James Herriot is happy to be home from war, but he remembers some of the harder times he has spent in his veterinary practice, too, like the gates (seven of them) at a local farmer’s spread. The last gate gets him every time, and it’s no different now. The farmer promises to set appointments for castrating his bulls when they are younger and to fix the gate, but of course nothing was done the whole time Herriot was off to war.
This chapter tells the story of an older man who dotes on his precious dog, but feels guilty when he goes off drinking at the track one day a week, and calls Herriot in the wee hours of Sunday mornings. There is never anything wrong with his dog, but Herriot always gives her a vitamin so that the farmer believes something needed to be done. When Herriot finally refuses to go out on an early Sunday morning, he realizes that the dog is sick, and he flies to the farm, where the dog has eclampsia. He is able to save her.
Herriot relaxes by the side of the road, remembering the dells fondly, and overlooking the landscape he missed so much when he was off at war. Many things have changed for veterinary medicine, but he is happy to see that the dales have not changed. He misses the times when he had to do more than poke animals with a needle to treat them, but he admits to himself that he appreciates being able to cure more animals than he used to be able to.
Herriot heads for Russia, on a trip everyone has advised him not to go on. He is taking care of expensive sheep on the journey, and he marvels at their health and vigor, even on a moving ship. He is worried that the ship is not larger, but all in all, he is excited about the journey ahead of him.
Herriot remembers his then-young son in this chapter, and how he always wanted to go on farm calls with his father. Helen Herriot bought him real boots like the farmers of the day wore, and he could not have been more pleased. Herriot also has memories about one day when he was working on removing a thorn from an animal’s paw, and he saw his son outside the window, climbing the wisteria, which he had been forbidden to do. Eventually, his son climbed higher, than hung upside down, and then fell. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured.
Mongolian Russians who helped Herriot on his rounds are the subject of this chapter. These men were taken prisoner during the war, but they were good workers and treated well by the farmers where they were living after the war. One of them actually catches a bull and holds him by the ear, so that he can be worked on. Neither Siegfried nor Herriot has even been able to do that, although they have tried.
Herriot speaks again about his trip to Russia in this chapter. He treats a couple minor injuries in the sheep, but worries that they may have husk. He is afraid that his meals, meanwhile, will be small, after he sees the tiny galley, but actually he is served chef-quality foods.
In this chapter, Herriot works with a student, who leads him to believe he knows how to do a c-section on a cow in hard labor. He cuts into one of the stomachs instead of the uterus, and Herriot fears that the animal will die, since it took so long to get her organs back in, and since they might become infected. However, the cow is fine, and has eight more calves over time. Herriot berates the student when he learns that he doesn’t know the operation, but later apologizes.
Herriot speaks in his journal about one of his days onboard the ship to Russia. The crew member, Raun, who has been helping him recalls that cattle died on one trip since there was no vet along to help them. Herriot and Raun check on the sheep with the wounded hoof, and isolate it in a separate pen. Herriot hopes he will be able to earn his wages for the trip by taking good care of the sheep.
In this chapter, Herriot uses a new medication to treat foul of the foot in cattle. It is injected into the neck, and old-time farmers are hard to convince that a shot in their cow’s neck will fix a foul foot problem. In one animal, a clot develops at the injection site, and the cow dies. Still, the farmer calls him out for another sick cow, and he is able to help that cow back to health.
Herriot talks about a client of their veterinary practice in this chapter. She sends her goat droppings to be examined by whichever vet she has taken a shine to on that day. It’s a humorous chapter, but Herriot talks about the lady in a way such that it doesn’t seem he is making fun of her.
Herriot remembers his Russian trip once more. The seas are rough and his wards, the sheep, are sick. Herriot realizes that they are ill from the stress of the trip, and he injects them with prednisone. The sheep recover, and Herriot recalls that some of the new ways of practicing veterinary medicine are a positive thing for veterinarians
Herriot talks about the town barber in this chapter. He gives proper cuts in his barber shop, but when he is drunk on the weekend, he gives free – and very bad – haircuts. Herriot meets Josh’s new dog, who has a chicken bone stuck in his throat. He gets the bone out while the dog is under anesthesia, but the dog’s breathing stops and Herriot has to whirl him around to restart his breathing, and it works. When Josh comes back, he mentions the dog probably felt like he was flying, which puzzles Herriot, since Josh wasn’t there during the surgery. He recalls that people say Josh can read your mind when he runs your hair through his fingers, so Herriot makes a mental note not to think about the incident when he gets his hair cut.
Herriot tells the reader more about his trip to Russia. The ship docks, and he introduces us to the Russians who check the sheep feed to make sure it’s alright. He also talks about the lady who takes each sheep’s temperature, which takes an entire five hours. Then he recounts how he and the captain are almost attacked by guard dogs, trying to find a short cut to the local club.
Herriot sometimes becomes too close to his patients, and one is a local Sister’s dog, named Amber. He is treating the dog, but she is not responding, and he keeps treating her anyway. When he sees how thin she has become in his headlights, he decides he must do the right thing, and needs to put her to sleep.
Herriot travels out in a blizzard to try to treat a local animal. He drives as far as he can drive, and then takes off on skis. But nothing is familiar in the swirling snow, and he heads back to his vehicle, rather than to get lost. Back home, he calls the farmer and tells him how to get his pig’s milk flowing, and his plan works.
Herriot tells us about the birth of his daughter Rosie in this chapter. Helen is patient and waits until the proper time for them to go to the hospital. He hears his daughter’s cries, and goes in to see her, and is appalled at how bloated she looks. It’s strange that he has seen so many animals born, yet doesn’t expect that a human birth might not be a lovely thing.
Herriot’s curiosity almost gets him into trouble, in Russia. He and the captain wander into a school, because Herriot wants to see what they are like. He walks into a teachers’ meeting and is almost arrested, before the captain can explain that they are simply visitors. Herriot enjoys talking to the school’s English teacher, but he almost went to jail – something the folks in Darrowby had warned him about.
We meet Mr. Biggins in this chapter. Although he is a long-time client, he lets his animals’ maladies go, until it becomes an emergency, and then calls the veterinarian A cow that Herriot is called to treat dies, since it was too far along to save, and the man wants to know why, but then complains at the cost of the testing. He also refuses to use the newer method of treatment on one cow, until Siegfried gives the cow a shot (actually just vitamins) which he tells Biggins will kill the cow if he doesn’t give her the right medication. Biggins does as told and the cow survives.
Herriot writes in this chapter about two brothers who are unwittingly committing insurance fraud. They have many accidents at their farm, and they take the money that should be used to pay others do their work, and pocket it, doing the work themselves. They don’t seem to understand fraud; rather they see having accidents as a way to make money.
Herriot recalls his return from Russia and high seas where the ship is sailing. Even the seasoned seamen get sick, but Herriot is fine, and he attributes this to the seafaring men in his family. On the trip, the chef makes sure he is kept fed with excellent delicacies.
Herriot talks about his daughter in this chapter. He enjoys spending time with her, and taking her on calls with him. He also fondly recalls the same type of trips he made with his son, when he was younger. She came close to injury on one farm call, when an ill-behaved cow got away from the farmer, but she just stood there and said “mama” very softly, and the cow ignored her and went the other way. Rosie also worried about her dad when school started, and he didn’t have her help for farm calls anymore.
Herriot remembers talking with farmers who are not at all well-read. He once made a comment about a cow with a broken leg, since he had read in the newspaper that George Bernard Shaw had broken his leg as well. The farmer ended up believing that Shaw was a friend of Herriot’s, and the veterinarian believes that there was probably an amused comment at the farmer’s dinner table that evening.
Herriot talks more about his return trip from Russia in this chapter. He had wondered why the tablecloth was wet every day, and as it turns out, it’s done so that it doesn’t slide off the table when the ship rolls. He takes a pleasant exploratory walking trip while the ship is docked in Poland, and checks his return cargo of pigs, happy that they are getting along. The men are kind to him since his anniversary is celebrated while he is on board, and when he arrives home, he thinks the ship’s cook will miss him more than the others, since he was the only one who felt well enough to eat for the whole return trip.
Herriot starts this chapter talking about how he wants to speak with a client about putting off calling the vet until Sunday, when the vet needs his rest that day, too. But he is drawn into the story of a little Dachshund, who is suffering from what Herriot believes is a progressive paralysis. The owner gives the dog what Herriot calls “quack” meds, but the dog recovers. Of course, the clients think their “quack” medicine healed the dog, but Herriot is more inclined to believe that the dog had a spontaneous recovery. Nevertheless, he offers a toast to the man who suggested the quack medicine, since Herriot has grown close to the family by this time.
Artificial inseminations are new to the veterinary world of Herriot’s time, and he meets up with his old friend Tristan, while Herriot is trying to get sperm from a bull. Although the sessions does not go easily, Tristan handles it with his usual grace, and retrieves the device after the bull falls. Previous to this, Herriot himself was nearly trampled trying to get the sperm into the artificial vagina.
Herriot introduces us to Jack Scott in this chapter. He gives all of his animals a chance, even if they appear to be too ill to recover. Scott’s dog Rip suffers two injuries to a hind leg, and the next time Herriot sees the dog, he is still herding, just on three legs. He also tells of a cow of Jack’s that walks in circles all the time. She doesn’t get better rapidly, but over a period of years, there is little trace left of her circling, and she even wins first prize at a farm show.
Herriot talks about various people he has met in his work in and around Darrowby. On one farm call, a goat ate prized tomatoes, but when Herriot arrives at their house, he feels more like he has been called to referee a marital spat. Herriot tells of clients who seem to know what is wrong with their animals, and some that actually have no idea. He meets quite a variety of people in his farm calls.
Herriot is excited about another trip as a ship’s vet – until he finds out that they are flying, not sailing. The plane is old, and he is afraid it won’t make the journey in one piece. As if reading his mind, the plane has an engine catch on fire. Nevertheless, they make it to Istanbul. Herriot feels that this was certainly not the leisurely trip he signed on for.
Herriot remembers a piano recital his son is in, that doesn’t go well, in this chapter. The piano teacher gives him another chance at the end of the recital, since he can’t make it through his piece at his assigned time, and this time he makes it all the way through. Afterwards, Herriot finds it ironic that his son thinks music is soothing, but the recital made his father a nervous wreck.
Herriot teaches us a lesson in this chapter. A crotchety old scrap metal dealer has a cat that he is fond of. Someone puts rubber bands on the cat’s leg and even his neck. The owner is worried about the cat, but it heals from these ills. Later on, the cat becomes ill with distemper, and Herriot can’t save him. The old man cries, even though he thinks this will make Herriot think less of him. Instead, Herriot understands his feelings for the cat.
Herriot’s Istanbul trip continues in this chapter. He had wanted to travel, but they wait for hours to unload the cattle. There seems to be a cow # 15 not on the charter the buyers have, but eventually, they take that cow, too. On top of that, the plane needs repairs and cannot take passengers to Copenhagen, where the repairs will be done. Herriot and the crew get stuck in a lousy hotel, and end up crashing a wedding reception when they can’t find a pub. Back at the hotel, noisy partiers keep them awake all night.
Dehorning is the main subject of this chapter. A friend helps Herriot dehorn bulls, and although he says he is jealous of Herriot’s freedom and outdoor job at the beginning of the day, he doesn’t envy him by the end of the day. Siegfried thinks that maybe hedge clippers will work to dehorn cattle, but doesn’t have any luck when he tries them out.
We meet Brandy the Labrador Retriever in this chapter. He is forever getting into things, like getting his nose stuck in food cans in the garbage. He develops pneumonia, and although he recovers, he doesn’t act like the dog he used to be. After a period of time, though, Brandy visits Herriot at his office, and he is happy and running again, like he used to.
Herriot and the crew in Istanbul decide that since he can’t write a check to British Airways, that they will sign a waiver and ride on the plane with the bad engine, to Copenhagen. They fly low, but that gives Herriot a chance to take in the view. Months later, he hears a rumor that the plane crashed in the ocean, with the loss of the crew. He doesn’t know for sure if this is true, but he clings to hopes that it’s false.
Herriot recalls two terrible Westies owned by clients of their practice. The owners let the dogs do whatever they like, and the dogs have no manners. They always nip and bite at the veterinarian who is unlucky enough to be on call that day. After this pair of terrors die, the owners get two Westie pups, and they end up being the same way – until one day one of them bites their owner. Herriot thinks they may be easier to handle if the owners practice simple discipline.
In this chapter, Herriot tells of a farmer who had a ragtag pen made of all sorts of materials, and many animals. He decides to raise pigs, and has a brand new piggery built. But his pigs develop swine fever, and many of them die. The remaining pigs have to be sold at lower prices. He has the piggery cleaned and tries again. This time the pipes stop up and the pigs are without water for a time. They recover, but after this second bad experience, the farmer decides not to raise pigs anymore. Now that he is a smalltime farmer again, the man is happy, like he was before he started the piggery.
Herriot and Siegfried share thoughts in the final chapter of this book. They opine that these may be the best times of their lives, with their families growing up and their practice doing well. Siegfried assures Herriot that there are still good times ahead, as well.