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Cure It or Shoot It

Cure It or Shoot It

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Cure It or Shoot It

319 pagine
4 ore
Feb 20, 2018


As a naïve young vet, Doug Fenwick had to adjust to family life in a small Victorian country town. He learned that there is an economic limit on the cost of treating animals, commercial and family pets alike. You can’t always save an animal’s life at all costs.
He and his wife of six months, Margaret, arrived in a small country town in July 1955, with all of their worldly possessions in the back of a 1948 Ford Prefect utility vehicle.
Life was hard in the dairy farming district in the 1950s. There were no motels, so like all the travelling salesmen and tourists, they stayed in the local hotel for the first two weeks and got to know the proprietors and paying guests as well as the regular local patrons.
They then moved into a factory house and were readily greeted by all of the neighbours.
In those days a single frame of a camera could capture the extent of the factory frontage. Twenty-five years later it would take two frames.
Farms, farmers and farming changed significantly over that time as well. A farmer that could once make a living by milking 12 cows by hand each day had to milk at least 50 with milking machines by the time he left the district.
Animal diseases changed as treatments for them advanced.
If you are a budding veterinary student, his experiences may provide you with insight into some of the work you could be doing. The job was frequently hard, frequently dirty, often difficult and often dangerous. It was a tough and challenging experience in every way.
You can read of the surgical challenges he had to face when a cow came up to be milked with a six feet long piece of timber impaled through her chest and abdomen, or when a cow was presented with two large perforated stomach ulcers causing peritonitis, or the hopelessness when horses had ‘twisted bowel’ colics. There are descriptions of all of the types of cancer found in animals as well descriptions of the many and varied types of calving difficulties encountered and the methods that that had to be taken to correct them. The story is full of interesting veterinary encounters.
It describes an era when cars improved, corrugated gravel roads became bitumen, speed limits appeared and blood alcohol limits were introduced for drivers. Country stores gave way to supermarkets, cinemas and drive-in theatres gave way to home television sets.
Life changed for many over this period, including himself. Sweat and tears of hard labour, the births of three children, and years later, the death of his wife weaved their way into the fabric of the Allansford chapter of his life.
Cure It or Shoot It is a true story. All the incidents and events actually happened. The story may give you a different perspective on life or it may bring back forgotten memories.

Feb 20, 2018

Informazioni sull'autore

Dr Doug Fenwick was born in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourns in 1931. He has BVsc, MVSc, MANZCVSc and PhD qualifications in the field of veterinary science as well as a Diploma in Freelance Journalism. Since graduating as a veterinarian, he spent 18 months as a governmental veterinary officer and 25 years in country practice before spending 16 years at the University of Queensland. This book describes the 25 years as a country veterinarian. He’s had more than 40 scientific papers published, and has been guest speaker at innumerable functions, not only in the field of veterinary science, but in Drug and Alcohol Education and in Conservation.

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Cure It or Shoot It - Doug Fenwick

Cure It or Shoot It:

The Induction of a Naive Young Vet into Country Life

Doug Fenwick PhD

Copyright 2013 Doug Fenwick

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transformed, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior approval of the author.

ISBN: 9781370571475

Published in Australia by Doug Fenwick, (

Edited by Amanda Fenwick & Bron Steel

Cover Caricature Design: Simon Goodway

Distributed by Smashwords


A reading of this book prompted Dr Bob Steel who had spent a decade or more in this type of practice before taking over the Bondi Junction Veterinary Hospital in the late 1960s to report It is a great book. The book is fantastically vivid in its reality. It is wonderful -- great writing -- the truth without any avenues of escape for us too, who have lived so. It recaptures all the uncertainties, the self doubts, the work difficulties, the anxieties, the too hard overworking, the rush, the pleasures, the sharing and the farmers' fellowship on the job too of course, and all the anguish that wraps up everything so tightly. Never has there been such a truthful account of life as we lived it too. It is terrifying. I can only read a little at a time as it is painful in its reality and life with its soft illusions is easier to handle.


I appreciated in particular the contributions of my daughter Amanda to alterations in the manuscript and suggestions about the title and subject matter, and to Bron Steel for some much appreciated final editing.

Heather Bailey and Jennifer Fitzgerald were of great value in endorsing the appeal and readability of the story.

I thank Ray Greaves and his family for approving the words I wrote about their father and grandfather, Albie, who was a character of a different ilk, as well as being one of my close friends.




CHAPTER 1: Early Farms and Farmers

CHAPTER 2: I Become My Own Boss: Early Veterinary Knowledge and Practice

CHAPTER 3: I Discovered That I Had Opted Into a Milk Fever Practice

CHAPTER 4: Communications

CHAPTER 5: Unusual Cases and Unique Cures

CHAPTER 6: Not So Successful Cases

CHAPTER 7: Life Before TV

CHAPTER 8: Other Recreation


CHAPTER 10: Great Place to Be: No Shortage of Action

CHAPTER 11: Where the District’s People Came From

CHAPTER 12: Billy Ryan

CHAPTER 13: Some Creatures Not So Small

CHAPTER 14: Cows in Trouble Calving

CHAPTER 15: Doctors, Having Kids, and That Sort of Thing

CHAPTER 16: Right Treatment, Wrong Reason

CHAPTER 17: Farmers as Animal Behaviourists

CHAPTER 18: People Are Only Human

CHAPTER 19: Farmers Can Do Anything

CHAPTER 20: Changes in Vaccinations over the Years

CHAPTER 21: Diseases That Have Gone and Come over the Decades

CHAPTER 22: Night Calls

CHAPTER 23: Cancers in Animals

CHAPTER 24: Cases that Turned Up in Clusters

CHAPTER 25: The Range of Cases We Attended

CHAPTER 26: My Last Years at Allansford





My intention in writing this originally was to give my children some sort of explanation as to how I filled in my working days while they were growing up at Allansford.

I had finished my undergraduate course in veterinary science at Sydney University in November 1953 and was working for the Victorian Department of Agriculture until July 1955 when I was offered a job as the veterinary surgeon for a consortium of the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Pty Ltd and Kraft Cheese at Allansford in south west Victoria.

‘Joe’ Carruthers, their existing vet, was moving to Cowra in NSW and had somehow got my name as someone who might replace him in a time when there was a shortage of labour everywhere.

The wages were better and there were wider opportunities to use my training in veterinary medicine, surgery, and obstetrics.

All of the events described actually happened. I have no capacity for writing fiction. In cases where the incident could embarrass the feelings of families of the people involved I have used a pseudonym for the person concerned.

The following is a mud map of the area I worked in till December 1980.



Early Farms and Farmers

If you can tolerate being shit on, peed on, bitten, kicked and buffeted by animals, frequently abused by clients for perceived inadequacies, as well as not being paid for your efforts, become a country vet. Forget the glamour of the life. There is none. It’s all hard work, often under difficult conditions. But I did not know that before I went into country practice in 1955.

It was the last of the days of the horse and cart on the farm. A horse and cart was all farmers had needed to transport a couple of cans of cream to the platform on the road out the front of the farm to be picked up by the truck from the butter factory two or three times a week. It also served to transport hay to the cows, to bring in firewood and to transport all they needed to build and repair the fences around the farm.

Many did not have all-weather tracks from the road to the dairy. Such luxuries were an unnecessary expense when a horse and cart would do the job. Some had wire panels instead of swinging gates, and maybe as many as three such panels between the road and the dairy.

The milking sheds themselves were often crudely constructed. Poles, made from dried tree trunks, or sturdy posts, formed the main supports, and beams of hewn timber with sawn timber studs for rails and headlocks served as bails for the milking cows. Galvanised iron was the main roofing material. I often had to duck my head to not only walk into them, but also to move around inside many of the older sheds.

Nobody enlightened me as to whether the sheds were made this way to save money, or to keep the sun out in the summer, or maybe because the old timers were of short stature. The truth may be that somebody built one first and everybody copied it without thinking about the matter. I was only five feet eight inches tall then or 172 centimetres in modern measurements, but if they were shorter than I was, they were little people. There were many times when I hit my head on the rafters, mostly when I was wearing a hat and the front brim obscured my vision. A crash helmet would have been handy!

But I preferred these old cowsheds. Unlike the later herringbone sheds and roto-lactors, each cow could be bailed and restrained separately. We just had to walk them into the bails they were accustomed to, for an examination. In the newer sheds, we had to corner cows anywhere we could and then put a halter on them to lead them to a post or something in order to examine them.

There were two main types of shed in use in the 1950s. You could classify them as either ‘headlock’ or ‘crush’ bails. With the headlock bails, the cows had to be trained patiently, as heifers, to put their heads into the right place. A rope extending from the piece of timber that was pulled against the neck of the cow was sometimes passed through a pulley and affixed to a place at the rear of the cow, so that the head could be secured by someone standing behind the cow. From my point of view, these were ideal for cow examinations, for intra-jugular infusions and for those times when we had to perform surgery such as Caesarean sections. It made my job easier.

The crush type consisted of a partition that was hinged from a post at the side of the cow, about level with the last rib. It closed at the front end of the shed, leaving enough room for the head and front end of the cow. When closed, this hinged partition served as one side of the crush, and when opened, served as the door to let the cow out. Rails provided the other side of the ‘crush’. These were good for unbroken heifers, because they were the only place they could walk into, once they were inside the milking shed. But from a vet’s point of view, they were not the best for examining cows, or for giving intravenous injections.

They were better though than the much later herringbone setups wherein we had to manhandle our patients before we could even start to examine them. Which makes me wonder - how many professional therapists in other fields have to wrestle their patients into submission before they can examine them?

I do remember another occasion when the old crush bail was advantageous. I had to attend a difficult birth in an unbroken heifer. After correcting the calf’s position for delivery, I put anchoring chains onto the calf, and the farmer and I were still pulling with all of our might without a great deal of success when the heifer lurched forward, throwing her weight against the door forcing it open. I quickly wrapped the chains around the rail, and the heifer did all of our hard work for us. She went out the door leaving the calf behind. They tell me this method has been deliberately used on some outback properties in unhandled beef cattle. The cow is run into a crush; the dystocia is corrected, chains are attached to the calf and anchored to a stout post, and the gate opened. I’ll talk more about calving chains and eyehooks later.

Surprisingly, some farmers had no idea how to drain water and mud away from their cow yards in those early days. As the cows were let out after milking, they would often have to walk out into mud and slush up to two feet deep. It surprises me that they didn’t get more infections of the udder. In such circumstances, I had to wipe off layers of mud before I could examine a sick cow’s udder. Not many farmers had hoses readily available for the purpose. It had to be done with buckets of water and rags. The result was a sloppy mess.

I changed my style of dress before long too. When I was the District Veterinary Officer at Colac, I used to wear sports trousers and a sports coat and tie, and would only change into working clothes if I was going to conduct a procedure on a cow. I soon gave up changing into and out of street clothes.

It always seemed to be cloudy, drizzling, raining, or cold in the Allansford district, so my standard mid-wet-winter garb was put on at the back door of my home before I went out, and taken off as soon as I came home. It consisted of regular underpants and singlet, trousers and shirt, four sleeveless pullovers, a boiler suit (coveralls), waterproof trousers and waterproof jacket, and gumboots.

In the beginning I did not have a hat, but one of the local farmers, Jack Meade from Panmure, soon sorted me out. On a bleak wet and windy day, I turned up with a saturated head of hair (back when I had hair), and when I indicated that I did not have a hat, he said, "I’ll soon fix that. Here! Try this for size." Many farmers had this abrupt way of speaking. He gave me one of his own. It had a marked crease in the manner in which we used to fold down the crown. It was so worn that it had a split at the front of this crease, and it was stained with grease from milk. But it sure had character, so I wore it for about two years.

Another thing about the winters in south west Victoria, with all the rain and mud, was that it wasn’t safe to get your car off a track. I spent a fair amount of time getting out of bogs before I learned where I could or could not go. There were jeep-type four-wheel drives available, but I felt that I would be tempted to try them out in places that were too boggy for them. Not only that but they did not re-sell as well as standard motor cars. It wasn’t just the cars that got bogged either. Sometimes I could be walking across a paddock to a cow and my gumboot would stay sucked in the mud. The next step would be a sloppy muddy one as my foot came out of my boot. I think I learnt to walk in the slosh by sliding my feet forward without really lifting them. Even now decades later, people keep telling me to lift my feet when I walk – it’s as if I’m still walking in imaginary mud.

Because of this constant winter mud, and therefore the inability in some cases to drive up to the milking shed, it was often a case of having to walk from front gates to milking sheds with my pockets full of vials of medicines and my arms loaded with all the gear I imagined I might need. Fortunately, most of us country vets became very good at making a diagnosis of all the possibilities on the basis of the history of the case given to us over the phone, so we had a reasonable idea of what we might need before we even saw the cows.

One of the advantages of working with the farmers on smaller holdings in those days though, was that they did not see so many repeat cases of the same problems in their cattle, and they sought our advice sooner. Our results therefore were always good. Those with larger holdings became familiar with many cow conditions, and were more prone to use a variety of treatments before calling us. The result was that we tended to get only the tough cases, and the results weren’t so good. And because of the inevitable delay while they awaited the outcomes of their own treatments, the non-responding conditions became more chronic and deep-seated because of this time-delay factor.

On the other hand, those with smaller farms were probably less able to afford the luxury of a vet than farmers on bigger holdings. Those were the days when, after the horse and cart days, they could afford only one motor vehicle, and it was usually a utility truck, useful for the farm and the family. Mum and dad and maybe a kid or two would sit in the front and any extra kids would sit in the tray. It wasn’t illegal then.

Some of the farmers did become quite accomplished at doing their own work, which is understandable when you consider that all of the work we vets did on a farm was done in front of them. The dairy farmer could see exactly what we were doing and every mistake we made. When I was tutoring veterinary undergraduates at the University of Queensland after I left Allansford, I used to emphasise to them that they needed to have guts, and they needed to really know their stuff if they went into cattle practice. It’s not like small animal practice in which most of the surgery is done out of sight of the owner, and where one can hospitalise animals in which the diagnosis is in doubt.

But farmers do become good at things they’ve seen and attempted to learn to do themselves. I suppose one of the best examples would have been a cow belonging to one of my mates, Stewart Dumesny from Nullawarre. He had stud Guernsey cattle at the Melbourne show one time when one of them appeared to be having trouble calving. He thought he would do the right thing by getting the official vet, who happened to be a city practitioner. The vet examined the cow and decided she needed a Caesarean section. Stewart had his doubts, so while the vet was away organising things, Stewart did his own examination and delivered the calf in minutes without any problems.

There were a number of large families in the district, and I found it interesting to see the changes in these families over the years. Add to the primitive conditions, like those I’ve described above, a half dozen snotty-nosed bare-arsed or barefooted kids, and the farmer having difficulty in financing his farm, feeding the kids and paying my bills, and you’ll have an idea of what a large part of the farming community was like. Transformations occurred in later years as the kids grew up and became better educated than their parents. For a time, they became useful free labour for the farmers. They helped to rebuild dairies and tracks and culverts, and with their education in welding, used up all the junk machinery and old metallic junk cluttering up the farms, converting the junk into gates and buildings.

A lot of these kids left the country areas to make their own way in life, but a number stayed on to take over the running and expansion and upgrading of the properties.

But let me tell you what a country vet’s life was really like in those days


I Become My Own Boss: Early Veterinary Knowledge and Practice

The days of the barefooted kids has gone. And so has an aspect of country life that had a certain raw appeal. I was reared in an inner suburban industrial area in Melbourne and, as a boy and teenager, had to travel out to country areas in order to enjoy it. Now I found myself actually resident in a country area, and about to put all of my veterinary training into action. Naturally, a large amount of my training was bookwork and therefore theoretical. It became a bit of a challenge when I started putting theory into practice, especially when I was on my own and unable to readily refer to other veterinarians. I was lucky when Joe Carruthers, the veterinarian I was replacing, was able to stay for my first two weeks to teach me the basics before he left for Cowra in New South Wales.

In spite of this, cases did not always turn out the way theory said they were supposed to. Most vets of my era found that they had to go through a re-evaluation period after two years of practice.

We just had to wear our mistakes. The first thing I learned to do was not to ask people how their animal had progressed. I often made the mistake in the first year of asking owners how their animals had got on after I’d seen them, and I got sick of hearing "She died". Later, in the 1970s I was talking to one of my new assistants about this and he responded, That wouldn’t worry me. Of course, the day came when the owner of one of his patients came in to pay an account, and this young vet just had to ask, How did that steer get on? To which the farmer replied, He died miserably!

This vet didn’t stay anywhere too long. He was very competent, but he just did not learn to hose the cow faeces off his waterproof trousers before he left farms. He gained a reputation for being good but also for being dirty, so much so that one of the district wits was reported to have commented that if a cow did not have a disease before he examined it, it would have afterwards!

There were still plenty of opportunities in the late 1950s. Vets were setting up their own shingles all over the country, and were almost assured of making a successful go of things. Two years after I had been on a salary, I developed itchy feet similar to my predecessors, and gave notice. I had two country towns in mind in Northern Victoria where I hoped the weather would be better. Factory management could see that this unstable type of situation was not in the best interests of their suppliers, so they propositioned me to take over the setup as my own private practice so long as I stayed in the area for five years.

I finished up staying for twenty-five till the cold climate really got through to me. I worked out of rented premises at the factory for a while, and then purchased an old house on four acres opposite the Junction Hotel. While I was employed by the factories, their office staff used to act as receptionists and accountants for me. But when the business became my own, I had to hire someone to act as my receptionist, telephonist, and surgical assistant. Once again, it was a waste of time advertising for the position. Everyone had good jobs. It so happened, that Marj, the daughter of Les Campbell, a share farmer in my area, was leaving school, and might need employment. No questions, she got the position.

These days, every vet has a backlist of thirty or more, mainly females, waiting to get a job with them. In fact, there’s a ‘Catch 22’ involved these days. Vets naturally prefer experienced veterinary nurses with full TAFE qualifications, and yet those wanting to do the vet nursing courses can’t do so unless they are employed by a vet.

At least, in Marj’s case, I had seen her a few times before she left school, and she seemed to be fairly bright. But as I think of her, I must tell you about a horse I had to see for her father Les. The horse had a cough. Now the horse’s welfare was not the main reason Les called me. As he told it The bastard doesn’t just cough. He has a habit of standing with his head inside this empty thousand-gallon tank and coughing. It’s like a bloody great amplifier. I can’t bloody well sleep at night with his noise. You’ve got to stop him. It’s driving me stupid! I wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong with the horse. It appeared to have bronchitis, but I’ve never seen a similar case since. Obviously, Les’ future sleep and health all depended on my veterinary skills. Either that or he would have to shift the empty water tank, or shoot the horse. I rationalised that there had to be some irritation of its trachea or bronchi, so I administered a penicillin injection, which was available then, and some potassium iodide to put in his feed.

Yes. We used to use a bit of potassium iodide. It came in crystalline form in 16 ounce (450 gram) jars. Among other things, it was believed to be an ‘expectorant’, which was the old medical word for anything that brought up muck from the lungs. It was a word derived from human usage and for substances which would produce a really good coughing, phlegmy spit. All self-respecting pubs had spittoons in the days when human tuberculosis and heavy smoking or tobacco chewing were all the rage. Whether potassium iodide really did this or not, I never knew, because its usefulness was ordained in the days before anybody knew anything about controlled experiments. Whatever, the horse recovered from its cough regardless of the cause.

Les’s daughter became my first official general factotum. I was able to rent the old veterinary storeroom at the back of the factory for my office. There was a desk, a wall phone, a wet instrument steriliser, a dry steriliser, an incubator and a typewriter, all of which I contracted to buy from the factory. It was not exactly a clinic and a surgery, and there is no way it would pass as a veterinary clinic these days. My surrounding vets were working from their homes and using their garages or an extension of the garage as their clinics. Nobody had anything flash, but we all did the best we could with what we had. I did do some small animal surgery such as spays and leg fractures, but there was no advantage in doing surgery in that room as opposed to doing it on a farm.

I remember one time attending a sick cow on the farm of JSH Johnstone of Naringal East, when he asked Doug! While you’re here, would you mind having a look at my dog? It was a Queensland Blue Heeler with a shocking old injury of a front leg; there were bits of bone sticking out everywhere. This was one of those people-loving heelers. You know the type. They wag their whole body when you give them attention.

In retrospect, I think it quaint that I did not even give a second thought about the circumstances for the operation. But I said. We’ll need some bench space, and some boiled water, and some clean sheets cut up into pieces to use as drapes. We found some bench space in a shed, and after putting my instruments in a tray of disinfectant with the pieces of sheet, I used pentobarbitone sodium as an anaesthetic, and amputated the miserable leg at the shoulder joint.

I said to JSH’s son, Bert Keep him warm with blankets or bags, start giving him teaspoons of water sweetened with sugar when he wakes up enough to lap. The dog made a complete recovery and ceased to drag a useless mass of mangled meat around. I used catgut sutures for the skin closure, and the owners removed the bandages. The instructions were to contact me if they had any concerns. They had no concerns and at subsequent farm visits I could see that the dog had had no postoperative problems.

Maybe cattle dogs are tougher than house pets. I don’t know. But I do remember another cattle dog surgical case in which the outcome astonished me. Actually, it also belonged to Marj’s dad. I amputated a front leg in the morning and sent it home in the afternoon. It was still groggy from the anaesthetic and heavily bandaged. Marj told me next day that when it got home, it went off down the paddock to bring up the cows for milking. Maybe they are tougher.

There is no way I would do such a thing now unless it was in a surgery with better anaesthetics, with better sterility, and unless I had intravenous saline drips at least to assist recovery.

Nowadays I would never consider castrating a cat without an anaesthetic. But for the first ten years I was in practice, I would frequently do them on farms. Before the days of good rat poisons, farmers used to keep cats around the farms to keep mice and rat numbers down as they were prone to escalate into plague numbers in hay stacks in the days before good rat poisons became available. I was frequently asked to castrate the male cats to regulate the numbers of rodent-catching cats on the farm. The standard procedure was to get a potato bag, which was a hemp bag larger than a sugar bag, and smaller than a chaff bag. I would cut a hole about one inch diameter in the bottom of the bag. We would drop the cat into the bag, and pull the tail of the cat

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