Julian Norton: Challenge on the slopes and in the cowshed

Julian Norton, aka The Yorkshire Vet, has signed up as The Yorkshire Post's newest columnist.  Picture by James Hardisty.
Julian Norton, aka The Yorkshire Vet, has signed up as The Yorkshire Post's newest columnist. Picture by James Hardisty.
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It was back to veterinary earth with a bump when I walked into work at the start of the week. I hadn’t even taken my coat off when Marion rushed up to tell me there was a heifer to calve.

“As soon as possible, they said. They’re very worried. It’s a heifer and the one that calved yesterday was very tight and ended up quite badly bruised. You’d better take the Caesar kit!”

So I headed straight out of the door, with only moments to say good morning to everyone before heading up to Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe with a camera crew in tow. The camera crew always follow when a case looks as if it will be interesting or exciting, as we are still busy filming for The Yorkshire Vet which is about to start its fourth series, on Channel 5 on Tuesday, April 18.

As I drove to the farm, I gathered my thoughts. I had spent the last four days in the Alps as part of a team participating in a ski mountaineering race. Ski mountaineering uses special skis and boots, and “skins” which are applied to the bottom of the skis so that they grip the snow when climbing up steep slopes. I love it. The pioneering feeling of ascending a remote alpine summit on skis followed by the thrill of skiing down, off-piste, negotiating rocks, trees and cliffs is the perfect antidote to the busy life of a veterinary surgeon.

The race took us up and over a mountain called the Steghorn, in the Bernese Oberland and it involved 3,000 metres of ascent over a distance of about 36 kilometres.

After just an hour of racing, at about five in the morning and on the first major climb of the massive route that lay ahead, to my horror, as I tried to remove a ball of snow from the bottom of one of my skis, I managed to snap one of my new and very expensive, light weight ski poles. I was completely snookered with only one pole.

Facing the prospect of abandoning the race I had spent months working towards, I searched around in the dark for something I could use as a substitute. After an abortive attempt using a discarded flagpole, I managed to find a stand-in. The wooden staff- which looked just like an alpenstock - was not very good to say the least, and very much worse than the carbon fibre poles being used by all my competitors, but at least I could complete the course with the rest of my team, albeit with rather less style.

At the summit of the Steghorn - more than 3,100 metres - it was windy, icy and a very cold minus 15 degrees Celsius, and I was there with one ski pole and a long wooden stick. I could hardly have been further away from calving a heifer in a cowshed in North Yorkshire.

But I love calving a heifer just as much I love scaling an alp and so, on Monday morning, I raced off to Sutton with great enthusiasm.

The heifer was young and the calf was big. Its feet were crossed suspiciously as they emerged from the birth canal, suggesting a tight squeeze. It didn’t take me long to realise that the calf was too big, and the only way it could be delivered would be by caesarian section, as Marion had predicted.

The op went well, despite the first-time mother being less than thrilled by my intervention, trying to manoeuvre herself into various difficult positions that made things awkward. She will do well though, once the wound has healed.

And the calf?

By the time I had finished suturing its mother’s skin, it had wobbled to its feet and was trying to walk, as unsteady as I was as I skied down the Steghorn clutching my wooden ski pole. I could empathise with its plight!