Julian Norton: Seals, promos and camelids

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Easter weekend is a busy one for veterinary surgeons, but we share the on-call duties out between us at Skeldale, so we can all have some time off with our families. My wife, Anne had heard from a friend that there was a colony of common and grey seals beneath the cliffs at Ravenscar so, on Good Friday, armed with cameras and hoping that the mist and rain would keep the crowds at bay, we went to investigate.

After a short walk across the gorse-clad cliff top, we could see the rocky shore below. The rocks were grey and so was the sea and we could see no seals. Maybe they’d gone back to sea?

However, as we scrambled down the steep path that wound down to the shore, it was just possible to make out a handful of slug-like forms scattered amongst the rocks. They were definitely seals but they looked as if they’d been left behind. Further down the path though, it became clear that these few were just the outliers. There was a huge herd (or “rookery”, according to one dictionary) of about 50 seals, relaxing, yawning and scratching themselves, with the odd skirmish here and there. We sat on a rock for a while and watched these fascinating wild animals, who were utterly unperturbed by our presence.

Back at the surgery, it was another a hectic week. Lambing and calving is still in full swing, and with the start of the new series of The Yorkshire Vet on Tuesday, there was also all the promotional stuff to do. I think I’m getting better at radio interviews, but they still put me some way outside my comfort zone. My appointment at BBC Radio York was a very relaxed affair. The opening story of the first episode was the case of Dobby the llama, with his fractured jaw.

I see quite a few camelids (llamas and alpacas) these days. The first herd we treated arrived in the village of Sutton-Under-Whitestonecliffe in the aftermath of the Foot and Mouth crisis. The farm had lost all its dairy cows to the cull, and the family, with no cows to milk, had done what they’d never had chance to do before, and gone on holiday to South America. Soon after they got back, they filled the fields that were once home to black and white cows, with alpacas. They are fascinating creatures, quite different to the cows and sheep we’re used to in rural North Yorkshire. I have gradually learnt about the diseases and veterinary conditions to which they are prone, and their curious and gentle nature has completely captivated me.

Llamas are slightly more feisty than alpacas but similar to treat and just as entertaining to deal with. Dobby had made a nasty mess of his jaw. Half his front teeth were hanging off, along with the bit of bone. With an injection of some local anaesthetic, I managed to wire the fragment back into alignment, but it meant four weeks of solitary confinement for poor Dobby. The fracture healed nicely though, and I was there to see him reunited with his friends, back out in the field. The joy he felt was plain to see, and a perfect reward for all our efforts.

Llamas are slightly more feisty than alpacas but similar to treat and just as entertaining to deal with.

Julian Norton, aka The Yorkshire Vet

I’ll be seeing more alpacas at Springtime Live at the Great Yorkshire Showground on Bank Holiday Monday, May 1. It’s sure to be a great event and is aimed at helping youngsters to learn more about food, farming and the countryside. Farming has changed dramatically in the 20 years since I’ve been a vet, but it can only survive if the next generation is inspired. Maybe these unusual species can go some way towards achieving this.

The Yorkshire Vet continues on Channel 5 this Tuesday at 8pm.

Dobby the llama needed Julian's close attention after suffering a nasty injury. Picture courtesy of The Yorkshire Vet/Channel 5.

Dobby the llama needed Julian's close attention after suffering a nasty injury. Picture courtesy of The Yorkshire Vet/Channel 5.