Chapters 1 – 10:
The chapter begins with the protagonist James Herriot working on an animal. He is performing the difficult task of helping a cow give birth and is covered in mud, blood and snow. Herriot explains that he did not expect how difficult this task would be. He becomes numb from the cold and begins to give up, until eventually the calf is born. The whole process takes over two hours. ‘Uncle’, whose brother owns the farm, is extremely critical and thinks Herriot could have done it much faster.
Herriot recalls the day he went to meet his prospective employer, Siegfried Farnon. He was not optimistic that he would get the job, as he was newly qualified and his economic prospects were dampened by the Great Depression. Herriot recalls how many of the people he graduated with were currently unemployed. Herriot is struck by the beauty of the Dales. During the bus ride, Herriot imagined what Siegfried would be like, expecting him to be a merry, short German man. Herriot arrives at Skeldale House and is greeted by Mrs Hall. When Herriot meets Siegfried he is surprised to see that he is an Englishman. Siegfried offers to show him around the house.
Siegfried and Herriot go on farm calls so that Herriot can demonstrate his skills and experience. First they attend a lame horse, which James effectively treats, though he struggles under the weight of the horse. They then went to a cow that had difficulty producing milk. The cow kicked Herriot, but he was able to fix it. This marks the end of Herriot’s first day.
Siegfried and Herriot stop into a pub on the way back to Skeldale House. Siegfried offers Herriot wages and board, much to Herriot’s surprise. Siegfried tells Herriot all about the practice, then they return to Skeldale House, where Herriot will now live.
Herriot goes on his first farm call by himself, and is very nervous. Herriot has to treat a difficult infection for a horse. Mr Soames, the farm manager, is extremely rude. When Herriot sees the horse, he believes it is so ill that it needs to be put down. Soames interprets this as a sign of Herriot’s incompetence and complains to Siegfried. Siegfried backs Herriot up and explains that there was no other option. Siegfried and Herriot have a drink to celebrate his first case.
Siegfried performs an autopsy on the horse that Herriot put down and confirms that Herriot was correct in his diagnosis. Herriot meets Tristan Farnon. Tristan admits that he has failed two of his exams, and Siegfried is furious. Herriot is shocked, but Tristan said he is used to his brothers’ temper and is not concerned.
It has been three weeks since Tristan’s arrival at Skeldale House, and the practice sets into its regular routine. Tristan is responsible for early morning calls but is too lazy to answer the phone, meaning that Herriot has to take on this role. During farm calls, Herriot enjoys the countryside and becomes increasingly optimistic about the future.
This chapter provides more insight into Siegfried’s characterisation. He is a ladies man and constantly contradicts himself. The women Siegfried attracts are described as upper class, beautiful and eager. Siegfried’s contradictions are a source of both amusement and frustration for Herriot. Siegfried accidently tells Herriot the wrong farm to go to, then gets angry at Herriot and insists that he told him to go to the right place. Siegfried also chastises Herriot for damaging his car, even though the car was initially in terrible condition.
Tristan and Siegfried pull pranks on each other. Herriot explains that Tristan was lazy and devoted his time to doing “as little as possible”, such as sleeping on the job and frequenting the local bar. Herriot gets a phone call from someone claiming to be Mr Sims, who asks Herriot to drive a great distance at night to treat a horse with a large wound. He is rude, and gets into a heated argument with Herriot over the phone. Herriot then realises that Mr Sims is in fact Tristan putting on an accent to prank him. Days later, Herriot gets a legitimate call asking him to operate on a cow’s uterus. Herriot accepts and takes Tristan along to witness the messy procedure. That night, Herriot pranks Tristan by saying that the uterus they spent hours on fixing had fallen out again and needed to be operated on again. Herriot is proud that Tristan fell for this prank.
As Herriot settles into live in Darrowby, the locals and farmers become more accepting of him when they realise how competent he is. Herriot also admires the townspeople and their strong sense of friendship. After working on a family’s cow, they invite Herriot to attend a play with them, which he graciously accepts. They also invite him to lunch, which they eat so slowly that they end up being late for the play. Herriot reflects on his difficulty adjusting to the slow, laidback pace of country life.
Chapters 11 – 20:
Herriot visits a poor elderly man, Mr Dean, whose dog is very ill. The dog is so sick that Herriot has to put it down. This devastates the man, so Herriot refuses to take money from him, performing the task for free. Mr Dean generously offers Herriot a cigar, which he saves for later.
Tristan is given the task of collecting money on the day everyone comes in to pay. He seems to do this well, as he is polite and friendly, and Herriot remarks “Nothing was going wrong this time.” However, trouble breaks out when Tristan loses the receipt book. This does not reflect well on the business, as the farmers who just payed are now expected to pay again next month.
This chapter introduces Mrs Pumphrey and her pampered dog Tricki Woo. Herriot treats Tricki Woo’s illness, caused by Mrs Pumphrey overfeeding him. Herriot realises that it is impossible to talk sense into her. To show her appreciation, Mrs Pumphrey sends Herriot a hamper full of expensive food.
Siegfried hires a secretary, Miss Harbottle, because he no longer trusts Tristan to hold the recepits. She is extremely stern and stubborn. She is disgusted by their current system of keeping unordered notes in a jar and tells them they need to be more organised. Siegfried admits that she is tough but is happy that she knows what she is doing.
Tristan causes another domestic disaster at Skeldale House. Siegfried, sick of going to the grocer for bacon and eggs, decides to get a pig and hens. Tristan is in charge of looking after the hens but does not feed them carefully. He also accidently lets them out of their cage, where they escape and climb up trees. Siegfried eventually sells them.
A similar situation occurs, but this time with the piglets. When Tristan accidently leaves the gate open, they trample him and escape. They are eventually rounded up. The chaos with the pigs also caused Siegfried’s new mare to escape, and Tristan and Herriot have to travel to find her.
Miss Harbottle is angry at Siegfried because he often forgets to write down when he takes money out, and because his writing is barely legible. He avoids the situation by saying he has urgent calls.
Herriot recalls when he was seventeen back in Scotland. He remembers learning about horses and being so confident with his theoretical knowledge that he felt like he knew everything about horses. He came across a horse stray horse and attempted to soothe it, but the horse seized his shoulder with his teeth. This experience taught Herriot humility.
Herriot attends a party for Tricki Woo and realises just how ridiculously pampered he is. Herriot urges Mrs Pumphrey to feed him less, but she doesn’t listen. Herriot drinks a lot at the party, as Mrs Pumphrey generously urges the waiter to make sure “his glass is full and he has plenty to eat.” That same night, Herriot has to go on a farm call to help a pig give birth. He is extremely tired and falls asleep while delivering the pig, so the farmer has to wake him up.
The secretary, Miss Harbottle, becomes increasingly infuriated by Siegfried’s inconsistencies. He tells her that she is not doing her job correctly because the money box needs to be full, however, he constantly takes money out of the box. He also forgets to give her the receipts she needs and then gets angry at her for not sending out bills.
Chapters 21 – 30:
Herriot performs a successful operation on a dog, but hours later the dog howls uncontrollably as its recovery is slow. While Herriot and Siegfried go on farm calls, Tristan must stay and watch the dog. When they come back, Tristan is drunk. Tristan takes the dog into his room for the night so he can take care of it, as per Siegfried’s orders. The dog paces all night. The next day the dog finally returns home.
Another dog needs an immediate operation, and Siegfried tells Herriot to take it to a vet called Angus Grier. Grier is rude and dismissive towards Herriot and asks him to help with the operation, even though he is wearing a suit. Grier also makes him do the nastier parts of the operation and laughs at Herriot’s expense.
A farmer named Dan Cooper fears his cow is dead and asks Herriot to look at it. Herriot discovers that the cow is not dead and is able to heal it. Dan is highly appreciative and invites Herriot to breakfast. When Herriot returns to Skeldale House he hears Siegfried and the secretary arguing.
Tristan and Herriot plan to go to a village dance. Siegfried tells Tristan that he has to leave for the night and stay at his mother’s house, due to unexpected visitors in Skeldale House. Tristan is upset that his plans are ruined, and decides to defy Siegfried’s orders and go to the dance anyway. As a punishment, Siegfried gives Tristan the particularly difficult job of fixing an infection in a large pig’s ear. It takes Tristan numerous tries before he is successful.
Spring arrives in the Dales, and Herriot describes the changing landscape in great detail. Herriot learns how to deliver lambs and foals, which he finds difficult at first. Herriot has an especially difficult task of castrating a stallion, which is difficult because of the horses’ size, strength and stubbornness. Herriot got kicked in the leg, but learned a valuable lesson that “the fear is worse than the reality”, and claims that he hasn’t been scared of horses since.
A farmer, Phin Calvert, asks Herriot to help his animals. He expects Herriot, a young vet, to use modern and exciting remedies. However, the illness is simple and Herriot is able to cure them with only Epsom salts and water. This annoys Calvert, who feels that he has been cheated. He urges other people not to go to Herriot, saying “it doesn’t matter what you call him out for, he uses nowt but Epsom salts and cold water.” This is an unfair assessment of Herriot’s abilities.
Siegfried wants Herriot and Tristan to have experienced with the most difficult farm calls, so he takes them along to do complicated procedures. Though they struggle and become injured and dirty, Siegfried considers the day a success.
A farmer, Mr Cranford, calls Herriot about his dead cow. Cranford claims that the cow was struck by lightning, meaning he would be eligible to claim insurance. Herriot inspects the animal and concludes that it was not struck by lightning but dies of heart failure, meaning Cranford would not receive insurance. Cranford appeals to a knacker, someone who specialises in determining the cause of death of an animal. The knacker agrees with Herriot.
Mr Cranford is still not satisfied, and comes to Skeldale House to complain to Siegfried. Siegfried does not respond to Cranford’s complaints, so he leaves. Later, Siegfried creates an ointment for one of Cranford’s other animals, an tells Tristan to give it to him. Siegfried also gives Tristan a fecal sample to drop off to a laboratory. Tristan accidently gets the two mixed up. Three days later Cranford calls to complain that he was given “a treacle tin full of cow [excrement]”, which amuses everyone at the practice.
Tricki Woo is very ill and near death, so Herriot decides he must spend two weeks away from Mrs Pumphrey. Mrs Pumphrey is distract, but Herriot convinces her that this is the only way her dog will get better. Herriot brings Tricki Woo to the practice and makes him eat less and exercise more. At the end of the fortnight, Trick is much better. Mrs Pumphrey is overjoyed and extremely grateful.
Chapters 31 – 40:
Herriot is called in the middle of a night to treat a mare that is having difficulty giving birth. Herriot leaves the house in his pyjamas and quickly helps the mare. He then goes to a local café, forgetting that he is in his night clothes and does not have money on him. The waitress is very nice and lets him have his food on the house, but the other people in the café laugh at him.
Herriot checks on a cow that has difficulty walking. Herriot concludes that the cow has a broken pelvis and will not be able to walk again. However, the next day that cow is perfectly fine. Siegfried explains that this can happen after calving, and is fairly normal. The farmer believes it to be a miracle, and tells everyone about “the cow that Mr Herriot said would never get up n’more.”
Mrs Pumphrey has bought a pig called Nugent, and asks Herriot to look at it. He is surprised that she keeps the pig in the kitchen, and tells her that pigs are outdoor animals. Mrs Pumphrey sends Herriot more presents to say thank you.
Herriot has to temporarily help another vet, Angus Grier. Grier is irritable and inhospitable, constantly yelling at Herriot for being late and giving him only plain porridge to eat. When Herriot works on a cow with a prolapsed uterus, Grier tells him not to use sutures, even though this is what Herriot normally does. Unsurprisingly, the uterus falls back out. Grier says that this is proof of Herriot’s inadequacy.
A lady called Mrs Mallard calls Herriot saying that her dog is sick and asking him to get Grier to come and see the dog. Herriot was about to explain that Grier was sick and he would come instead, but the lady hung up. Herriot arrived at her house and was surprised to see her dressed in a green ball gown and with a glamorous, elaborate hairstyle. The lady is surprised to see Herriot but lets him in. The dog is very healthy and energetic, and she nervously says that he must have gotten better. The next day, Mrs Mallard’s neighbour visits Herriot. As they talk, he comments that the vet’s car is always outside her house. Herriot says that this is strange, because the dog appeared to be very healthy. When the man comments that the vet often comes at night, Herriot realises that Grier has been having an affair with the lady. In two days Grier is recovered and Herriot can go back to Skeldale House.
A poor farmer’s cow is unable to produce milk. Herriot helps clear the cow, and the farmer is very cooperative. Eventually, the cow is back to normal.
This chapter provides another example of Siegfried’s contradictions. When Siegfried and Herriot work on a dog at the practice, Siegfried tells Herriot he is using too much suture material and wasting money. On a later farm call, Herriot remembers this advice and pulls of only a small amount of material to close a stitch. Siegfried chastises Herriot in front of the farmer, telling him not to be so thrifty and to use far more sutures.
Herriot meets Mr Worley, a pig-breeder and owner of the local inn. Herriot operates on the foot of one of his pigs. Worley invites Herriot to the inn for a drink, despite it being 2am and against local regulations. The inn is crowded despite it being past closing time. Just after Herriot leaves, the pub is raided by a police constable and Worley is fined.
Tristan drives Herriot to a farm call, as Herriot’s arm is in a sling. After the call they smoke, relax and reflect on the day until. They then see their car roll down the hill, as Tristan forgot to put the brakes on. As the car swooped downwards, their equipment fell out, with bottles breaking and bandages tearing. The car crashes into a shed belonging to the local golf club. Days later, Tristan drives Siegfried’s expensive car and damages it. Siegfried is furious. Tristan is surprisingly unconcerned, as he comments “Things usually turn out better than you’d expect.”
Herriot is called to look at an injured calf at Heston Grange. He can’t find it at the farm, so he knocks at the house. Here he meets Helen Alderson, who takes him to the cow. As Herriot fixes the cow’s leg, he and Helen engage in conversation. Siegfried tells Herriot that Helen is popular with the men “Half the young bloods in the district are chasing her,” but very picky, a “choosy sort.”
Chapters 41 – 50:
Herriot has to check all the local cattle to see if they have tuberculosis. In this chapter, Herriot visits the first of many farms. He is struggling to catch the cattle until the farmer’s neighbour imitates the sound of a fly, which makes the cows charge up a hill. Herriot is surprised by this, and says it was “like magic.”
Herriot continues inspecting cattle at other farms. His first farm call takes longer than expected, making him run late to the others. At the next farm he is constantly kicked by a cow, to the great amusement of the farmer. At another farm he mistakes a bull for a female.
Herriot visits Miss Stubbs, a poor elderly women who has many animals which are often sick. When her favourite dog dies, she thinks that she will die next. Herriot tells her not to worry, and she says she is not afraid. She is upset because she thinks that she won’t be able to see her animals in heaven, as people have told her that animals don’t have souls. Herriot comforts her by saying that if having a soul means being able to love, then animals are better than most humans. She is greatly comforted. A month later, Herriot found out that she had died when a farmer mentioned her house being for sale. He worries about her animals, but finds out that they have been taken in by her housekeeper.
Herriot attempts to woo Helen. He joined the local Music Society because he knew that Helen often went to concerts, and saw this as a way to get to know her better. When they clean up after a concert he asks her on a date. She agrees, but Herriot fears he may have pressured her into saying yes when she really didn’t want to. Still, he is relieved to have asked her out.
Siegfried reads an article that says that farmers do not care for their animals. Herriot remembers a man, Kit Bilton, who bought a pig for family consumption but cried for days when it was killed and eaten. Herriot thinks an ideal vet should not be as emotional as Kit but should still care about the welfare of the animals.
Herriot reflects on how it is often the largest, strongest men who pass out while observing a bloody surgery. Herriot recalls a difficult procedure on a cow. The farmer paid Herriot before the operation, but fell asleep before Herriot could give him his change. The farmer woke up just as he put the change down and he complained that he had been short changed one shilling.
Herriot has to deal with the Sidlow family, a rude family who believe that vets are “useless creatures, parasites and expensive layabouts.” Mr Sidlow always waits until the last minute to call a vet, meaning that his animals are in an unnecessary amount of pain. He calls Herriot to look at his bull with a broken windpipe. Herriot has to put the bull down, to Sidlow’s great disdain.
Herriot takes Helen on a date. The day does not go according to plan. His suit is poorly altered and does not sit well, and on the way their car has a flat tire. When they finally arrive where they planned to go, they realise that the dinner dances only happen once a fortnight. Herriot is upset but says they can at least stay for dinner. However, they need a hotel reservation to be able to eat at the restaurant. Herriot feels that the date has been a disaster, and doubts that she even wanted to come in the first place.
This chapter provides another humorous example of Siegfried’s contradictions. The brakes in the car are broken, and Herriot has told Siegfried to fix them for a while. Normally Herriot drives the car. When Siegfried drives, he realises the brakes aren’t working and gets angry at Herriot for not telling him earlier.
Herriot visits a millionaire who has many dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and fish. Herriot tries to treat an enormous Great Dane who has been sick since delivering puppies. The dog, thinking Herriot was going to harm her puppies, leapt at his face and bit him in the leg. Siegfried laughed about the incident until he saw the wound on Herriot’s leg.
Chapters 51 – 60:
Herriot describes his second winter since coming to the Dales. The snow makes it difficult for him to do his job, as roads are blocked and he has to walk great distances through dangerous terrain to reach the farms. At one stage, he gets seriously lost on the way to an otherwise simple farm call.
Herriot and Siegfried get into an argument over a small misunderstanding – Siegfried thought that a cased involved pneumonia but Herriot said it was not likely to be pneumonia. Herriot became increasingly frustrated and started to shout before leaving the room. Tristan overheard the argument and went to speak to Herriot. Tristan thinks that he is frustrated with the failed date with Helen and is taking this out on Siegfried. Tristan suggests that they go to a dance with two women, Connie and Brenda.
Herriot visits Dick Rudd, a poor farmer who is extremely generous. Herriot normally feels that there is a divide between the country folk and himself, but does not feel this way with Rudd, and is grateful for his friendship. Rudd bought a new cow and asked Herriot to look at it. Herriot discovered that the cow had a throat infection, which got increasingly worse, and Herriot is unsure if he can help it. Mr Rudd was accepting of this and told Herriot he’d done “everything anybody could do.”
Herriot attempts to lance the cow’s neck but fears that it will not work. Surprisingly, it is successful and the cow recovers. The Rudd family are overjoyed. Their wedding anniversary is approaching and they ask Herriot to be a guest at the celebrations. He is honoured and accepts.
This chapter focuses on difficult customers that refuse to or forget to pay. Herriot, Siegfried and Tristan speak about customers who have never paid, such as Bert Mason, who owes the practice money but recently bought an expensive car. Major Bullivant has lived in Darrowby for years but never paid anyone anything.
The local butcher is another non-payer. The butcher expects the vets to come immediately and gets impatient if he is forced to wait. He asks Herriot to deliver two calves, which he does successfully. The butcher doesn’t pay him but offers him sausages. To make a point, Herriot asks how much the sausages would cost. Surprisingly, the butcher names a price and took his money.
Herriot and Tristan go to the date with Connie and Brenda. It is set up like a double-date, with Herriot taking Connie. Herriot can’t stop thinking about Helen. They go to a pub and all drink a lot. Later, Herriot runs into Helen in the pub. He is mortified to see her, because he and Connie are quite drunk.
Herriot recalls stories about interesting farmers he met. One failed to do simple tasks such as milking a cow, as the cow would kick away the buckets and push the farmer. Another farmer, Luke Benson, was extremely hostile and did not get along with anyone he met. He spent hours complaining to Herriot about all the people he disliked.
Herriot meets gypsies who have a seriously ill pony. Herriot was warned by Siegfried that they cannot always be trusted and will often not pay and then disappear. However, these gypsies defy Herriot’s expectations as they are polite and immediately offer him money. Herriot is taken aback and chastises himself for doubting them in the first place. Herriot and Siegfried successfully operate on the pony. Days later, the gypsies leave and the pony is fine.
Helen brings her dog into the practice and specifically asks for Herriot. Helen and Herriot work together to fix the dog’s dislocated hip. Later that day, Herriot calls Helen and asks if the dog is alright. She says the dog is fine and Herriot asks her out again. Helen says she would love to go out, and they make arrangements for the coming Friday night. Herriot is optimistic and feels that he is “back in business.”
Chapters 61 – 67:
This chapter contrasts a rich family and a poor family. First, Herriot visits a rich, unhappy family. They have a seriously ill dog, and Mrs Tavener and her daughter Julia blame Mr Tavener for the dog’s illness. This does not make sense, as there is no way he could have caused the rheumatism. Herriot also notices Mr Tavener’s shaking hands and speculates that he could be an alcoholic. Herriot then visits a poor but happy family. The Alton family all pitched in to help, and the daughter, Jennie, was overjoyed to be able to buy her father Guinness with money she saved up herself.
Herriot and Helen go on their second date. They plan to see a Scottish film at the local cinema, but a western movie was on instead. In the cinema, a man chastises Herriot for incorrectly diagnosing one of his animals. The man then falls into a drunken stupor. At the end of the date, Helen suggests that they go for a walk on their next date. Herriot is extremely happy that there would be a “next time.”
Siegfried is conflicted. He is offered the chance to work as a veterinarian for the horse races, but this would require him to leave Skeldale House. Siegfried decides to give it a chance and go to the races to see how it turns out. At the race course, Siegfried bumps into Stewie, a vet that he knows well, and they go off to get a drink.
While having lunch and drinks with Stewie, Siegfried loses track of the time. He is late meeting the vets from the Racing Circuit, and they are angry at him for making them wait. Siegfried is not too disappointed that he has made a terrible impression on the vets, as he was never certain of taking up the new job.
Herriot and Helen become closer, and Siegfried urges Herriot to propose to Helen before someone else does. He offers to let them both move in upstairs if they get married. Siegfried is afraid that Herriot is too shy to propose to Helen, but Herriot asks her to marry him. She says yes. They are afraid of telling her father, as he dislikes Herriot, but are optimistic of the future.
Herriot is called on an early morning farm call to Helen’s farm to help a cow deliver its calf. Herriot tells Mr Alderson that he plans to marry Helen. At first he is cold and ignores Herriot, but after a few drinks he begins to open up. Mr Alderson tells Herriot that he misses his deceased wife, and becomes so drunk that Herriot has to help him upstairs. Herriot feels that they are beginning to get along and is optimistic.
It is Herriot and Helen’s honeymoon, which inconveniently falls during tuberculosis testing time. Siegfried is unable to test all the cattle by himself, so they honeymoon nearby. Herriot and Helen have to inspect cattle on their honeymoon, but they enjoy each others company so much that they do not mind. Siegfried has also made Herriot a full partner, which is a very prestigious position.