Every Sunday night, for an hour, my husband Rolf and I take a little trip to the Yorkshire Dales. We are transported to the beautiful scenery of pristine green hills, winding roads, stone barns, dogs wagging their tails, sheep on hillsides, horses on stately estates and of course, cows.
We are viewing season two of “All Creatures Great and Small,” featuring the tales of well-known veterinarian and author James Herriot. PBS Masterpiece Theater has made the tales into a series, which airs on PBS. You may have read and loved the book series as I did in the 1970s. The books no doubt inspired many through the years to pursue the veterinary profession.
The plots of each of the show’s episodes move along interestingly but with the British nuances and sense of humor. I personally don’t miss the violence, chase scenes and edginess of many shows set in American cities.
The series takes place in the 1930-1940 decades of a rural veterinary practice in the village of Darrowby. It is nice watching a drama from a time when the phones were rotary, the vehicles were classic, and the main characters relax by having a few draughts at the local pub, Drover’s Arms, before going home to a delicious home-cooked meal set out lavishly on the kitchen table. I also appreciate the housekeeper’s stern command of, “Pail!” when the vets come back from their farm calls with filthy clothes needing a good soak.
The practice in the story consists of a senior veterinarian, Siegfried Farnon, his younger brother Tristan, James Herriot, a new-to-the-area veterinarian who has just accepted a job with the practice, the housekeeper Mrs. Audrey Hall, and Helen Alderson, a local farmer, who is also James’ love interest. There are many plot twists and turns among the lives of the main characters; from the animals cared for at the wealthy estate owner’s horse stables to the plainer, hardscrabble sheep and cattle farms; and with pets, such as spoiled Triki Woo, a Pekingese owned by the venerable, wealthy Mrs. Pumphreys.
Rolf and I both enjoy and banter about the show’s animal and veterinary references. Sometimes the British terms for things are funny and perplexing. A few weeks ago, the farmers “stirks” were sick with “husk.” The dairy heifers apparently had contracted a parasite on pasture and their prognosis was not great. We forgot to ask our own vet during that week’s herd check if he had ever treated stirks for husk.
A check with Wikipedia confirms that husk is a parasitic bronchitis, a disease of sheep, cattle, goats and swine commonly known as lungworms. So, it’s no wonder that the show’s Dr. Herriot gave his diagnosis to the recently-widowed farmer with such concern.
Where the show shines for us is that it does an excellent job of depicting the relationship between clients and veterinarians and also how the clinic (or surgery, as the Brit’s call it) functions to serve clients. It seems that many things are the same, no matter the decade. The animal owners and veterinarians, along with their staff, have unique problems to solve in terms of doing what is best for the animals with sometimes heart-wrenching options. The veterinarians are treated like the knowledgeable and caring professionals that they are. They take the farmer or pet owner’s plight to keep animals healthy within a reasonable cost scenario into consideration. The veterinarians often must deliver bad news, and yet they are able to do it with such care and concern. There are funny parts, of course, such as the large boar that almost rams Tristan, and when James runs from a bull and lands in the manure pile.
I have to thank Rolf for the idea of reviewing this series for my column, because I was out of ideas this month. The show is a nice break every week and something to look forward to.
Who knows, someday, perhaps we can see Yorkshire or some other far-flung place in person. The travel bug still bites me on occasion, and the Viking River Cruises are a main sponsor of PBS Masterpiece Theater, so maybe the bug will bite Rolf too. Until then, I am guessing we have many more cows to milk, calves to feed and crops to raise. The Yorkshire Dales on the tube, it is.
 If you are looking for a fun break and the series I’ve reviewed isn’t your style, I have another recommendation. “Holstein America,” the only television program of its kind that pays tribute to the nation’s dairy farms and families. The next episode airs Thursday, Feb. 10 on RFD-TV, and you can catch it on Holstein USA’s website and YouTube channel afterward.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.