldale House practice is customers that won’t pay. The non-payers are usually quite charming, but they don’t pay their bills. Farnon’s favorite non-payer is a man called The Major, who lived in Darrowby for three years and never paid anyone anything. He was so charming that he just got away with it.
There are also non-payers who are not charming. One such man is the local butcher. He always expects the veterinarians to drop whatever they are doing and attend to his animals, but he doesn’t pay his bills. Herriot helps deliver twin calves for the man, and they both live, which is unusual. The butcher offers some sausage for Herriot’s efforts, but Herriot asks him how much they are and pays for them, to try to prove a point.
Herriot double-dates with Tristan in this chapter, but although his date is nice, he only thinks of Helen. Herriot and his date, Connie, get drunk and then eat too much filling food. They end up outside in the mud, sine they feel sick. Later, back inside, he and Connie run into Helen, and Herriot is completely mortified.
In this chapter, Herriot recalls stories about some of the people who live in the Yorkshire area. He remembers farmers who had extraordinary animals, as well as farmers who seemed unable to get along with anyone, and farmers who tried to live life on the land but couldn’t make it. One lady from a farm brings Herriot kittens to heal, and he is happy to be able to help her with a new vaccines and equally happy to hear from the farmer later on, that they are now cats.
Herriot meets gypsy’s who have a foundering black and white pinto pony in this chapter. Founder is serious and can easily kill a horse even today, but Herriot and Farnon bleed the pony and tell the owners to let him stand in a stream a few minutes at a time, many times each day. Days later, they see the gypsy’s leaving, and the pony is fine.
Helen brings her dog Dan into the practice and asks for Herriot. The dog has a dislocated hip, and he and Helen work together to pop it back into place. Mrs. Hall makes tea for Herriot and Helen, and Herriot calls later that day to check on the dog, who is better. While on the phone, he asks Helen out and she happily agrees.
Rich and poor families are recalled in this chapter. In the rich family, the wife and daughter blame the father for their dog’s condition, which he could not have caused. Herriot notices the man’s hands shaking, and decides he may have Parkinson’s, or he may be an alcoholic. Later Herriot sees a poor family, where everyone pitches in to help, and the daughter is headed to town to get her father something, with money she saved herself. The difference between the two families is striking to Herriot.
Herriot and Helen’s second date begins at the cinema, where the usher laughs at the veterinarian since he’s there with a date. A man in the theater berates Herriot for supposedly misdiagnosing an animal, and then a drunk collapses in the chair next to Herriot, and snores for the rest of the movie. Instead of a Scottish film as the second half of the double-feature, it’s a western, and Helen laughs in amusement. She suggests that on the next date they go for a walk, and Herriot is happy because she said “next time”.
Farnon has a chance to go to work as the supervising veterinarian for a racing circuit, but he would have to leave his home behind. They are at the track, checking over a horse, when a veterinarian that Farnon knows comes up. Farnon and Herriot drag the other vet away from the area.
The visiting vet, Herriot and Farnon go to a club and have a meal and drinks. But then Farnon remembers the people waiting for him, and they are quite angry. Farnon has made a horrible impression on the people from the Racing Circuit, and he says that’s OK, because he really didn’t want to leave Darrowby.
Herriot and Helen are getting along famously, but her father seems to dislike him. Back at Skeldale House, Farnon tells Herriot that if he marries Helen, they can live in a private room upstairs. Farnon is afraid that Herriot’s timidity will result in them never marrying. Herriot will soon be a partner in the practice, and he decides he will ask Helen. She says yes, but now they have to tell her father.
Herriot has cleaned a cow and smells awful, so he borrows Mrs. Hall’s bath salts, which are very flowery. After his bath, he falls asleep upstairs. He is called out early in the morning on a farm call to Helen’s father’s farm, and Mr. Alderson notices the weird flowery smell on Herriot. Herriot helps the cow to have her calf, and then tells Mr. Alderson of his plan to marry Helen. They go in Alderson’s house and share some drinks, and the man opens up about how much he loved and misses his deceased wife. Alderson drinks too much and Herriot has to help him upstairs, and he feels they are getting along better.
It’s TB testing time, but also Herriot and Helen’s wedding and honeymoon time. Farnon complains about having to do all the testing himself, so they honeymoon close by, so Herriot can help. As they are leaving their wedding, they see a new shingle at Skeldale House. Farnon has made Herriot a full partner. Helen and Herriot spend their honeymoon inspecting cows and enjoying each other’s company.