My life was never the same after I met the Reid family. Phil Reid was a dairy farmer and the largest farm client of the veterinary practice in which I worked.
When Joe Sanderson, the boss of the veterinary practice, died unexpectedly I worked for Joe's widow, struggling to keep the practice going. It was a stressful time. I had graduated from veterinary college only three years before and had not expected to be running a struggling business at this stage of my career. My future in the practice was still uncertain. I would have liked to have bought it but I didn't have the money and I was afraid Mrs. Sanderson would sell it to someone else and I would be out of a job.
One day Phil came to me with a proposition
"If you stay here and work with us, I'll put up the money for you to buy the practice from old Sanderson's widow. Joe was never much of a dairy vet really, but you've done a good job with our cows. We'd like you to stay here in the valley and do our veterinary work."
That autumn I bought the practice from Mrs. Sanderson with the help of a loan from Phil. Ten months later my wife Jean filed for divorce and took what little money I had left. When she divorced me she was already fucking a grain farmer called Tony Greeley, with whom she now lives, so I find it hard to understand how she ended up with most of my money. But that's the way the world works, isn't it? I was in a financially vulnerable state, working too hard as a solo practitioner, always tired, and often lonely — a recipe for something more than just financial vulnerability. My indebtedness to Phil over the purchase of the practice was just the first step down a path that drew me into a far deeper attachment to the Reid family than I could ever have imagined.
The Reids were good clients though. They managed the cows well and they paid their bills on time. They could handle many of the routine veterinary problems themselves: milk fevers, mastitis cases and most routine calving problems. They called for help before a sick cow was so ill that you couldn't help the poor animal you had been called to treat.
One November night I had a telephone call from Phil's wife. Irene was his second wife, a small, self-contained competent woman with dark hair and glasses. Irene was quiet and reserved, a contrast to Phil who was an outgoing, rough and ready sort of a man. I liked her. She was kind to me when I visited the farm, and always had me up to the farmhouse for a cup of tea or a drink when the work was finished. Some nights when I'd been there for an emergency, a caesarean section or something like that, she'd come downstairs in the middle of the night to make me a drink and a sandwich.
"Can you come and look at a cow. She's been trying to give birth since tea-time. There's one of the calf's feet showing and the cow's still pushing but she's not getting anywhere."
I didn't mind being called out at night, although night emergencies make life hard for a single handed vet. It's one of the reasons large animal vets suffer burn-out early in their careers. Irene wouldn't have called me unless there was a big problem with the cow. She was level headed and she knew well enough when it was a crisis she couldn't deal with herself. She and Phil were good like that. I had some clients that would try and pull a calf themselves, use too much force, ruin the cow and leave me to clear up the mess. They weren't like that; these were good and caring stockmen who did right by their cows. I work for some farms where I would hate to be a cow, but this wasn't one of them.
There was no traffic on the road at that time of night. The valley's steep walls were lit by a full moon. I suppose it was pretty in a way, but I found the big shadows cast by the moon a bit spooky. I was glad when the car headlights illuminated the dry stone walls that bordered the lane leading to the farm. There were no lights on in the house but there was light shining from a door in the side of the old barn. I stopped outside, got my bucket and soap and a few pieces of equipment from the back of the car and stepped into the barn. I always liked this barn; the thick stone walls gave a feeling of security and it was always warm and dry, whatever the weather. The old barn used to house the cows in the winter, tied with neck chains to the manger running down one side of it. Now the cows lived in the new barn in comfortable sawdust bedded cubicles. This old barn was mostly used for hay storage, but one end had been given over to two calving pens which were fitted snugly under the hay loft.
The hanging light down at the end of the barn cast a golden reflection on the straw bedding in the calving pen. A black and white cow lay quietly in the pool of light, occasionally straining to push the calf out and making a low moaning sound in her throat. Irene was kneeling in the straw near the cow's tail, her hands on her knees, and her old jacket thrown over her shoulders, watching.
She stood up when I came in and wiped her hands on her denim skirt. I put the bucket down.
"Thank you for coming. I'll get you some hot water."
She took the bucket and went through to the milk house.
I took a look at the cow, checked its pupils with my penlight and felt its ears, which were nice and warm. I checked its muzzle and sniffed its breath, the well practiced rituals of the country vet. I was kneeling by the side of the cow listening with my stethoscope to her stomach gurgling away under her flank when Irene came back with the water.
Never trust a dairy farmer over the business of hot water. They seem to spend most of their working lives with their hands in boiling water as they clean up around the dairy. I've been scalded more than once by plunging my hand into the bucket of "warm" water I asked a farmer to bring me when I wanted to examine a cow.
I dipped my finger tentatively into the water.
Irene smiled. "Trust me."
I started washing around the cow's tail and vulva with soap and water.
"I felt inside," said Irene. "I could feel the nose and one front leg, but I couldn't feel the other leg. I don't think my arms are long enough."
"Well, it's probably just got one leg tucked back into the womb. It's common enough. The head was in the birth canal, though?"
"Oh, yeah. He sucked on my fingers."
I laughed. I'd suck on her fingers too, given half a chance.
I stripped to the waist and washed my arms. There was some heat from the lamp, so I wasn't particularly cold and I knew that the exertion of delivering a calf would soon warm me up.
Irene was looking at me appraisingly.
"You know," she said. "You're the only vet I know that strips off to deliver a calf."
"Well, I'm not naked," I said.
She laughed. "Well, that would be something, wouldn't it? I'd always be calling you out. I'd never deliver another calf myself — I'd just ring you up and wait for the show."
It was my turn to laugh.
"All the other vets that have been here have worn some sort of gown over their clothes."
"Oh, yes - a calving gown. I don't like it much. It's plastic and it's cold and clammy and it gets in the way."
I finished washing the cow's rear end and poured some water over the vulva and the protruding foot to get rid of the soap.
"Well, I like it that you strip down. It seems closer to nature somehow — more natural."
"I'd never have said it if you hadn't. Actually I like it too — I mean the being close to nature part."
"You mean skin to skin?" She said it quietly and I hardly heard her.
"Skin to skin with a cow?"
"It's sensual, isn't it?"
"Yes." I said. "I like that about being around cows."
"It's not sexual, though, is it?"
I laughed ruefully. "No, although I've been with some real cows in my time; not this kind of cow though."
She blushed and touched my shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. You had a tough time"
I knew she was thinking about Jean. I changed the subject.
"He went up north to Tommy Bell's with Bunny. He'll be back tomorrow."
Tommy Bell was a well known cattle dealer. Bunny was Phil and Irene's daughter.
"I heard Bunny is buying a share in the farm. Is that right?"
"Mmm - yes, she's got some cows in the herd already. Now she wants to buy some older heifers so she can put more cows in the herd. That's why Phil took her."
Bunny was a big, unattractive girl with not many prospects of being taken off Phil and Irene's hands, so it probably wasn't a bad idea for her to be making some sort of future for herself on the farm.
"I wish she'd find a man, though. I don't like the idea of her having to look after us in our old age, and farming on her own."
"No," I said. "She needs a bloke. Can you give me some lube?"
She squeezed out some obstetrical lubricant onto my arms. The veterinary stuff is basically K-Y jelly by the quart!
"I like this stuff," she said, rubbing it on my forearms and up past my elbows.
I laughed. "The slipperier the better."
I knelt behind the cow and slid my hand in, following the calf's leg. I found its nose and made sure the leg was a front leg and belonged to the same calf as the head. I've been caught out like that before. I once attended a cow with twins inside her, and one front leg and one back leg belonging to two different calves were sticking out of her back end. When that happens it doesn't matter how hard you pull. Nothing much happens except a lot of grunting and bellowing!
.... There is more of this story ...