All Creatures Great and Small veterinary consultant takes on presidency of Kilnsey Show

When Andy Barrett strides out beneath the shadow of Kilnsey Show’s famed Crag on Tuesday (August 29) he will not, for the first time in over 20 years, be there in his usual capacity as show vet but as honorary show president.

Andy is a director in Craven Farm Vets that is 100 per cent committed to farm animal veterinary services and is based at Skipton livestock market. He says that Kilnsey Show has a special place in his heart.

“I’ve always enjoyed the show and see it as my last day of Summer. It’s a really nice way for summer to end. I’m genuinely honoured to have been asked. In our position as farm vets we feel a part of the community, as you are let into so many people’s lives.

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“It was when Ian Smith, who had been my boss at the Kingsway Vets practice, retired that Ronnie Metcalfe, the then show chairman, asked if I’d take over from Ian as honorary vet. I’ve done it ever since through the years that have included Foot & Mouth and Covid.

Andy Barrett, Craven Farm Vets, who is this year's President of Kilnsey Show.Andy Barrett, Craven Farm Vets, who is this year's President of Kilnsey Show.
Andy Barrett, Craven Farm Vets, who is this year's President of Kilnsey Show.

For many who have watched the older and more recent TV series All Creatures Great & Small the role of the vet at a show has been shown with James Herriot either judging a pets class or checking on the eligibility of an animal for a particular class. Andy says the actual role of honorary farm vet at any show has always been a serious job and that certain aspects have become more pertinent.

“These days there are responsibilities in terms of disease control and making sure each show is doing its biosecurity properly, but the main thing is being there for the exhibitors and that the show can tell the public that there is a vet on site. There’s something most years, generally not too serious and fortunately few and far between, but obviously people are taking their best stock and things can happen from occasional cuts and bruises to the odd poorly animal.

“The only thing that has caused me sleepless nights has been Kilnsey’s harness racing at the end, as I’m not a horse specialist. I’ve managed to palm that one off on to a proper horse vet now. This year I can just sit there or walk around with no veterinary responsibilities whatsoever.

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Andy started as a working vet in 1988 at Sinclair & Wight in Thirsk and has found himself drawn back into the fictional world of James Herriot once again in more recent times.

Andy Barrett pictured with Show chairman Chris Windle.Andy Barrett pictured with Show chairman Chris Windle.
Andy Barrett pictured with Show chairman Chris Windle.

“Donald Sinclair was still working while I was at Thirsk. He was a real one-off, who became Siegfried in the books. Mr (Alf) Wight had retired but used to come in quite a bit to meet his public. That all gave an edge to the job. Jim in particular, Jim Wight, Alf’s son, was a great bloke to work for. It was such a lovely place and had a good mix of work. I’m now the veterinary consultant for C5’s newer version of All Creatures Great & Small.

Andy made the move from Thirsk to Skipton, where his father was born and brought up and where Andy trained, after a seminal moment.

“I’d been sat on top of Sutton Bank late August/September looking across the Vale of York down on this patchwork of different coloured fields where the corn had gone and they’d started to plough, but the following weekend I took my grandmother up to a pinnacle in Sutton in Craven where my grandmother lived. I looked out and saw everything was just green and that’s when I thought that this is where I needed to be, where the grass is, where the livestock is.

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“I joined Kingsway and five years ago myself and Jon Stockton formed Craven Farm Vets as we wanted to keep our independence rather than being part of a corporate business. We have a fabulous team that came with us from Kingsway and we still get on well with Kingsway.

Kilnsey Show 2022Kilnsey Show 2022
Kilnsey Show 2022

Andy has seen many changes to the veterinary world and livestock farming since he started.

“When I look back now I think the 80s were far nearer, in a veterinary sense, to the 1930s when those All Creatures stories were set. When I started there were no mobile phones. We just had a bleeper. That was a pain in the neck. You had to find phone boxes when your bleeper went off.

“There has been a revolution in livestock farming since I became a vet and our role is now two-fold. The traditional role of fire brigade work looking after poorly animals, calving cows, lambing sheep is still part of that, but the bigger part of our role now is much more about planning and implementing good health and fertility policies on farms so that herds and flocks can be as productive as possible. Our bread and butter is dairy fertility work, making sure that dairy cows get back in-calf.

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“There are far fewer dairy farmers but they largely have much bigger herds. That presents difficulties in terms of management with fewer people working on farms so they’ve all got more cows to look after each. It means everybody is busy and they’ve got to be as efficient as they possibly can.

“With sheep there is also much more flock health planning and more interest in a proactive approach and getting involved in things like a sustainable worming strategy. Another big thing is a real push in the ruminant sector to reduce antibiotic use and to come up with strategies to keep animals healthy with vaccines and better biosecurity.

Andy recalls only too well the days when biosecurity became the biggest issue of all, when foot and mouth disease decimated livestock in Craven.

“It was a proper earthquake that year, two-thirds of the practice we looked after was basically shut down by the government. I woke up every day thinking what was going to be left. It was a turning point for us and all farmers. People who had spent years, generations sometimes, breeding quality stock had it all taken off them. There was such a lot of hurt and upset that year.

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“We lost a lot of dairy farmers who didn’t go back into dairying, it changed the character of the area. I was reeling a bit. I went to Cumbria for a month at the start of the outbreak, which personally was a bad decision because I’d got a very young family. My youngest child had been born the day before the outbreak.

But on a far more positive note Andy is now looking forward, not backward, with Craven Farm Vets, and his son Tom is set to mount a challenge with his university friends on a raid on this year’s fell race.

“I’ve often thought about entering, but maybe my president’s role may not see the day out if I tried!”