Category Archives: Vet

Always Vet in Norway – A Blog

Fish and Chips

Sunrise/sunset: 03:36/21:58. Daylength: 18h22min

I didn’t update last week. I was too busy wallowing in the nostalgia of my UK visit. The past two weeks have also been filled with movement and travel, some further afield, but others involving more local discoveries.

Ten days ago, I travelled back down to Rogaland, where I used to live. I was bound for a Mattilsynet meeting about the important communication on welfare between abattoirs and the vets out in the field that I talked about in this post: The Ever Changing Sky

I emerged into the 11pm darkness at Sola Airport to be greeted by the ever present smell of slurry. It’s a very famous phenomenon. Jo Nesbø even mentions it in one of his books. Anyway, I had completely forgotten until I stepped outside into the warmish night air.

Knowing I would arrive so late, I had toyed with the idea of staying in an airport hotel and travelling onwards on the morning of the meeting, which didn’t start until eleven. But I had found a bus that would take me to Sandnes – the number 42 – and so I thought I’d risk it. I remembered the airport buses from when I used to live there, so I assumed I would be able to pay on board, but when the driver only opened the doors in the centre of the bus, it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to buy one. Scrabbling online, I found I had the Kolumbus App already. Crossing my fingers that there would be no inspectors at that time of night, I finally bought a ticket for what I thought was the correct area, just as we pulled into Sandnes.

By this time it was midnight. Technically, I was still working, still on the clock, which I had switched on in the office when I arrived in the morning. Logging onto my computer to clock out, I thought I would check tomorrow’s meeting, so I opened up the Teams app to check the calendar. There was no venue listed. In fact, it was listed as a Teams Meeting. For a long, sweaty moment, I thought I had just travelled 2000km for a Teams meeting. A check of the e-mails confirmed that I had not. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had!

But the meeting was a success and I’m very glad I went. One of the tasks I struggle with at work is speaking up in meetings, but I had some valid points to make, based on both experience and reading around the topic. It was also great to meet some of the other Mattilsynet staff from other areas of Norway.

I flew back on Thursday afternoon and arrived home almost as late as I’d arrived in Sandnes. There was no rest though, as I had arranged an inspection with Gry on the Friday (post about Gry). The tour took me on an exploration of a part of Senja that I had never visited. Indeed it’s a small corner of the island that I had missed in all my driving around. We stopped in Gryllefjord for a surprisingly tasty chunk of pizza from the local shop. *

Surprisingly tasty pizza

Gryllefjord is an amazing place. It’s ramshackle collection of houses, clustered on the edge of the fjord, under a brooding overhang of mountains, with a small harbour. It was a cloudy day, and the tops of the mountains reached up into the mist.

We also drove to a nearby village, reached through a tunnel in the mountainside. The old road, which went over an exposed ridge, was often blocked in winter.

It’s always a joy finding new places near to where I live. There was also a restaurant in Gryllefjord, which was closed at the time of our visit. I had heard from others that it was a good restaurant, and when I checked online, it appeared that there was fish and chips on the menu.

For anyone living in the UK, that probably seems like a non-event. Fish and chips is the original British fast food. I can remember before Chinese and Indian takeaways became common, and well before the invasion of the US burger craze, that fish and chips was a staple. But in Norway, fish in batter is rare. So when John came over the next day, which was also his birthday, I suggested that we should take a tour out to Gryllefjord to try out the Skreien Spiseri and he jumped at the chance.

It was a much brighter day and we stopped along the way at Hamn to take a few photos. There were also some reindeer by the road, looking surprisingly defenceless without their antlers.

The fish and chips was delectable. We will definitely be back.

Fish and Chips from Skreien Spiseri

As you can see from the photos of John’s birthday, the weather was almost spring-like. I was hoping for a smooth segue from winter to summer, but it wasn’t to be. It started to snow again a couple of days later. I went to Tromsø on Thursday this week to go on an inspection with Line, who works there. Arriving back on the fast boat at five thirty in the afternoon, I walked back through Finnsnes centre and paused to take a couple of photos.

Still, I enjoyed the walk, even if it was a little more “refreshing” than I would have predicted a couple of weeks ago.

And as you know, there’s one member of our household, who always welcomes the snow! Hope you have a great week everyone.

Triar, looking cheery at the new snow fall

*I forgot to say that I also drank a cup of black coffee from the shop, when I was out with Gry. Perhaps, in time, I will indeed be truly integrated into Norwegian society. Maybe if I tell the authorities that I managed it without milk, they will give me a Norwegian passport faster.

Gry

I’d like to tell you about a wonderful woman I sometimes work with called Gry. She works as a nurse in the community, as well as running a sheep farm with her husband. She also works with me now and then on animal welfare cases as a member of dyrevernnemnda – people from the area with experience with animals and an understanding of their welfare needs.

Red rocking chair with white sheepskin

We were out together on a visit on Monday. I love having her there as she is very knowledgable and can talk to anybody. She also knows a whole lot more about sheep farming in the Arctic than I do!

The visit had gone well – always a relief, so as we drove away, I asked her if she’d like to go somewhere for coffee. Our options were limited. We wandered into the local hotel, but the bar was empty. We resisted running off with the Peach Schnapps and climbed back into the car.

An old coffee grinder in brass and wood

Gry suggested we could buy a sandwich at the garage and go back to her barn and she would make coffee. Her barn is wonderful. They built it in 2016 and it has a living area that’s almost as big as my flat. They sleep there during lambing time so they can keep an eye out at night.

Ewer and basin, standing on an old-fashioned wash stand

She took me in and I sat down at a big wooden table with a cosy red table cloth. As she made the coffee, I sat looking around at all the wonderful objects she has collected. This is an old waffle iron.

Waffle iron – one of three

But there was one object that I didn’t recognise, and so I asked her about it. This, she told me, is an old gadget for separating out the milk from the cream. Those of us who are old enough to remember milk in a bottle on the doorstep will also remember that the cream is lighter than the milk, and so it rises to the top.

Milk separator

Gry told me that she works with dementia patients, and sometimes she brings them back to the barn. They see the old things and respond with pleasure.

She was at a museum with an old man. They had a milk separator there too, which they had taken apart.

It has seventeen separate components inside and they have to be fitted together correctly for it to function. Despite being often confused, the old man’s face lit up. He set to and in minutes had reassembled the separator, with everything in place.

Some days my job can be tough. Few things are more distressing than animal cruelty.

But then there are other days when everything goes right. And just now and then, I discover that alongside the animals, I am also working with some of the most warm-hearted people in the world.

The Ever Changing Sky

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 20:24. Daylength: 14hr07min

I thought I would dedicate this post to the wonderful skyline over Gisundet and Senja (Gisundet being the sound between the mainland and Senja, which is the second biggest island on the Norwegian coastline). I am incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful view from my garden. With the changing lights and the boats that come and go, it never gets old. In the past week, I’ve taken three photographs on three separate evenings. The first was the one at the top of the page, where I caught the very last glow of the sunset, a new moon rising, and the aurora borealis in the same picture. I don’t think I’ve ever seen all three at once before. Here’s the full version.

The last of the daylight meets the new moon and the aurora over the island of Senja

Next up was the last rays of the sun as it dipped behind the mountains.

The last rays of sun over the mountains of Senja

And the last was taken last night, as the sun dropped behind the mountains, lighting up the clouds and the water with its burnt orange glow.

Sunset lighting the sky and the water of Gisundet

It’s been a good week. There’s been a case hanging over me from since before I was ill with covid. The general rule is that we have a month, from receiving a report from the public, in which to take action. I missed the deadline, but the visit has been done now, and the report will hopefully be sent out on Monday. I’ve another two cases pending, both fairly serious, but having taken advice from Birgit, Hilde, Thomas and Line (as well as a discussion during our weekly meeting) I feel ready to tackle both. The process, as a whole, is daunting, but I am learning to break it down into steps, and I can get advice at any stage, which is reassuring.

Having not travelled anywhere in nearly two years, I now have two more trips booked in quick succession. This coming week, I will be taking a flying visit to the UK to visit my daughter Anna at university. I’ll only be there a couple of days, but Anna said she’d love to get out and about, so we are planning a trip to a castle, and will stay at a Premier Inn overnight nearby. Those two things are filled with nostalgia for me. When the children were young, we lived in central Scotland, where there were many castles within reasonable driving distance. We joined Historic Scotland and over the course of a year or two, we visited lots of them, staying overnight at various Premier Inns nearby. I have wonderful sunny memories of those times, when the children were young to hare off around the castle grounds while Charlie and I explored more quietly.

The second trip is the week after Easter and is an unexpected treat. I say treat – it’s actually a work meeting, but it’s also in the area of Norway where I used to live, so when it popped up last week, I jumped at the chance, and fortunately was selected to go.

The area isn’t the only attraction, however. I have felt for a while that building up the links between the welfare vets out in the offices and the staff who work in the abattoir would be very helpful in dealing with farm animal cases. I have been working for a while on a project where we at Mattilsynet are trying to tackle the chronic cases out on farms, where welfare isn’t good enough, and no real progress is being made. Having worked closely with Ann and Trude at the abattoir, I’ve come to appreciate how much of an oversight they have built up over the farmers that send their animals in.

The live animals are checked when they come in, and then the meat is inspected, so picking up signs that might indicate poor welfare (animals which are very dirty or very thin, for example) are picked up. The same names come up again and again throughout the years, and so those working at the abattoir come to build up a mental map of which farmers treat their animals well, and which are, perhaps, not so good.

The meeting down in Rogaland is about honing the process by which the abattoir staff report signs of poor welfare to the vets out in the field. We will try to address whether there are areas that are currently difficult to report. There are categories, for example, for reporting overgrown feet and dirty cattle, but no category for reporting eye injuries or inflammation in sheep, which might indicate a farmer hasn’t been keeping a close enough eye on the flock.

I understand we will also be discussing where the lines should be drawn. For example one sheep that’s just been brought in from pasture with a sore eye might be less than ideal but is probably just one of those things, whereas several affected sheep, that appear to have longer term damage, might be an indicator of a welfare issue. It feels odd to have found something that interests me so much. Up until recently, I have been scrabbling to find my feet, which might seem strange after eighteen months in a job, but is the reality as my job specification is so broad. Suddenly I feel really fired up about an issue, where I really want to make a difference. I have only a short time to collect in the information, but I am trying to gather evidence from every colleague with an opinion or with an experience to share, and I hope to carry all that collective knowledge with me to a meeting where I am determined to have some input.

Exciting times!

Next weekend I will be in England, but hopefully I will find time to pop in with some very different photographs. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some snowy trees from this morning. Have a good week!

Icy river, melted, cracked and refrozen.
Snowy trees against the dawn sky
Fir trees in the snow

Lillehammer

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 19:32. Daylength: 12hr53min

This week I have been to Lillehammer, to take part in Den norske veterinærforening‘s fagdager. Den norske veterinærforening is the vets’ union in Norway. Fagdager translates as “subject days” and this was a veterinary congress with lectures separated into different streams for vets working with pigs, horses, small animals and (for me the most important) veterinary public health.

It’s a very long time since I have been to such a big meeting, and it was my first time in Norway. There were about five hundred people there, so it was the biggest gathering I’ve been to in a while as well. Having recently had covid was actually a boon. Had I not had it, I would probably have been much more wary of picking it up. I should add that I’m feeling very much better, which is a huge relief.

The trip has led to something of a cascade of emotions. I couldn’t help reflecting on the fact that I knew almost nobody. The veterinary world is a small one, both in the UK and Norway. Back in the UK, I worked for Vets Now, who run emergency clinics in the UK, and for several years I worked at their head office, and had contact with vets and nurses all over the UK. I also worked in a few different places and knew people from university. If I attended a big meeting in the UK, there would probably be loads of people there to catch up with. There was a party night on Thursday, and all around me, other people were doing just that. There were also random outbreaks of singing, including the Norwegian Toasting Song, which I came across for the first time at the Christmas Julebord back when I was working at Tu veterinary clinic back in Rogaland. In fact the only person I did run into was Dagny – Scary Boss Lady from Tu – who gave me a cheerful hug, but was naturally catching up with lots of people herself.

The food was good, though with five hundred people being served it took about three hours from the fish starter to the pannacotta dessert.

I travelled down with Astrid, who works in Storslett. We flew from Tromsø to Oslo and then got the train to Lillehammer. Both those things were something of a novelty, as was leaving northern Norway, which I haven’t done since moving here in August 2020. Coronavirus has turned me into something of a hermit. There was definitely a feeling of opening horizons, both from travelling, and from the lecture streams themselves.

One of the major themes in the veterinary public health stream was sustainability. I guess this might seem somewhat odd, as those two things don’t immediately appear to be strongly linked, but sustainability is something of a theme at the moment in farming, as it probably should be. The European Union is in the process of introducing its Farm to Fork Strategy (“aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly”) and because Norway is integrated with the EU (though not a member state) we will be taking on board some, if not all, of the new regulations and initiatives. Norway, as I have mentioned before, has more stringent rules on animal health and welfare than the EU, which it is unwilling to compromise to make food cheaper, or “competitive” as officials in the EU put it.

The most interesting lecture, from my point of view, was one which covered an interesting mix of discussion over the relative amounts spent preventing new variant CJD (BSE related prion disease) and coronavirus and whether insects might be integrated into the food chain in order to minimise the long term impact in the fight against BSE/prion disease.

Regarding the relative costs around the reactions to both diseases, it is difficult to estimate the price of lockdowns, but the argument was that the amount spent on fighting BSE was way over the top. Given the number of samples we take on sheep and cattle, but also on reindeer and even wild animals such as moose, the amount spent in the whole of the EU must be colossal. Given that there are still under 300 diagnosed cases of the new variant of CJD (which spread from BSE in cattle) in the world it does seem odd to still be spending so much. It can, of course, be argued that the campaign to prevent vCJD has been successful in terms of disease prevention. As always, it’s difficult to know, when looking at the cost of something where intervention HAS taken place, what the costs would have been had no actions been taken.

But the other side of this discussion was around the fact that the use of meat and bone meal from ruminants in food fed to other animals is still banned, and how these could possibly be used. The suggestion was made that perhaps what is currently mostly a waste product could potentially be used to feed insects, which would produce protein that could then be fed back into the food chain which is an interesting, if rather bizarre thought. We are living through astonishing times, where the world is changing incredibly fast, compared to what went on for probably thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Sometimes I wonder where it will end.

Anyway, back to the more mundane! I enjoyed the train journey from Oslo airport to Lillehammer. I took some photos from the train window. Apologies for the glass reflections. The days when you could open windows on long distance trains are long gone.

The hotel in Lillehammer was pleasant. I guess that if you’ve heard of Lillehammer, it’s probably because the Olympic Games were held there in 1994. I say the Olympics, because though in the UK and elsewhere, generally people refer to the Olympics and the Winter Olympics, here in Norway it’s the other way round. Here we have the Olympics and the Summer Olympics. Anyway, there was a ski jump just visible from the back of the hotel, and this chap was caught in an eternal gymnastic leap on my bedroom wall.

Picture of a ski gymnast on the hotel wall in Lillehammer

Because there were no flights back to Tromsø or Bardufoss on Friday evening, I spent the night in a hotel at Oslo Airport. I was greeted in the entrance by a red plastic moose in sunglasses, but the most pleasing sight greeted me in the room, and was much more down to earth. Most British hotels have a kettle in the room, but in Norway, it’s so rare that I actually took a photograph!

So now I am home, but going away has been a wonderful boost. Things are beginning to change and the world, which has felt closed in for the past two years, may be opening up again soon. And to that I say, bring it on!

Searchlights

Sunrise/sunset: 08:29/ 15:36. Daylength: 7hr06min

It’s been another week of near hibernation, though I have been out to the office a couple of times, and of course I have to take Triar out every day. He continues to provide many of the high points in my hibernatory days. I was standing outside, throwing his ball and watching him dashing cheerily away to grab it, then rushing back to drop it at my feet, when I thought to myself that this was one of those moments of easy happiness with which he lifts my days.

Triar and his squeaky ball

In fact, he gives me a lift just by lying around being cute as well.

Triar – almost asleep

We’ve had some fresh snow this week. Though this does mean more work (there was so much on Thursday night that it took me about forty minutes to dig the drive yesterday morning) it also has the effect of freshening everything up.

If you’ve never lived (or perhaps visited for a while) somewhere where there’s a lot of snow, you might never have thought about how dirty snow can get. I don’t mean inaccessible country snow, which remains beautiful, but snow in cities can end up being grim. Triar himself has quite the habit of decorating the garden and the roadside with yellow artwork and he’s not the only dog in the neighbourhood. If there are fast food places, quite often someone will toss out a half-drunk cup of coffee or drop a slice of tomato, which quickly gets frozen in. If there is no more snow to cover them up they can lie there for weeks.

Even if they are covered up, they can reappear months later when the snow melts. I guess in warmer climes, the coffee and pee stains would dry, and rain would wash them away and the food would be cleaned, or perhaps snaffled up by a grateful rat. So anyway, the idea that snow makes everything look clean and wonderful only holds when it’s freshly fallen. It is quite deep now though. This is the view from my bedroom window. My landlord takes his snow blower through the garden to keep a pathway open, so you can get an idea of the depth.

I have been working again on my audit course, though I’ve also spent a couple of days updating the timelines on our chronic cases. I quite enjoy doing that as it’s mostly excavating official letters from the archives and copying condensed information on what was observed and what actions we took onto the timelines.

My annual review is coming up next week, so I was looking through the tasks I had been set in the last one. They include speaking up more in meetings. I think that one has improved a little. As I get more involved in the cases, I automatically have more to say, as I have to ask for help. Speaking up to offer my opinion on other people’s cases remains a rare occurrence. I am still the most recent addition to the team, so whatever my experience level, someone else probably has several years more.

The other specific task was to start to take on responsibility for my own cases, and I think it’s fair to say that I have fulfilled that one and more. I wonder what Hilde will set me for the next year. Personally, I think just getting through my audit exam will be the next big challenge. I have to pass it before I can become an Official Veterinary Surgeon at the abattoir, which is something I very much want to achieve.

Konstantin is getting on well at the abattoir. He’s starting to take responsibility for some of the tasks there, which is good to see. He sent me a copy of the European Regulation on BSE yesterday. It was written in English, so I spent a bit of time looking through it. Norway isn’t in the European Union, but does have an agreement that means we generally try to follow the rules and it was interesting to see how they filter down to our work on the ground.

Point number 9 in the Regulation (EC) No 999/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001, which lays down rules for the prevention, control and eradication of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies reads:

Member States should carry out an annual programme for monitoring BSE and scrapie and should inform the Commission and the other Member States of the results and of the emergence of any other TSE.

On the ground, this means that we take BSE samples from cows that go for emergency slaughter that are over four years old. I was interested to find that we diverge from the rules quite considerably, because the specifics listed included sampling all animals going into the food chain that are over 30 months old, and we definitely don’t do that. I have no idea if that happens in the UK, or whether they get round it by throwing away the parts that might be affected. I did find a Mattilsynet page that confidently announces “Norway has the best status for BSE” which amused me: one of those translations that sounds more acclamatory than any dry announcement any British “competent authority” would make.

In addition to testing cows, Norway also test sheep and goats. In the abattoir, this means taking a certain number each year, and on the ground there are regulations that farmers must send off any animals over 18 months that died or were euthanased for testing. My part in that is to visit 10% of our sheep and goat farms every year to educate the animal owners on the rules. That’s one of the better parts of my job as it means going out to farmers, looking at their animals, and talking to them.

Finally, we also test adult reindeer (technically not wildlife as they are all owned by Sami groups) and also any moose over a year old that are killed on the road. I find myself wondering how those rules translate in different countries. Given Europe covers such a huge area, they must vary a lot. Living in Norway certainly offers me a hugely different perspective on life than I ever would have had if I had remained working as a regular vet in Scotland, which was what I expected I would do when I qualified thirty years ago.

I haven’t so many pictures this week, and those I have are all close to home. There were moments of brightness yesterday, when the clouds broke and the daylight penetrated, but always there were snowstorms on the way. I love the clear lines of white against a truly iron grey sky.

White painted house with snowy roof under a dark cloudbank

And I see the snow coming along the sound, banks of invisibility, heading our way.

Snow storm approaching along Gisundet sound

Sometimes the light shines breaks through the clouds. I could watch the changing sky all day.

Light breaking through the clouds over Senja

And then there is the night time. I walked Triar yesterday evening. It was snowing on and off, and the trees looked wonderful against the night sky, which was cloudy and clear in turns.

And I took this to show how much snow we’ve had in the past couple of days. Bins are in regular use, so these snow-caps are new, though the dug-out area around them has been months in the making.

Wheelie bins with thick caps of snow

And last but not least, I went out one evening when it was supposed to snow all night, and found that half of the sky had briefly cleared. There was the aurora, green searchlights across the heavens, flowing out from behind the clouds through the moonlit sky. This really is a magical place.

Sky scene with moon, clouds and aurora

Sacrifice

Sunrise/sunset: 09:36/ 14:26. Daylength: 4hr49min

Triar woke me up at six o’clock this morning. He was barking at something in the living room and I rushed through so I could stop him before he woke the neighbours. And what was it, you ask, that was so threatening at six in the morning? I was expecting it would be something outside the window. Maybe a bird in the garden or some snow falling off the roof, but no. Andrew and I had a carry out last night. This is a rare occurrence for us, because eating out is prohibitively expensive here. But Andrew had left the empty paper bag standing on the electronic keyboard and Triar had apparently just seen it and registered it as a threat to household safety.

This was easily resolved. I moved it onto the kitchen table and all was well, so I headed back to bed. Unfortunately, I hadn’t turned on the light in the hallway and I had left my bedroom door open. It opens into the hallway, and as I headed back into my bedroom, I walked into it. Doors are really quite solid things, especially first thing in the morning. Fortunately, I don’t have a black eye, so I’m not going to have to spend next week telling people I walked into a door and have them disbelieve me.

We started our working week with an emergency readiness exercise. Regular readers will know that we do this twice a year, putting on and taking off the protective clothing that we would have to use if faced with an outbreak of a highly infectious animal disease like foot and mouth, or worse, a highly infectious disease that can spread between animals and people, like bird flu. This time round, I was acutely aware that my colleagues down in Rogaland had been doing this for real this year. This time though, it wasn’t me who had to don all the gear. Konstantin was the sacrificial victim. Here he is with Thomas.

Konstantin and Thomas – emergency PPT

I took a photograph on the way home. There’s nowhere to safely stop the car, and so I took advantage of the fact that Thomas was driving. It’s a curved section of road, where there are deciduous trees on one side and fir trees on the other, and I love the way the fir trees stand out against the skyline. I’ve been wanting to photograph it for ages. It’s not perfect because it was taken through the car windscreen and I couldn’t choose the day, but here it is: one of my favourite places on the road to Finnsnes.

My favourite road curve with an even line of fir trees reaching into the sky.

On Wednesday, the sky finally cleared after weeks of clouds and snow and rain. We live in the lee of a hill, which is very useful when it’s stormy, but it does mean it takes a long time for the sun to reach the house in winter. And so at twelve o’clock, when the sun was reaching its high point for the day, Triar and I walked up to the top of the hill and saw it for the first time since the end of November. It was somewhat obscured by a line of cloud, but no less beautiful for that.

On Thursday, I finished what I hope will be my final report in my difficult case. There are tail ends to finish up, but I hope those will go smoothly. It did have one last sting in the tail however. One of Mattilsynet’s aims is that all the reports we send out are well constructed and consistent, and so they undergo several checks before they are sent out. For me, this usually includes sending it to a Norwegian member of our team (despite all my efforts, there are usually some grammatical errors in my writing) and then after I’ve cleared mistakes, it gets sent to a control team, one of whom rechecks it and points out any errors in construction, or other sundry things that might be a little awry.

Because this was such a complicated case, I had asked Thomas for help before I began, to make sure I used the right template. There are several different forms, depending on whether there are actions we feel the animal owner must take to comply with the law. Once I had written it, I sent it to Astrid and discussed the case with her, including a couple of things that concerned me about how I was handling it. Astrid is a member of the control team, so I felt it was particularly useful to get her help. She told me the people to ask to clear up a couple of outstanding points, and I did what she suggested.

Then, because Hilde is now involved and helping, I sent it to her to check whether she agreed with the approach taken. She added a couple of items in and then sent it back to me. Both Astrid and Hilde had told me that my report was good and I felt proud of the way I was managing the case, even though it’s been difficult and I have been quite troubled by it along the way.

Therefore I assumed, when I sent it to the control team for checking, that it would be a slam dunk: that it would pass muster and that any required changes would be very minor indeed.

I got it back after lunch, and found there was a note attached. It didn’t relate to the format or any grammar, but instead it was a comment on the tone.

After toiling so much with this case, and having felt satisfied with what I had written, this felt like the final straw. I don’t think I have ever written a ranty e-mail to my boss before, but I did this time, sending it to both Hilde and Astrid. Not least, I had it in my head that both Astrid and Hilde had seen it, and neither of them had noticed any problem.

On occasions like this, I often think that the person making the criticism or suggestion has no thought of how they might feel if they had to write something similar in a language that wasn’t their mother tongue, and that the suggestion they made, that probably seemed minor to them, might feel insurmountable to someone else. It can be the same with other tasks. “Just do a little checking round it” might seem like a small request. I know it would be if I was working in English. Just a little extra task that I would be able to follow up easily if I knew the landscape and reading was effortless. Instead, such suggestions can seem huge. I know it will get easier and it already is, but I often think that life would be very different if those obstacles were not in the way.

Hilde phoned me immediately, and we talked it through. If I was writing the report in English, might I have done it a little differently, she asked, and I agreed I might possibly have done so, though it’s not certain. Most of the sentences would actually have been quite difficult to construct differently, even in English, though there was one I picked out that I could have changed.

Still, she said, I should think on the fact that any incident like this counts as a learning experience: something I could bear in mind if I had to write something similar in future. In the end, she overruled the member of the control team and sent it as I had written it. I had, through the course of the case, spent a lot of time building up a polite relationship with the animal owner and any report I sent would seen through the lens of the rapport we had built, she said.

Despite the frustrating ending, I am glad that the report has now been sent. As I said, there are some tail ends that need to be followed up, but I hope that all will be resolved without me having to intervene further.

I will finish with some photographs. The sky finally cleared on Wednesday, and I have already shown a picture of the sun, but even where the sun is not visible, even if it’s lightly cloudy, there is still that wonderful light which reflects from the snow as the sky changes, minute by minute.

And here’s my trusty car, which so far hasn’t failed to make it out of the driveway, even though some days it has been so icy it was difficult to walk. I didn’t choose it because of its all wheel drive. I bought it because it looked sturdy for the harsh conditions I knew we would meet up here, and because though it was quite old, it didn’t have too many miles on the clock. German engineering. No regrets.

And finally to finish the week, I went out in the garden last night with Triar and was greeted by the wonderful slow dance of the aurora. As ever, it grounded me, a reminder that mankind has been looking up at the sky in awe and wonder for millennia, and that everything that happens in my life is really very small. Goodbye for now, my friends. Hope you too can find some peace in the night sky.

Logistics

Sunrise/sunset: 10:14/ 13:45. Daylength: 3hr30min

More than halfway through January and I still haven’t seen the sun. The snow is getting deep now, though it hasn’t quite reached the bottom of the windows in my living room, perhaps because there has been periodic rain in between the blizzards!

Hopefully a moving image of snow blowing past outside my window
Picture of my garden from the living room window. The hedge has all but disappeared.

The snowfall was especially extreme last Sunday. I was out three times during the day to clear the car and driveway, which typically takes twenty minutes to half an hour.

The wall of snow on the left side of my driveway is getting quite high

I had been wondering about the logistics of snow clearing for a while. Last winter, there was relatively little snow, the year before that (before I moved here) masses. I have what is, in effect, a large spade with which I clear the driveway. There is other equipment I could possibly purchase. You can get much larger tools that are for pushing the snow around and also snow blowers, that have a motor, but for now I still rely on my spade. The only problem with that, is that I am gradually having to throw the snow higher and higher in order to get rid of it. There is a low hedge (now buried) on the right hand side of my driveway and I can push the snow off the top of that one, but the snow wall is getting wider and wider, so that has a limited timespan as well!

But last Sunday was complicated by the fact that Andrew and I had to go to Tromsø in the morning. I had a doctor’s appointment and he had an appointment to get his wisdom teeth taken out. We didn’t have to be there until eleven, but it’s more than two hours driving on a good day. It was worrying me that, if we awoke to a buried car then had to drive through a blizzard, we might be struggling to make it in time, especially as I don’t know my way round Tromsø yet.

So at about three in the afternoon, with heavy snow still whirling all around, I decided that as the driveway was still relatively clear, we should make our escape now and get part of the journey done on Sunday night. Rather than spend a sleepless night at home and getting up early, we could drive to Vollan (which is about half way to Tromsø).

It wasn’t an easy drive. It snowed most of the way, and there were times when the snow was blowing over the road, taking visibility down to a couple of metres.

I got Andrew to take a picture through the windscreen of the snow in the headlights

We stopped high up on the moors for a break. There is a Sami shop here in the summer, but now just a whole load of snow around the wooden strutts that are the bare bones of the lavvo tents that make up the shop.

We made it safely to Vollan. Had I stayed at home, I know I would barely have slept, but even with Triar in our room, I got a reasonable night’s rest and was able to have a relaxed hotel breakfast before setting out from a car park that someone else had mostly cleared!

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Andrew was naturally nervous getting his wisdom teeth removed, but the first side was done successfully. He slept for most of the drive home. It was still snowing intermittently, but wasn’t completely dark. At one point half of the sky cleared and to my amazement I saw what looked like a small area of cloud that was brightly lit up with rainbow colours. It looked a little like the rainbow created when there is oil in a film lying on top of water, only it was dazzlingly intense. I stopped as soon as there was a layby to take photos, (the picture at the top of the page was the best) but the picture doesn’t do it justice. It was properly stunning. A few minutes later, the sky opened up more and there was a huge area of indescribable waves of colour, but by then I was driving again, there was nowhere to stop, and given that Andrew had just had an operation, I didn’t want to wake him up.

I looked up the phenomenon when I got home and found out that these are nacreous clouds, which form when the air is very cold and the sun is just below the horizon. Another beautiful discovery about my adoptive home here in the north.

Thomas, Hilde and I had a meeting with the police yesterday, which was interesting. A new initiative was introduced a few years ago, where there are members of the police force who are dedicated to fighting animal crime. It was a useful experience, and one that made me think. Part of our job in Mattilsynet is to stop animal suffering by using various legal powers to push people into treating their animals better. There are various tools we can use, ranging from low level advice, up through setting them targets to reach by a certain date, escalating to fines if they don’t comply and ultimately banning them from having animals if they fail to improve over a period of time.

Most of what we do is designed to improve the situation for animals, but we can only use our powers when there is an active situation where the law is currently being broken. The police, however, can take on cases where the law has been broken before, even if the current situation the animals are in is not illegal. So having stronger links between the police and Mattilsynet is very helpful and (for me) reassuring.

Anyway, I will leave you with a screenshot of the weather forecast for this week. As you can see, there are avalanche warnings and all sorts, though luckily I live in a sheltered place, where the risks are low. I also have two pictures of a Jeep. I saw it last night and it was halfway buried, so I took a picture. Having taken it I discovered on my phone, when I got home, that I had taken a photo of it the week before. What a difference a week makes!

Here Comes… More Snow

Sunrise/sunset: 11:03/ 12:51. Daylength: 1hr47min

So here we are, almost half way through January. In theory, the sun heaved its way over the horizon for the first time in a month and a half on Thursday. As there are mountains in the way, I knew it would take a few more days for it to appear, but it’s a moot point since it’s been sleeting and snowing for most of the week. The weather forecast says there will be more of the same for at least the next week. Keep on taking the vitamin D!

Difficult case update: the first of my reports is written and sent. I hoped to have the second done by the end of the week, but Hilde suggested before doing so, that I should write out a timeline of everything that’s happened. This turned out to be a very useful process. There are a couple of things hanging over what happens next and a few things we still need to find out. Writing out the timeline has revealed a couple of things that I had missed the first time round. I guess our memories put things together rather chaotically – at least mine does when I’m going through something stressful. Now I have a much clearer idea of what we are still lacking and a couple of new thoughts crossed my mind regarding what might have actually occurred. I still don’t know whether we’ll ever resolve it completely. Life isn’t like a detective novel with a perfect tidy ending and all the loose ends sorted. I do feel more ready to keep working on it though.

We did get to Nordkjosbotn for our meeting. I took the two pictures above on the way there on Monday morning. I was only there for one day as I was at the abattoir on Tuesday, but I did get my night in a hotel! Some people travel a lot for work, and I guess for them staying in hotels must become routine, but for me it’s always been special because it’s rare. I love Vollan Gjestestue with its clean, comfortable rooms. Norwegian hotel rooms are generally small, but I love them nonetheless.

Hotel rooms aside, the most important thing for me was seeing other people. My social circle remains tiny, but meeting up with colleagues from Storslett and Tromsø is always enjoyable. I left early on the Tuesday morning and Astrid got up to have a cup of coffee with me while I was having breakfast. It was a good end to a pleasant trip.

I had a lovely restful weekend last week. It was snowing for much of Saturday, but in the evening I took Triar out for a stroll around the harbour next to where I work. It’s a small, quiet place. I believe you can buy fresh prawns from one of the fishing boats, but at this time of year, there isn’t much coming and going.

If you want to, you can sit and have lunch overlooking the harbour, but I don’t think many people will be taking advantage for a few months yet.

I returned to a birthday cake Andrew had made for me. It had two layers of sponge cake, one with raisins and the other chocolate chips. It was topped off with chocolate icing and was easily as delicious as it looked.

When the sky is clear, I do try and get out during the brightest part of the day, so last Sunday, I took Triar out to one of our favourite haunts just outside Silsand. The snow was too deep to walk far (once it’s at mid-calf level, it becomes difficult for me to navigate) but we wandered around the areas where the snow had been cleared earlier, where it wasn’t too tough. It was minus fifteen and when Triar first got out, he very quickly looked apprehensive, standing with his back arched and holding up his paws. I scooped him back into the car, where he shivered as I put his little socks on. I wondered whether he would decide he didn’t want to get back out, but he did, then ran around quite happily, so despite not being very thick, the socks give enough protection to make a difference.

From Monday, I’m going to try to cut down on all the Christmas and birthday extravagance, but for now, with the snow outside, it’s still perfect hot chocolate weather. Mum sent me some chocolate balls, filled with marshmallows, for Christmas and I had the first one last night. January should definitely be a month for cosiness. Have a good week all!

Welfare

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

I’m on holiday from Friday next week, so there is a sense of keeping going until then. I’m very much looking forward to it. The past week has been both busy and interesting though, and has opened up my mind to thoughts of how I might make a difference. It started out with a meeting on Monday of a group of people who want to try to improve animal welfare in our area by improving the lives of those who keep them. There used to be many more small scale farms in Norway. Lots of people followed a traditional way of life where they had a few animals that were out in the summer and housed in a barn near the house in winter time. It became more difficult to make a living from small scale farming, so increasingly people had to work alongside their animal commitments.

But keeping animals is a tie. It will be hard enough to find someone responsible to look after Triar and the guinea pigs when I go on holiday. Harder still to find someone to look after fifty or a hundred sheep, or a few cows, especially if they need milking. So the networks that farmers used to have, where there were neighbours nearby who could help out in a crisis have, to an extent, disappeared.

And it’s not just about the work. By their nature, farms are physically isolated. You need land around you to allow you to feed your flock or herd. There isn’t a pub culture in Norway, like there is in the UK, and even if there was, here in the north of Norway, the distances between towns can be huge. And so the meeting was about trying to build new networks to support those who remain.

The social side of my job is something that I find very interesting. Obviously there are many things that can drive animal welfare up or down, but mental health is definitely there among them. Thomas has told me about his involvement in one such case, where he arrived on a farm to find the owner had almost given up hope, and he was instrumental in helping him find a way through. And Thomas is rightly proud of having done that. But to help more people, we need to reach more of them.

The meeting ended with a plan for more meetings, but I was due to go out on a welfare visit with Gry from Dyrevernsnemda later in the week. Remembering the potential bomtur debacle from two weeks ago, I compiled a list of all the sheep and goat farms in the surrounding area.

We ended up visiting two farmers on the list, in addition to the welfare investigation. We carried “Skrapesjuketilsyn” where we discuss the symptoms of Scrapie and the monitoring systems in place to track it. One of the farmers was obviously very happy to see us. He knew Gry already (Gry is a key member of another farming network) but when I introduced myself and said I was from Scotland, he said how wonderful it was to have someone who wanted to come to the north of Norway and was interested in working with sheep welfare. I confess, I am filled with inspiration. I would love, as a Mattilsynet vet, to be a part of a network helping the local sheep farming community. But I do have to bear in mind the constraints of budget. Next week, or in the new year, I will have to have a chat with Hilde about what I can achieve within the current economic climate.

Tuesday was also one of those rather unusual Mattilsynet days. As regular readers will know, Mattilsynet runs the OK program, where we check food producing animal breeds for various infectious diseases and for foreign or banned substances. Ammar had planned to go out and get a urine sample from a cow, but he was unable to attend himself, so he rang me on Monday afternoon and asked me to step in. And so on Tuesday morning, I drove out to a farm and spent an hour in a byre behind a row of cows, waiting for one of them to oblige.

Polar night, snowy mountain under a blue and pink sky – taken on the drive out on Tuesday

There were a few false starts involved. Even the tamest cows are wary creatures when strangers come into their space. And of course, I was a stranger wearing a very odd blue overall and huge white boot covers with bows on them, so they were wary to begin with. One or two of them lifted their tails and started to pee, but as soon as I moved towards them, they gave me a very offended look and stopped again. Fortunately, I eventually managed it, but not without some very amused thoughts about the sheer glamour of my job. Since then Konstantin has told me there is a way to get the cows to urinate, so next time, perhaps I will be quicker, but either way, spending time around cows is something I very much enjoy, whatever the task.

The road to Bardufoss

This week’s blog is a bit short as I have to go and collect John and bring him home, but I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures of the decorations that have gone up in our office. I hope you’ll join me for more advent pictures tomorrow.

Cool

Sunrise/sunset: 10:48/ 12:22. Daylength: 1hr34min

It’s been another week of changes. I had a busy schedule prepared, with two long-haul visits to hens to test them for salmonella on Monday and Wednesday, plus a trip in between to two sheep farms for routine scrapie inspections. I popped into the office on Sunday to check my e-mails. I’d been out with Birgit all day Friday, so I wanted to make sure nothing else had come in as I was due to set out early on Monday morning, so there would be no chance to check then.

It was bird flu that got in the way. Even though the outbreak is almost four thousand kilometres /two and a half thousand miles away, it had a knock on effect up here. At first I assumed it was some crazy blanket rule. To be fair, they’ve found bird flu in wild birds in other areas of Norway, but all of them a long way south of here. But it turns out that the problem lay in the lab. The same lab that would analyse our salmonella samples was currently working day and night checking for bird flu. So that was that.

Then came the news that one of the Tuesday visits had to be postponed as well. Had I been very organised, I would have found some additional farms to visit in case my one remaining farmer was out, but the rapid changes threw me and I didn’t even think about it until Tuesday morning, just as I was about to set out.

Because we are supposed to do most of our visits without advance warning, so there’s no chance the farmer can rush around tidying away the bodies, there’s always a risk that we can get there and find there’s nobody available. Indeed having a completely wasted journey is common enough to have its own name – Bom tur.

So far, I have never driven a bom tur, but as I set out on Tuesday, it crossed my mind this one could potentially be quite spectacular. My visit wasn’t especially important. Scrapie inspections are part of the annual OK program of routine visits to check for illnesses. We look at the sheep or goats and inform or remind the farmer of the clinical signs of scrapie (effectively the sheep version of BSE) and of the legal requirements around it, such as making sure all animals over a certain age that die on the farm are tested. It’s a useful tool for getting on the farms for a general check, but there’s nothing life or death about it.

The drive was close to two hours on snowy roads. The original day I’d planned actually had three visits, all in the same general direction, and the only one left was actually the furthest away. And I had Gry with me as I’m still green enough to find it really helpful to have someone else there with additional knowledge. Gry is a member of Dyrevernnemnda: experienced people who come out on welfare visits to offer their judgement from a different point of view than that of a vet.

So if I drove a bom tur, Mattilsynet would be paying me and Gry, as well as for the car and fuel, for carrying out a farm visit that wasn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Still, as I commented to Gry as we drove out, at least the scenery was pretty. In the event, the farmer and her partner were there and I felt very relieved as we sat in their kitchen and drank coffee. The sheep looked in great shape too. It always gives me a lift when I look at well-cared for animals.

Of course, bom turs are not always avoidable. You could visit several farms and find nobody at any of them. But next time I go, I’ll definitely make sure I have a few more options. I also thought that now I am a little more at home with carrying out inspections, I need to get more organised. We’re supposed to visit ten percent of our flocks each year, so that over ten years, we cover every single farm in our area. And to do that efficiently, I need to make a list of all the sheep and goat farms in our area, work out where they all are, and make a plan to ensure I can cover as many of them as I can.

Gry was a revelation as well. It was the first time I had been out with her and she told me so much about sheep farming in the north of Norway. Though they have fences around the property, it’s quite extensive and the sheep can wander off, high into the mountains. Occasionally they can get over or through the fences, and then come down into the wrong valley. When they come back in, the farmers have to go through them, checking all their ear tag numbers to make sure the sheep they’ve brought in belong to them, and also check whether any haven’t come home. It’s quite a big task, collecting them all in and then making sure they are sheared and ready for winter.

Having done the visits on Friday and Tuesday, I had two reports to write. Luckily, as both visits had been good, the reports were straightforward. The second sheep visit had been put off until Friday and that was successful too. For the second time this week, we were offered coffee. Coronavirus has meant that for the last year, there has been little coffee on offer, but as I sat down around the table with Gry and the farmer and his staff, I felt very much at home. Going in for coffee was always one of the high points of being a farm vet.

I took a couple of photographs on the way home on Friday, after I had dropped Gry off. The temperature has dropped suddenly here. It snowed last weekend and then fell away to between minus seven and minus fourteen. As usual when that happens, the sky is clear, and as the polar night approaches, the air becomes very clean and cold. The upper skies are a beautiful pale blue and close to the horizon, there is a pink tinge. It crossed my mind that although technically the polar night hasn’t quite arrived, I haven’t seen the sun for days. It’s probably already below the mountains.

Triar is loving the snow and the cold weather. Sometimes he goes outside and zooms around, simply for the pleasure of running through the snow. Here he is in the garden playing with his ball.

There was one other piece of very good news, and that is that my friend who had been on the front line in diagnosing the bird flu outbreak is now fit and healthy again, and didn’t contract bird flu. I’m very relieved.

And finally, a completely random thing I found in the pet shop yesterday. I had noticed for the past couple of years that there are now advent calendars for pets, but now it seems that there is beer for dogs. Because what we really need is for Triar to be staggering around the house on Christmas day. Cheers!