Mar 24 2004

Venison

100_00031

“Marconi is wireless now” said Richard obliquely as we trundled across a muddy field in his jeep leaving a trail of feed on the ground for the hinds. “Yes?“ I replied waiting. “He got high tensile wire wrapped round his antlers a while ago,” he continued. “I couldn’t get anywhere near him for days. Then suddenly there he was standing quietly beside me waiting for me to release the wire with my huge wire cutters. It made quite a bang when I cut it but he just stood patiently till I’d finished. I thought it might make him easier to approach but no, once more he won’t come near me. But he’s wireless now…..”

100_00091
Marconi looks for the gap
The jeep has been ingeniously adapted so that by opening the driver’s door and pulling on a piece of bailer twine the feed is released down a shoot from a tea chest where the back seat should be! The hinds had seen us coming and raced past forming a neat crocodile behind us as they reached the food. Marconi trotted up and down the fence forgetting, as he does every day apparently, where the gap is. This makes him habitually late for tea.

100_0007
Waiting for tea
Richard and Leslie have been here four years. Richard grew up on a farm being chased from the house and knocked over by boisterous tame lambs as a small child. He went on to intensively farm beef, finished in twelve months for the supermarkets. Next came intensive pigs and Dorset sheep lambing three times in two years. All that is behind him now. He says he “ harvests” the deer rather than farms them.

100_00061

Beyond the gentle feeding hinds stretches two hundred acres of natural farmland. In the distance I can see the reed meadows which give such good cover for the deer and which are cut once a year now. In the past the reeds were cut more often for thatching. Below these meadows is the wet woodland. Here the brook rises which feeds a wildlife habitat on its way down to the sea.

The farm is part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme now. No chemicals are used anywhere, no fertilizers and even farmyard manure is not allowed back on the fields. Richard and Leslie let the red deer live as naturally as possible in two large groups with a stag in each group. Tall wire fences keep the animals from jumping onto the road and separate the stags who fight fiercely for dominance from August to March. Antlers can weigh as much as 5 kilos each. Around about now they loose them and are very vulnerable while the new ones grow. In fact the hinds bully them a bit while they’re in velvet, knowing it’s safe.

The hinds calve around May/June after a gestation period of about five months, but even this Richard says is dependant on the weather. Leslie and Richard have never had to help a hind and have never lost one during calving. The culling is done by a specialist marksman who picks out animals of eighteen to twenty-four months old from the herd. The carcasses go at once to the local abattoir and then are returned to the farm. Here they are hung in the farm butchery for seven to fourteen days. Venison in the wild is often hung for longer to tenderise the meat of older animals. Richard and Leslie prepare all the meat and sausages themselves for specialist shops and Farmers Markets.

I met some charming pigs too but more of them another time.

No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply