We struggled and hobbled to hoist them into place, but this was the easy bit, next we had to persuade the heifers into the small pen

Julian and farmer Chris have been comparing injuries
Julian and farmer Chris have been comparing injuries
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Chris was only slightly apologetic when he called me last week to ask for a bunch of heifers to be dehorned.

It was a visit that had been postponed for several months, and now the heifers were large and the job would be strenuous.

It would have been much easier to do when the calves were little, but circumstances had conspired against us.

We couldn’t do it back in the summer, as during warm weather flies take advantage of every minor wound and can wreak havoc. Later in the year, both farmer and vet were out of action, one with a bad back and the other a poorly toe.

We compared X-ray images on our phones before we got down to work with the cattle. Chris’s screw was longer than mine, but I had four.

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Mine seemed to be doing the trick – I proudly explained that I had just had a day’s epic mountain biking with my son (although the twinges told me this was probably one adventure too far just a couple of months post op.)

The long slim screw in Chris’s toe wasn’t proving quite so effective and he was awaiting another appointment with the surgeon.

As such, the two crocks set about what should have been the relatively simple job of removing twelve medium-sized horns from six medium-sized animals.

The moving of the gates was a bit like an episode of the Chuckle Brothers.

We struggled and hobbled to hoist them into place, but this was the easy bit, because next we had to persuade the heifers into the small pen.

This involved a lot of shooing and waving. As farm work goes, it was not particularly dangerous: the cattle were not belligerent nor trying to cause any trouble. But our reactions needed to be quick, because if they tried to run past us we would be at risk of being knocked over and trampled.

A farmer with a painful toe, limping even on the flat ground of his farmyard and a vet with newly screwed together lumbar spine did not make a dream team.

Chris tripped over a pile of bedding and landed flat on his face. He got up cursing and laughing. I cursed I didn’t have a camera following me around today! We worked steadily, within our limits, and eventually the job was completed.

Dehorning cattle is not my favourite job, but it had all gone smoothly. I recalled to Chris one of the hardest sessions I’d had, many years ago at a farm outside Ampleforth. I was there to TB test a herd of 30 cows.

This would have been half a morning’s job on its own, but the farmer wanted to take advantage of having a vet on his farm and asked me to dehorn almost the entire herd, every member of which was replete with horns of Wild-West proportions.

Each horn was about as wide at its base as a gin and tonic glass.

By cow number twenty-five, and hence horn number fifty, I was flagging and (for the first and only time in my veterinary life) asked the farmer’s son, who was about eighteen, if he could do a couple, until I regained some strength.

He did one horn, huffing and puffing and sweating like a tap, before throwing in his towel. “It’s too hard for me,” he gasped, and left me to finish the job. I was a tired man by the end of the day and missed my appointment at the gym that evening.

Thinking back, there’s no real wonder my back is jiggered!

■ Julian Norton’s new book, A Yorkshire Vet: The Next Chapter, published by Hodder and Stoughton and costing £16.99, is available now.