The real Archers Country

By Graham Harvey

2 February 2019

Vet Alistair Lloyd is rapidly becoming a local hero. If he saves another sheepdog, lame pony or dairy cow injured in a farm accident he’ll surely be in line for some special honour from a grateful community.

Then there’s his selfless service to the cricket club. Not to mention his charity run in the village half-marathon, accomplished while wearing the front end of a pantomime horse costume.

Maybe the parish council could grant him freedom of the parish? Or what if self-appointed “squire” Justin Elliott were to create a special honour for this esteemed Ambridge resident? Something like Lord Lloyd of Lakey Hill has the right sort of ring to it I’d say.

In my view the community’s admiration was best summed up by young Johnny Phillips after Alistair had sorted out the prized Montbeliarde cow injured in the accident. “You’re totally amazing,” said the awe-struck teenager. “Ambridge would be lost without you.” Indeed it would.

We’re all hoping, of course, that Alistair will go on working with the farmers and pet-owners of Ambridge and not spend all his time mentoring students in the big, multi-vet practice he’s joined in Borsetshire. At the moment he’s following the role immortalised by Yorkshire Dales vet and author James Herriot, he of All Creatures Great and Small fame.

Herriot (or Alf Wight to give him his real name) represented the traditional, generalist vet, happy dealing with all sizes, shapes and personalities. The same went for the animals, of course. He’d be as comfortable vaccinating a snappy shih tzu as he would fitting a new nose ring to a Charolais bull weighing in at over a tonne.

In the modern world this kind of traditional veterinary work tends to be a little looked down on. These days you have to be a specialist, preferably in a field that pays well such as equine work. Ideally you’ll be based at a large veterinary hospital where you’ll carry out complex operations and send out bills which may require recipients to take a sedative after reading them.

Right now Alistair spends a lot of time with his arm up the back-ends of cows or looking at sheep poo under the microscope. Hardly the glamour end of the profession. But for all that I have a sneaking suspicion that this sort of generalist farm animal work may be on the way back. In which case vet Alistair Lloyd will find himself in exactly the right place.

One of the reasons for specialist vets is the proliferation of intensive factory farms. The crowding together of pigs, chickens, even dairy cows, in sheds is a development of the last few decades. It’s principally a way of using up the huge surplus of grain grown in Britain as a result of EU farm subsidies. To stop the cereal price collapsing up to half the stuff is wastefully fed to animals and turned into meat, milk or eggs.

Sadly these intensive farms are not great for animal health. Animals and poultry kept this way are more prone to disease than those on traditional, outdoor systems. Hence the need for specialist vets to keep the factory farms going.

When Justin Elliott set up his mega-dairy in Ambridge, it wasn’t good old Alistair he took on for the routine veterinary work. He gave the contract to a specialist firm of dairy vets. It’s the specialists who keep the factory farms going. The vets would say, of course, they’re simply providing the services farming demands.

I once knew a Cornish dairy farmer who went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his cows enjoyed as natural a diet as possible. His grazing pastures were full of clovers and deep-rooting herbs of the kind that are highly nutritious to cattle. He even planted tasty shrubs in his hedgerows and made sure the cattle could get to them whenever they wished.

After a few seasons on these dairy “superfoods” the cows became so healthy the vet was seldom called to the farm. On the annual balance sheet of costs and income, the “Vet and Medicines” entry was always so low that accountants would regularly suspect a mistake and query it. I have a hunch that there will many more farmers in the future producing meat and milk by these proven traditional methods.

A couple of weeks back livestock farmers were incensed by a report published by the medical journal Lancet. It showed how little meat, and how few eggs and dairy foods we should be eating to protect the planet and halt climate change. The amounts were tiny.

There’s wide agreement that the figures in the report were totally over the top. But you don’t have to be a genius to see that we’ll all be eating fewer animal foods in the future. In which case it’ll make sense to get rid of the animal factories and produce them in the most humane and healthy way possible.

We’ll soon be seeing a proliferation of sustainable mixed farms in our countryside, with animals and poultry running on lush, green pastures. To run them farmers will need – not specialists – but locally-based, generalist vets. Hang in there, Alistair. The world’s moving your way.


9th March 2019


I’m reading a terrifying book about the nightmare future we face as a result of climate change. It’s called The Uninhabitable Earth and, as the title suggests, author David Wallace-Wells offers precious little by way of comfort.

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9th February 2019


When I first arrived in Ambridge back in the 1980s Brian Aldridge was by a big margin the wealthiest of all the farmers in the village. With about 1500 acres of prime farmland and no mortgage he was about as solid as the Bank of England.

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19th January 2019


I’m intrigued by the odd behaviour of Brian and Jennifer Aldridge following their enforced down-sizing from a large and comfortable farmhouse to a small cottage next to Kirsty and Roy.

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