Sandy joined the practice in 1987 and has now taken on the title of longest-standing member of the Scarsdale Vets team. Over his time here he has been an assistant, Farm Vet, Equine Vet, Chairman, Partner and more recently a Clinical Director. Throughout the years he has seen not only the practice itself adapt and change but also the many different ways that the industry has had to adjust.
Where it all began
As a child Sandy described himself as someone who wanted to be covered in dirt and soil all the time. Little did he know that this love for being muddy and grubby was going to pay off later down the line (being a farm vet is a very messy job to say the least!)
However, Sandy’s desire to become a vet actually began after a very unfortunate trip to the vets involving his dog, a rather small parachute and a window! He was fascinated by what the vets did and then went rushing into school to tell his teachers about his career epiphany, soon to be met with a negative reaction.
“I told the teachers at school that I wanted to be a vet, but they explained to me that no one ever does that… which of course made me even more determined.”
As he grew older his desire for being medical didn’t disappear. At one point the idea of being a doctor became more fascinating, but he soon decided that wasn’t the path he would take.
“I wanted to be a doctor, but I don’t like people… I liked animals and as a vet you can do everything yourself from x-ray to diagnostics to surgery.”
So, after finishing school in Nottingham, Sandy went to The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh and graduated as a vet in 1987. Sandy originally saw practice with Taylor-Thompstone (Scarsdale Vets’ former name), but they couldn’t always accommodate so they suggested he went to Ron Christie’s practice.
Ron originally said he didn’t take on students but after having a pint with Sandy his arm was twisted. Sandy was then offered a job at Ron’s mixed practice that consisted of two vets (Sandy being one of them). After a year, Taylor-Thompstone brought Ron’s practice and so in 1988 it turned into a farm and equine practice near the old Greyhound stadium. The farmer’s market used to be on for two days a week back then, and the farmers would turn up in the stadium car park and collect their medicines. Sadly, the Greyhound stadium went bust and the car park couldn’t be accessed anymore so Tony Thompstone and Tom Craig had to have a think about what they could do.
They knew the people who owned the (now) Markeaton practice as it was an old riding school, and in 1991 it was decided that they would start up a farm and equine practice on Markeaton Lane. No-one has ever looked back … well, maybe a few did! In those days they had no equine vet, so because Sandy owned the most horses, he took on that role.
“The early 90s was a real glory time for us, milk prices were good, loads of clients, lots of practices wanting to concentrate on small animal and so we could then acquire the farm and equine sides of their businesses.”
Changes over the years
Sandy explained that the biggest change is how many farms have closed down due to the slump in the dairy industry and the pressures on it. We are also missing a generation of young farmers as less ongoing dairy businesses have been handed down. He also described the consequences of these pressures,
“We have lost a lot of the characters and smaller farms and now we have bigger units under a lot of pressures due to public and supermarket demands. The farmers have to jump through more hoops to get their products on the shelves and when it eventually gets there, farmers cannot dictate what they get paid, so that means it affects us when selecting our prices. We cannot increase prices if our farmers are being paid less and less for their milk.”
“In 30 years, milk prices have gone back to exactly what they were when I qualified which is just crazy. Could you imagine Sammy’s Christening with Sandy and Martin going to the pub and paying 1987 prices for a pint?”
The impact on Scarsdale Vets
Due to the fall in milk prices it has meant farmers have had to make cuts and a lot of this has been in veterinary care. Farmers are becoming more trained themselves now so are giving better basic care to their animals.
“The typical day used begin by going to see a milk fever at half 5 every single day. Nowadays you will never see a primary milk fever because the farmers will have treated them themselves. Originally, they would only have treated them with subcutaneous calcium but now they are putting the calcium into the vein. Why would they pay you for it when they can do it themselves?
When we started, the Weston Underwood Road had twelve dairies on it and now we only have one on that road and one just off it. We would visit farms for lots of little small things, but now we are travelling to larger farms to see around 20-50 cows. So, the actual work type has changed massively over the 30-year period. We also give a lot of help with building design as pneumonia in calves is something that many farmers are trying to tackle, and this can bring about a huge loss for farmers.”
Over the last 30 years there has been a significant advance in technology, and this has also impacted the large animal veterinary industry. The use of data analysis is now massive. Years ago, a farmer would have a cow, calve it once a year, milk it and then he would be happy with that. Now, you can drill down to how many services it’s had, how many days it’s taken to get in calf, the costing of it, exactly how much milk it is giving, cell count, what its milk proteins are and even what its butter fats are!
Equipment has also advanced, Sandy explained:
“Ultrasound was something that never existed when I started out and now it is extremely important, and everyone is using it whether it be on the equine side for diagnostics or on the cattle side for pregnancy. All the farm vets now have their own ultrasound scanners whereas 30 years ago they wouldn’t have.”
Advice from the expert
Sandy offered up some wise advice for budding students looking at going into the large animal veterinary industry.
“To go into large animal veterinary medicine, you need to like communicating with people and being out and about. You have to be able to talk to the simplest farm hand and not make them feel patronised but also talk to a progressive farmer and look like you know your stuff.
You also can’t be focused on finishing at a specific time or be bothered about missing out on a weekend. You really have to knuckle down, especially in your first few years and this will paint you in a really good light and help you to progress your career.
People get put off because they do so well with their qualifications and then when they begin work a lot of it to start with is quite mundane. Once you’ve had your hand up 50 cows’ backsides, they are all remarkably similar. But hang on in there!”
Stand out moments
What Sandy likes most about Scarsdale Vets is the closeness of the teams. When the practice first moved to Markeaton Lane there were only 6 people – now there are nearly 20 vets and nearly as many supporting staff.
“I think the camaraderie within the whole practice makes working here great. The relationships with the clients are also something that makes work enjoyable, they are more like friends than clients.”
“Our first successful surgery was on a Shetland pony from a pub in Duffield. It had a sarcoma on the end of its penis. So, we got the book out, knocked the pony out and performed the surgery.
After, we went back to the pub to see how he was getting on and turns out that we hadn’t quite rigged everything back up correctly as when the pony urinated it went straight past his ear and onto whoever was feeding him!”
Another memorable time for Sandy was the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. James Hollingworth was working the weekend and went to Marston-on-Dove to investigate why a farmer’s lambs were dying. He then went and saw about 6 other farms after that…
James then turned to Sandy the next day and said “his lambs are still dying, what do you think it is?” Sandy then replied, “What about foot and mouth – that kills lambs instantly?” and it was then that he saw the colour drain from James’ face.
So, Sandy and James then had to notify everyone about it and all of a sudden, we were very busy handling the outbreak. Amazingly, James hadn’t spread it to any other farms due to his great disinfecting!
Sandy sums up the last 30 years,
“For me everything has always revolved around just doing the job. The customers and the animals are what’s important. I think that the art of veterinary science is keeping the clients happy and coming to the conclusion that they want. All they want is for someone to communicate with them on their level with a tailored approach and you can keep them happy, then through word of mouth you excel.
And if I’m honest I think the most surprising thing is that after all these years I still actually like cows!”