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New office . . . Dougall McLachlan has settled into Veterinary Centre Waimate's new premises after 41 years in its old building. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

Dougall McLachlan has seen a few changes in his career – which is hardly surprising, after 41 years.

The 63-year-old recently moved premises for the first time since he became a Waimate vet in 1977.

The Leeston lad had just finished veterinary studies at Massey University when he landed a job at the Waimate Farmers Veterinary Club.

There were only two vets at the practice. The other one was Lindsay McKnight, regarded as the senior but just three years older than Mr McLachlan.

Sheep and beef farms dominated the workload.

“There were no deer farms. We had no lectures or education with regard to deer,” Mr McLachlan said.

As different types of farming became popular, he learned as he went. Some of the fads he saw off were mohair goats, ostriches, fitches (which he dubbed “posh stoats”) and rabbits. Deer and alpacas have stayed the distance.

In the early 1980s, every vet practice was under pressure to breed up livestock through embryo transfers – another new skill to acquire.

“Everybody appreciated the fact we were all still learning. Perhaps expectations were not as high as they are now.

“There were no computers or cellphones. We had radio telephones. We were on the same frequency as the St John ambulance service and the fire service, as well as 40 farmers and lots of businesses.”

The vets tended pets as well as farm animals. Mr McLachlan taught himself small-animal orthopaedics, taking satisfaction in “rebuilding broken dogs”.

“We were jacks of all trades and masters of some.

“I’m a No8 wire bloke. I can think things out laterally and problem-solve.”

Border dyke irrigation in the Morven-Glenavy scheme revolutionised coastal farming, Mr McLachlan said. Landowners could grow enough grass to feed more sheep initially, then increased water volumes allowed for dairy cows.

There were about 6000 cows in the district when Mr McLachlan arrived, half a dozen herds providing town-supply milk.

Now, the dairy sector accounted for about 60% of the workload for the vet practice, which now had eight vets.

It had become Waimate Vet Services in 1989, then amalgamated with Oamaru Veterinary Services in 2007.

Mr McLachlan, who has dropped back to four days a week, said his job was “hugely different” from when he started. It entailed a lot more preventive work and planning and record-keeping were to the fore.

He still likes to talk to farmers about the old days, and enjoys nurturing and mentoring new vets.

“I’m the oldest in this practice by 20 years but it doesn’t stop me getting together with them socially.”

Five of the vets took part in the Waimate Theatre Company’s Heavens Aboveshow, which wound up last weekend. They performed as violinists, bagpipers and singers, and one was a choreographer.

“It was good fun. That spills over into the workplace, that social enjoyment.”

Mr McLachlan is an accomplished singer and bagpiper. He was singled out as a potential solo vocalist during his school days at St Andrew’s College and was snaffled up eagerly by the Waimate Highland Pipe Band as soon as he arrived in the town.

Playing many sports and having his musical interests helped to integrate him into the community. Marrying a local woman, Kristine Bleeker, made an even stronger connection.

Mr McLachlan played the bagpipes at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2003 with the City of Dunedin band and has also performed in Switzerland, at Windsor Castle, and in Russia.

His son played alongside him in Switzerland and in Wellington when it hosted the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

He has also sung lead roles in Les Miserables in Timaru and Oamaru.

“It’s more rewarding performing in front of people you know,” he said.