Tag Archives: OK Program

Blood Tests and Welfare Cases

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

It’s been a busy week this week. There was lots of work to catch up on, on Monday as well as a couple of meetings. For animal welfare cases, I often work with Thomas and he’s often a source of great advice, but recently we have both had so much work to do outside the office that it hasn’t been easy to keep that contact up. This week, with his help, I’ve finally resolved a query that has been rumbling on for a while. I say I resolved it, but actually it was him that ran the meeting I set up. I was watching and learning though, and next time I would be able to tackle it myself.

On Tuesday I was out taking samples from goats. Our team are sent lists each year of tests we should carry out, checking for various animal diseases that cause a lot of distress or present a public health risk (part of the OK program). As well as taking blood samples, which will be tested for brucellosis (which can affect different species, including humans) I tested for mites by swabbing in their ears and paratuberculosis by taking samples of poo. At least, in theory I took poo samples. In reality, it was far harder to extract faeces from goats than I had expected. Next time, I will have to find a better strategy as my sample pots were definitely a lot less full than they should have been. Nevertheless, there is pleasure for me in blood sampling because it’s something I’m good at. That said, crouching down and standing up again forty times was a stark reminder that I’m not as young as I once was!

Thomas and I also worked together on Wednesday, meeting about a police case that we’ve been working on. There, both of us were learning, in particular regarding how to build up an evidence file to make sure everything is documented well enough that someone reading the file for the first time can fully understand the situation and where each piece of evidence was located. We also went through a lot of photos we had taken in the course of the meeting. Those photos were powerful evidence, I think. Seeing them afresh created quite an impact. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know how much I like to take photos and I pride myself in taking good photographs at work as well. If you are taking a picture of a thin animal, for example, the result is very dependent on the angle you take it and the clarity of the image. When you can see all the ribs and the bumps along the spine, you know that animal is painfully underweight.

On Thursday, I was out on another long-rumbling case with Birgit. More learning, because Birgit is great at her job as well. I even got to put some of the tips the police contact had told us the day before into practice. Birgit is good with animals and people and also compassionate towards both. The case in question will benefit from her steadiness and experience.

And yesterday, Thomas and I had a meeting with someone who may apply for a licence to process moose that have been run over and killed (to use for meat). The law regarding such premises changed drastically in the summer, and unless you are computer literate and know where to look, it can be difficult to navigate the process. Fortunately Thomas is fully on board with those changes too. Much of my job revolves around knowing where to find relevant information. Keeping up with so many different strands is one of the challenges of the work we do. Because we are in a rural area, we have to tackle a very wide range of issues. One moment, we could be assessing guinea pigs to see whether the conditions they are being kept in are adequate, the next we are deciding whether animals brought in from Ukraine are being kept in compliance with the modified quarantine rules, and the next again, we might be checking whether a reindeer carcase is fit for human consumption or whether the facility where that is being done has taken all the appropriate steps to ensure that those working there are safe. One thing I will say is that my job is rarely boring!

I am hoping to take most of next week off. It’s not a holiday. Rather it’s time that I have built up over recent months working long hours. I now have enough hours to take a week off and hope that I get to do so. I have already made plans to sacrifice Tuesday to another goat blood test (the cut off date for sending is the 15th December) and there was news yesterday that the police, very sadly, shot a man who is a farmer in our area. It was in one of the newspapers that Mattilsynet are involved and my boss was asked to comment, so the information that it’s in our area is not confidential information. It’s possible there will be some work involved with that case next week, or even during the weekend. If I am asked to go in at short notice, I will do so willingly. This is a very unusual and tragic incident in Norway and if there is need for an assessment of animal welfare, then Thomas and I are on the front line, alongside our boss, Hilde. I think we are a good team.

Finally, I hope you are enjoying my Advent photos. Hopefully I will be out and about next week to take some more. If there’s good weather, so much the better!

Triar enjoying a walk in the park

Winging It…

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

I’m going to start with a couple of photos this week. I need to find a way to stop myself huddling inside through the winters here. Having just lived through my second, I have come out the other side hopelessly unfit again. Still, I have made a start, and Triar and I took our first outing up the track that leads to Kistafjellet, which I discovered at the end of autumn last year: Changing Wheels, Changing Weather

Triar waits for me as I take a picture of the fjord and mountains beyoned

I won’t make it up Kistafjellet before I go on holiday in two week’s time, but hopefully I will when I get back. It’s a long walk, but not technically difficult and there’s a good track all the way up, so it’s a good mountain to start on. I walked for about half an hour, which isn’t that much, but the track is pretty steep. I got as far as this river, before turning to come back.

In other news, I have found an agent who wants to sell my book. Having written the Hope Meadows books with Vicky Holmes, I have been hoping to write something that would be all mine and published under my own name. This is part of the letter I sent the agent last Friday, along with part of the manuscript.

“The Good Friends’ Veterinary Clinic” is an exploration of the life of a recently widowed veterinary surgeon and how she deals with the consequences of a lifetime of putting her family before herself. I was aiming for a cross between James Herriot and Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax). It is set in rural Scotland and is filled with diverse women and their animal friends, from the partnership between receptionist Gail and her guide dog Beth, to butch lesbian, Mags, who loves her crazy mare, Strumpet, almost more than life itself.

I finished writing a while back and had been looking for an agent, but hadn’t been very active in pursuing it. After something of a break, I looked through The Writers’ and Authors’ Yearbook last Friday and something about this agent caught my eye, so I sent off a submission. Since then everything has happened at high speed. Anyway, I don’t want to say any more right now as we are at the contract stage and it’s not quite complete. Suffice it to say, I think I’ve found someone I can really work with, which feels brilliant!

More pictures now. Thomas, Gry and I were driving back from a case yesterday when we noticed the almost-perfect reflection of mountains in Skøvatnet, the lake we were driving beside. It was so still and so beautiful that Thomas actually turned the car round so we could all go back and take some pictures.

There was something of an unexpected coda to last week’s post about the dead eagle. Line, who oversees our animal health and welfare team, commented on my Facebook post last week to say “Good job”. I was slightly surprised then, when she called me midweek to talk about it. She sounded a little tentative as she opened up the OK Program instructions for the year and asked me which protocol it was I’d followed. She opened up the familiar sheet with the instructions and polite dissection photos and I told her that yes, that was what I had done.

It turns out that though I had very carefully read and translated the instructions, I hadn’t given the same attention to the explanation at the top, which said that this form was for the use of hunters who found birds when they were out hunting. My eagle had been found by someone out hunting, but apparently the form I should have filled in, as a Mattilsynet vet, was actually to be found on MatCIM, the emergency monitoring channel that we use to track outbreaks and emergencies. Had I found the instructions on MatCIM, I would have discovered that there was no need to take the wing at all, and the swabs alone were enough. Still, she said, probably the Veterinær Institutt down in Ås were pleasantly surprised to have received my carefully packed eagle wing…

She apologised for laughing, but I actually thought it was funny enough to relate it to the three colleagues with whom I sat and ate lunch a few minutes later. They all thought it was hilarious too. So I was laughing for what remained of the day and was still giggling to myself as I drove home. After all, there was no harm done, it had certainly been an adventure and anyway, I love things that are just too ridiculous. The lab haven’t got back to me yet, so I still don’t know whether the poor old eagle died of bird flu, but don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted.

And finally, I’ll leave you with another midnight sun picture. Have a good week!

Size Matters

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

Regular readers will be glad to know that this week has been better than last. I want to thank the people who reached out to me after reading what I wrote. I’m still a bit short on local friends, but I have spoken online and on the phone to both old and new friends this week, which has really meant a lot. Some of my colleagues have been supportive too, and to them, thank you so much.

It’s been a busy week. I was out on two welfare inspections on Monday and another on Wednesday. The inspections themselves don’t take long, though there can be a fair bit of driving. Writing the reports and dealing with the aftermath often takes longer, though as there was nothing too challenging, the reports themselves were less urgent than checking the animals weren’t suffering. I will be going on holiday in three weeks time and there’s definitely a feeling in my head that my main aim at the moment is just to keep going until I get there. One of the things I learned early in my career was that I can continue to function on the surface, even when there’s turmoil inside, but that’s wearing a bit thin right now. I will ultimately be fine, but I’m not sure it’s good for me.

On top of the welfare visits, I received an e-mail about a dead sea eagle, which needed to be tested for bird flu. There have been a few confirmed cases up here, and most have been in sea eagles, presumably because they are at the top of the food chain. When people report dead birds, we have to go out and swab them. Up until now, I hadn’t done any, so as with any new procedure, before I could go out, I had to find out what equipment I needed, whether we had that equipment, and once that question was resolved, I needed to find out how to do it.

Because it’s a high risk infection, Mattilsynet is monitoring the situation as part of its OK program. The correct protocol, on finding a dead bird, is to leave it where it is and alert us. That hadn’t happened in this case. The bird had already been scooped up and was in the freezer of one of the council offices in our region. Perhaps I should warn you that the rest of this blog is going to be about my (to me) amusing encounter sampling this dead eagle, so if that isn’t your kind of thing, you should probably look away now!

There are a lot of occasions in Mattilsynet where we are asked to do things we haven’t done before. Quite often you will be doing it without being shown how, because we’re all so spread out that there isn’t always someone local to show you. In order to help us cope with this with regard to the OK program, there is a massive word document, updated annually, with descriptions of what samples you need to take, how to take them, how to send them off to the lab and which lab each needs to go to.

In addition to this sheet, which I quickly accessed, I made a point of asking colleagues for any tips or helpful comments. Quite often, these are not colleagues who are sitting beside me, who could come out and show me, but are sitting in an office a few hours drive away, and have their own jobs to do. Thomas was in Svalbard this week, but fortunately, he was able to tell me exactly where the bird flu swabs were. I should have known myself probably, as he and I had discussed this before, but my memory is awful at the best of times, and the best of times probably isn’t a phrase that applies right now.

Anyway, having established the fact that we did, at the very least, have the swabs I needed, I was able to get back to the man who had contacted us about the eagle. I sent him a message saying I would be out on Thursday morning and cc’d Line as she had forwarded the message to me. Line was in Svalbard as well, but fortunately she saw the e-mail and sent me a gentle reminder that I should probably ask Kommune man to take the bird out of the freezer to defrost a little.

I did give some consideration to the defrosting. This week has been quite warm. When the sun is shining in your windows for a large part of the day, it can get very hot inside. If he took the dead bird out of the freezer and put in in a warm room overnight, it would probably be quite grim in the morning. With this thought in mind, I told him to take it out on the Wednesday afternoon, before he went home.

As I said above, I am still (more or less) functional at the moment, but new things are always more challenging when you are tired. Knowing that I was, I had spent quite a lot of time poring over the instructions, trying to make sure I was confident in what I was doing, before heading out. It all seemed straightforward enough. I had to take two swabs, one from the throat and one from the cloaca. In addition, I had to remove the left wing, through the shoulder joint, and send that off too. There was a polite picture of this procedure on the sheet alongside the instructions. It didn’t look too difficult. I gathered together my kit: scalpel, forceps, swabs, gloves, facemask and forms, took them out to the car, and set off.

I always feel, that as a vet, it’s important to look competent and to approach things as if you know what you are doing, even if you don’t. This rule probably applies even more when you’re dealing with potentially deadly diseases. It crossed my mind, that before I arrived, I should stop the car and have one last read of the procedures. As I read through the text again, I realised that though I had the kit for dissecting the wing, I had forgotten to take a plastic bag to pack it into. I’ve been a vet for a long time now, and one thing I have learned is that, even if you don’t have absolutely everything with you, it’s usually possible to work around it or find a substitute that will do. Casting my eyes around the car, I realised that I had packed my disposable gloves into a plastic bag. Better still, it was a ziplock bag, so easily sealed. Thanking the gods of veterinary substitutions, I emptied out the gloves, put a few in my pocket, and continued on my journey.

Kommune man seemed very helpful when I arrived. I thought we should probably fill in the forms before we started. The required details included the GPS co-ordinates of where the eagle had been found, as well as details such as age and sex. Fortunately, someone at head office had realised the realities of the situation, so I was able to tick “don’t know” for the latter two. The dead bird was in a different building he told me, so once the form was mostly filled in, I followed him outside, down some stairs and into a garage, where there was a black bin bag on the floor, sealed with brown tape.

I unwrapped my scalpel, which was of the flimsy, disposable type, with a plastic handle. It crossed my mind for the first time that perhaps I should have brought a spare or better still a sturdy, abattoir-style, sharp knife. The polite picture of the dissection had shown a smallish bird, carefully laid out on its breast, wing effortlessly outspread, with a neat incision over the shoulder, where the cut was to be made. Those doing this gentle procedure had presumably not had to chop through two layers of dustbin bags before they began. Still, it was over an hour’s drive to get back to the office and I had to get this sample taken and sent off by two o’clock. I had arranged with Konstantin that I would send it off from the abattoir. There was no way I could go back now.

As I unwrapped the bag and started to look for the cloaca, I realised that I had perhaps made a second error of judgment. For some reason, I had thought carefully about how bad it would be if the bird was too warm overnight, but hadn’t really considered the possibility that overnight wasn’t really long enough to defrost anything left in a cool place. Any cooks among you who have been faced with a still-frozen turkey on Christmas day, will probably recognise that it takes quite a long time to thaw a large bird. It also struck me, as I contemplated the huge talons and the sheer size of the body, that the small plastic bag I had so gratefully emptied of its gloves, was not going to contain an eagle’s wing. I guess it’s probably a reflection of how tired I was, but I had seen the picture and had been vaguely visualising something with a wing that was a bit bigger than a chicken, but an eagle’s wingspan is huge. Even folded up, it was going to need something more like a bin bag. Looking up from where I was kneeling on the floor, I asked Kommune man if he had anything, and to my relief, he disappeared to get one.

It took me a little while to actually find the cloaca (where both the urine and faeces come out). There was a thick layer of feathers obscuring everything, and because the bird was frozen into a twisted position, I couldn’t stretch it out flat to see where the midline lay. When I finally did locate it, I found that everything was way too stiff to be able to insert a swab. My problems were compounded by the fact that the bird flu swabs had obviously been designed with the possibility of checking out blackbirds or maybe a budgerigar. The stalk was incredibly thin and bendy. When I tried to insert it, it was obvious that any pressure would cause it to break.

Abandoning the cloaca for a moment, I thought I would have a go at the throat and come back to the bottom end later. The instructions about where and how to swab the throat had included another polite picture, this time of a duck, its bill gaping, revealing the clean and tidy structures of the cartilage and the tissues that open and close to protect the trachea.

At least the neck of the eagle was defrosted enough so I could straighten it. It was an impressive bird, close up, and I prised open the hooked beak and looked into the throat, only to find it was filled with gunk. I’m not sure if what I could see was a part of the eagle’s last meal, but it was obscuring my view, and I began to scoop it out. There was a surprising amount of it, and I was aware the entire time that if the bird did actually have anything nasty, all this material could be contaminated. Finally, it was all gone, though it was still a very long way to the back of the throat and what I could see really didn’t look much like the equivalent structures in a duck. At least I could get the swab in though, which was an improvement on the other end, so I took the swab out of its packet, swivelled it inside and outside the tracheal opening, placed it carefully in the liquid transport medium in the tube provided, broke off the tip as instructed, and replaced the lid. Step one complete!

Changing into a new pair of disposable gloves, I decided to tackle the wing next. “Turn the bird over onto its breast and stretch out the wing to find the shoulder,” said the instructions. The obvious trouble now was that nothing here was stretching out. There were also thick feathers in the way. An eagle’s flight feathers are really quite impressive, close up, but as I grasped the weedy scalpel again, I was very much aware that I couldn’t afford to blunt the thin metal of the blade. Assessing anatomy and the position of joints is also quite easy if you can move them all. Trying to do so when the whole thing is frozen stiff and under a thick layer of fathers, not so much. Feeling around with my fingers, I made a cut down over where I thought the shoulder joint probably was, and began not so much to carefully dissect, as to hack away in the hope that I could cut the wing from the body without making a complete tit of myself. Though it took all my feeble strength to prise the wing out from the body far enough to get in underneath it, I did at last manage to slice through the frozen muscle enough to finally remove the wing. Sliding it into the plastic bag, I let out a small sigh of relief and turned my attention to step three.

The cloaca was still frozen to the point where I couldn’t get my gloved finger through it. I was supposed to put the swab inside and move it around until there were visible bird droppings on it. Even if I could get the swab through, the droppings would be just as frozen as everything else. First though, I had to gain access. It would be easier, I thought, if I could see what I was doing. And so I made a cut at the opening. Fortunately my scalpel was still intact and sharp enough. After only a few moments’ dissection, I was able to insert my finger and the swab. Pressing the swab against the thin wall of the cloaca, I was glad to find that my finger was warm enough to melt some of the bird droppings onto the swab. Withdrawing it with relief, I put the second and final swab into the medium, snapped it off and twisted the lid firmly into place.

Despite all the delays, it was still morning as I flung all the equipment in the boot of the car and set off towards the abattoir. Trude is an expert at sending off samples, and I was sure she would be able to help me with this. She has the codes for the computer and would know how to print me out a label. Doubtless, given time, I could work it out myself, but time was something that was beginning to be in short supply. Donning yet another pair of disposable gloves, I carefully lifted out the swabs and the black binbag containing the wing from the car boot and headed inside.

There were no polystyrene boxes big enough for the wing. Of course there weren’t! It took about two minutes to establish the fact that I was going to have to head back to the Finnsnes office, where I knew we had much bigger polystyrene boxes for sending off fish samples. The packages have to be both sealed so that no liquid can escape, and also insulated enough so that, with a couple of cool packs, the whole thing can remain sufficiently chilled overnight that the sample arrives without being denatured.

As I drove back to Finnsnes, I was wracking my brains about the label. You have to go online to the parcel service and select the specific service you need, which in this case was for bird flu samples to the Veterinary Institute in Ås, to be delivered overnight and arrive in the morning. It’s important that everything is correct, otherwise it’s easy for your samples to go astray. I was still deep in thought when I received a text. It was from Trude, and a quick glance revealed that she had been into the website, ordered the correct service, and sent the label to my e-mail. It struck me, not for the first time, that there were times when having truly competent colleagues on your side can make life a million times easier than it would otherwise be.

I took a photograph of the final package, which was probably the largest thing I’ve ever taken into the post office. As you can see, it takes up most of the back seat of the car and that eagle’s wing took up most of the length of it.

I took yesterday off. Monday is also a bank holiday in Norway, so I am hoping that by next week, I will be rested enough to be back on better form. Despite my eagle experience being something of a comedy of errors, I’m pretty sure the sample itself was taken adequately. I guess I’ll find out in the next few days whether it was positive or not. Anyway, I’ll leave you with some pictures of scenery and flowers. After the long winter, everything is now green leaves and rushing water. Hope to see you next week.


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.

The Art of Killing

Sunrise/sunset: 05:15/ 18:33. Daylength: 13hr 17mins

I started this week with a farm visit with Thomas. We were collecting cow poo to check for paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease). I had arrived prepared with some of those long orange gloves I used to use years ago in practice for calvings and pregnancy diagnosis, but in the event, Thomas simply scooped up dung from behind the oldest cows in the herd with a green plastic spoon. Don’t tell me my job isn’t filled with glamour!

I also spent part of the week at the abattoir, where on Tuesday I stood on the pig line by myself for the first time, and yesterday when I stood in for a colleague on the sheep line. Meat inspection of pigs is more difficult than inspecting sheep. This is partly because they are prone to abscesses in unpredictable places and partly because of their thick skin which remains in place rather than being removed, as is the case with other species. I have never been particularly fond of pigs, though my biggest veterinary claim to fame is that I once helped one of the stars of Emmerdale Farm (as it was then) to give birth to a very fine litter of piglets. As I work in the abattoir though, they are starting to grow on me as I become more familiar with handling them.

Compared with cattle and sheep, pigs are both noisy and noisome. Unlike the others, pigs are omnivores, which means their dung smells way more unpleasant than the digested grass or hay that herbivores produce. They are also descended from forest dwelling foragers, rather than being herd animals living on grasslands. They have a tendency to squeal very loudly when you try to get them to do something they don’t want to and when I first started to examine them in their pre-slaughter check, I would often find them squealing at the top of their lungs as I encouraged them to stand up. They mostly come into the abattoir the afternoon before, and when I arrive to check them at about six thirty in the morning, most of them are sleeping.

To carry out a thorough check, I have to go into the pen and wake them. I want to see them all walking about and check them more thoroughly than I can if they are lying flat on their sides. Obviously waking them up is never going to be particularly popular. Indeed sometimes when the whole pen is deep in slumber, I will check the other pens first, where at least one or two of the pigs are already up and rooting around. But I have learned, from experience, that most of the squealing comes when I disturb them unexpectedly and they want to get up but can’t due to a lack of space, or because another pig stood on them in the flurry of rising. So now I go through very gently and try to ensure that when I start to nudge a pig to get up, it has space around its head so that it can do so without panic. There are still occasional squeals when they come up against each other, but more often I elicit a rather pleasant grunting.

Controversial though it might be, I have also found myself watching the slaughter process with increasing fascination. As a very young vet, I once shot a sheep and was so horrified that I have never done it since. I suppose it’s cowardly to have taken that path as there are times when it is necessary and somebody else had to do it, but I wanted to mention it in light of my monitoring the pigs at the abattoir. It’s part of my job to check that the stunning and bleeding process is done properly, so that the animals do not suffer. I had no choice in the beginning, but I no longer worry about what I might witness. I have discovered that they are so efficient with the pigs that I now see it as being close to an art form. They bring them in in small groups, manoeuvre an individual into position without stress (the slaughter men encourage them to wander around the pen until they end up in the right place) and then stun them with a carefully placed tong that sends an electric current through them. There is no squealing and no sign that they are distressed by the smells in the pen or anything they can see. I can’t speak for any other systems, but I genuinely believe that the pigs in the abattoir where I work meet their end in a way that doesn’t cause distress. I take no joy in killing, but in doing it humanely? That is of the foremost importance.

Out and About

Sunrise/sunset: 09:12/ 13:51. Daylength: 4hr 38min

I’m sitting in my living room at three in the afternoon and it’s already dark outside, save for the streetlights on the bridge and along the shoreline across the water. The days are fast fading, but for now I am making the most of what daylight there is. It was wonderful to have a couple of days off at the beginning of the week and Charlie and I continued our exploration of local beaches and of Senja, the island that lies over the bridge from Finnsnes. The snow is coming and going, as you will see from the photos. Lots to see this week!

These photographs were taken on Sunday. This is one of our more regular haunts, though once the snow begins to lie, the track will become a ski-track. We won’t be able to walk along it until spring comes.

By Monday the snow was gone, and on Monday and Tuesday, we took Triar to different beaches, the first at Sørreisa (the site where you can light fires under shelter that I have written about before) and the next day on Senja near Vangsvik.

There were more fir trees as we walked down to the tiny beach at the southern end of Senja and it struck me that, twisted and stunted as they are, they remind me of bonsai trees. Not that they are anywhere near so small, but their growth is surely limited by the shallowness of the soil and the long, long winters.

I returned to work on Wednesday and was delighted to be invited out on a farm visit. Both Ammar and Thomas had compiled lists of possible farms to collect samples for the OK Program. The OK Program is an official project, carried out annually, where various samples are taken from different animals or herds to check for contamination. This can be in the form of heavy metals, which can be present in the soil in certain areas, antibiotics which might have entered the food chain, radioactivity, or infections such as MRSA or salmonella. Some of the materials are collected at the slaughterhouse, but we were looking for urine and milk samples. In the end, we visited four farms. One had no milk because the tanker had already collected it (and a herd sample was needed, rather than one from a single animal) and on another, there was no farmer to be found. But the other two were more productive. One had milk in the tank still. The other was the best for me. We had to collect a urine sample, and for that, we had to go and stand behind a row of cows in a byre and wait until one of the cows obliged. They were lovely cows – a little herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle that would have been equally at home in Scotland. They looked healthy and well fed and the farmer very generously let me take a couple of photos (including the sweet little cat at the top of the page).

And so I carried out my first farm visit in the north of Norway. Here’s hoping there will be many, many more!