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roe deer

A few days before my knee op I inadvertently found myself at the centre of drama taking place along one of our boundaries. I’ve never seen, heard or experienced anything similar before. No one to date can shed any light on the affair, not even a dear friend of mine, an elderly knowledgeable person who spends most of his spare time walking and stalking woods, meadows, moor and heath filming wildlife, especially deer. I’d love to know if you or anyone you know may have come across a similar incidence.

It all began at about 2.30 to 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon as I was going outside to do various jobs. I was pulling on my wellies when the most spine-chilling screams pierced the air from the direction of Dung Field. The dogs, instantly alert, ears pricked, eyes brightly-wide, adrenalin pumping at the expectation of chase, blood and gore.   Somehow managing to rein them in I began to walk in the direction of the blood-curdling shrieks. From experience I knew the sound was made by roe deer and my immediate thought was that a deer had become hung up in a fence and was being attacked, its twin or mother trying to protect it.

Walking up the remnant of our old green lane past Turkey Shed and the orchard the macabre noises proved too great a temptation for the Skye and Ness (generally paragons of ‘oh-look-how-good-I-am’ virtue in front of the puppy) who took off at the speed of light totally ignoring my stern commands. In a matter of seconds two already exhausted roe deer burst through the hedge alongside Dung Field in terrified panic –  Willow, no longer able to contain herself,  broke away from my side in hot pursuit (unfortunately I was leadless as I had been on my way out to do jobs around the yard, not walk dogs). One of the deer just managed to leap the fence into the orchard whilst the other stalled her jump and seemed on the point of collapse. There was no sign of either Skye or Ness. Willow, however, continued her pursuit. Too small and slight to bring down a deer, she nevertheless sensed her quarry weakening and so proceeded to dance round the creature with frenetic high-pitched yips, occasionally darting in and out with small nips. Horrified I bawled at her as I launched myself through the thick bramble, blackthorn, hawthorn and god-knows-what-else-hedge, tripped and stumbled over rusting barbed wire and sagging stock fencing to get to the pair. None of my admonishments, bellows or shouts had the slightest effect on Willow, turned frenzied hunter with her quarry.

The strange spectacle continued…the young doe, too worn out to run, still managed to put up a good fight by bucking, kicking and butting Willow as she circled and danced around her. The pair moved forward at a smart, if circuitous, pace through thicket, tangled woodland, ditches and streams with me in hot pursuit frantically trying to break through Willow’s total deafness to my commands. We must have travelled a couple of miles like this when eventually the exhausted deer collapsed in a deep-sided stream bordering Hannaborough Moor. My chance at last! I approached the doe, willing her to stay put; Willow suddenly became consciously aware of me too and alert to my boiling wrath at her behaviour. I managed to steal up on the deer and hold her whilst I gave her the quick once over. Apart from exhaustion and fear she was well covered, healthy, with no injuries that I could detect. Holding the deer still I managed to grasp and hold onto the quicksilver Willow who was given her the telling off of her life. (She’s now learnt, as all my dogs, chasing deer is a punishable offence.)

We walked home. Skye and Ness were sheepishly waiting for us on our return. That I thought was the end of the story, though why the deer screaming and why the pair’s exhaustion was still a puzzle. I put Willow into the back of the truck to let her reflect on her behaviour and turned to go into the house. Just as the screaming started up all over again. Putting the dogs into their house (I didn’t want the added complications of  irrepressible dogs now I had an idea of the situation) I set off once more in the direction of Dung Field…‘It must’ I thought ‘be the mother of the twins. And she must’ I decided ‘be hung up in a fence.’

As I walked I watched the ravens – if there was chance of a good supper so near their nesting site they would be defending it and true enough they were active and keen – seeing off a buzzard…but then they’re active at this time of year anyhow,  mating, nesting. I walked on; the screams were moving up and down, loud and faint, which was beginning to put paid to my deer-hung-in-fence theory.  As I approached the gate to Dung Field a large dog fox was trotting towards me oblivious for a minute or so to my presence…he darted into Raven’s Copse as soon as he clocked ‘human’.

Crossing the boundary into the next farm I saw Robert climbing over the fence

“I heard the screaming. I thought you must have been trying to release a deer.” He panted “I’ve just run my guts out!”

“No. Unfortunately I can’t find anything. Nothing. Nothing at all. I really have no idea what’s going on.” So I recounted the story and finishing off with the fox, the ravens’ activity and the sheep huddled together in a corner of the field. “I’m completely at a loss.” I said shaking my head.

We continued scouring the fields a bit longer before returning home, when once again another haunting scream floated over the darkening countryside.

What had occurred? There must have been three deer at least. A doe and her yearling twins perhaps? Why the distress screams, the exhaustion, the panic?

Have you any ideas?

I promise we'll never ever ever do that again....

Jo, from LittleFfarm Dairy, wrote this comment after reading the various posts about the injured deer. I thought it  a wonderful tale, poignant and thought provoking. I asked if she would mind if I posted it on my front page as I felt it was somewhat hidden as a comment and deserved to be read. She happily agreed. Thanks Jo!

I visited a Theravada (Forest Tradition) Buddhist Monastery near Bodh Gaya in India (where the Buddha was said to have attained enlightenment) a few years ago.   Whilst there a deer suddenly burst out from a thicket of trees at the edge of the forest, hotly pursued by an excited dog.  The monks watched impassively as we stared in horror at the inevitability that the dog would surely bring down the young deer….

…..and then, extraordinarily, just as it seemed the dog would make his move, the deer pirouetted abruptly and started chasing the dog!  The pair ran into the central compound of the Monastery around which a modest cluster of Kutis (living quarters) and a Meditation Hall were grouped, the only other sound the regular swish-swish-swish of a broom as a young novice deftly flicked dust from the warm courtyard floor, not even raising his eyes as the clatter of cloven hooves and the patter of paws puffed up fresh clouds of dust, deep in the meditation of his task.  The dog flopped to the floor, tongue lolling, and rolled onto his back.  The deer danced up for a second, pawed tentatively at the dog, and then flopped down companionably, beside his unlikely friend.

We were dumbfounded; the monks, mildly amused.  The monks radiated serenity, especially the Abbot who as we soon learned, was accompanied everywhere by the dog and the deer; themselves inseparable companions.  The Abbot explained this was a place where no living being need fear another; all was harmony.  Even the mosquitoes seemed subdued!  It certainly was an incredible, unforgettable place: an oasis of calm and compassion, deep in the quiet forest.

I often think of that beautiful young deer and his canine companion, seeing them as a beacon of hope, that nothing is impossible; and that true peace can exist.

When all around me seems turbulent and chaotic, I close my eyes and take myself back to that aura of peace; and all is well.’

jo sent me this photo of the Abbot with the deer...Jo say's the dog is in the background, but not, unfortunately in the photo. 'I just think' says Jo 'that this photo radiates such harmony, calmness and tranquility...'

Jo sent me this photo of the Abbot with the deer...Jo said the dog was in the background but not, unfortunately, in the photo. 'I just think' says Jo 'that this photo radiates such harmony, calmness and tranquility...'

Jo and her husband Tony left high profile careers in the RAF to pursue a dream. After many ups and downs they now successfully run a herd of dairy British Toggenburg goats and make wonderful ice cream. They have just been awarded a Great Taste Gold Award for their Lovespoon Honeycomb Gelato –  as Jo says ‘Not bad for their first year in business!’ To find out more about their struggles and successes follow LittleFfarm Dairy.

roe deer by Courbet

hunting roe deer by Courbet

I draped and fixed a blanket over the foot-well providing the deer with a dark confined space – this I hoped would keep him calm and quiet for the duration of the journey, which was about nine miles.

So I set off, leaving the men of the household looking to the heavens, shaking their heads and tutting. “Ah well, if that’s what she wants. Mad if you ask me.” muttered Olly.

Three miles down the road and the blanket erupted in an explosion with the deer jettisoning himself with force at the windscreen, the window, the whatever. With one arm trying desperately to restrain and calm him whilst the other attempted to bring the truck to a halt I was hugely relieved there wasn’t another vehicle in sight.  Once stopped I thought I might just as well turn back as it was far too dangerous to carry on. However I had to continue up into the village before I could turn. Soothing and calming the deer I settled him on the passenger seat and placed my hand on his head between his ears and emerging antlers and blow-me-down if he didn’t take a deep breath, relax entirely and fall asleep. Tentatively I pulled out on to the road expecting him to explode at any second, but he didn’t…so I took the decision to carry on to the vets.

They must have been looking out for me as no sooner had I turned into the vets than Sally and a couple of nurses piled out to greet the truck. Inching the door open I explained he remained calm only as long as my hand was on his head. Sally gave him the once over “I don’t know Paula. I really don’t. Let me go and get someone else for a second opinion.” She returned with Rupert and his son. They hummed and hahed. He could be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, no problem, but it was the crepitus and his breathing that was causing concern. We decided to give him a chance and called Debbie at the local wildlife sanctuary whose main expertise was looking after owls and small mammals, not deer.

Debbie arrived with her partner and the exchange was made. Sally turned to me “In all honesty, Paula, I don’t think he’ll make the night. What with the shock, the injuries, the travelling…” she tailed off.

“I know” I replied “but at least we’ve given it our best shot.”

“But given all that, it’s been just amazing to work on a live roe deer. He’s so beautiful. His muzzle, extraordinary, fine and very black! Really striking. Thanks for bringing him.”

“My pleasure!” I said somewhat ironically “We’ll keep in touch. Exchange news. And thanks Sally.” I drove off home.

He did survive the night and the following day he began eating! None was more surprised than Sally. For ten days he lived in a dark horse box, recovering from his wounds and regaining his strength. Debbie was careful not to disturb or visit him too often so he wouldn’t become familiarised with humans. After ten days we thought the time had come to release him. Unfortunately the day of his release coincided with the bringing in of our haylage bales so all was not quiet and peaceful on the farm.  I’d chosen Flower Field for his release – small, well bounded by thick hedges – inbetween the copse and the route he was using when attacked. I waited with camera for the moment the door of the horse box was opened…but it was all rather anti-climatic. He had to be lifted out and with that he scuttled into the brambled hedge bank and as far as I could see hunkered down deep in the undergrowth. No leaps to freedom there! I expected he would stay the day there possibly moving away to his territory at nightfall – or maybe he just wouldn’t survive.

Later that afternoon Jess and Theo were taking their last goodbye walk around the farm. They were leaving the following morning. Whilst walking in Dillings the heavens opened and they ran across to Ravens Copse for shelter. Unable to find a way in they walked a little way down the headland looking for a less brambly entrance when Jess saw two ears twitching in the long grass.  “I grasped Theo’s hand” she said “and put my fingers to his lips…very slowly we walked a little closer. He was facing away from us, but yes, it was the deer, resting up in the grass. We gave him a wide berth; we didn’t want to disturb him. But he knew we were there, his ears were semaphoring.”

So he had already made the half mile trek back to the edge of Ravens Copse, the place he was making for on the day of his accident. I’ve searched, of course, the hedges and banks around the copse and the copse itself for signs of his demise, but have found nothing…so perhaps he’s once again running wild and free.

the roe deer buck in the foot-well of the truck

injured roe deer buck in the foot-well of the truck - you can see a few of the puncture wounds on his neck

“It’s a wee deer” I said “a roe deer. It’s hurt. A bit. Quite a bit.” Theo continued to stare nonplussed. “We need to get Olly to bring the truck down, I think” the deer kicked violently and let out another of its horrendous screeches; I tottered, slipped-slithered and splashed in the muddy water maintaining an iron-like grip on the deer…calmly. Soaking wet, covered head-to-toe in mud and blood, I tried smiling serenely, reassuringly, at Theo who asked thoughtfully “Do you have a farm, nanu?”

“Yes, yes I do. Shall we call Olly together?” No sooner had the words left my mouth when there was an explosion through the bushes and Olly appeared “What the hell do you think you’re doing down there! I thought something awful had happened to you. Look! I’ve run down the lane and over the field in my flipflops.”

“Um, well. LOOK, a roe deer! It’s been injured by the dogs. I need the truck. Will you bring it down? Oh and I can’t get out. Can you help me? Please?”

“Christ sake mum, let it go.” He expostulated.

“ Can’t. It’s neck’s injured. It’s got no balance.  I think there could be damage to its windpipe. I need to check it over. Look could you somehow get me out of here?”

“Is nanu playing. Is she naughty?” asked Theo…Olly takes no notice, he’s furious “What are you going to do? Have a pet deer, play wildlife games? God! Just let it go, will you. It’ll either live or die. You’re just stressing it more, and you’ll definitely kill it!”

“No” I said firmly “I need to check it out, treat its wounds. Phone the RSPCA, vets…I don’t know. I need to get out. Please. Can you help me?” He relented and somehow we managed, me holding onto the deer with grim death, Olly anchoring himself on a tree and gripping me with grim death.  Pulling, heaving and slipping he managed to lever me with the deer in my arms up the steep tangled, muddy bank. Olly marched off to get the truck, muttering to himself, not a happy chap.

I sat on a tree stump clasping the deer – he was calmer now, with only occasional kicks and struggles. I could begin to assess the damage better. Theo, standing back, was observing everything with solemn seriousness.

“Wig-worm, do you want to look at him. He’s so pretty. Look at his nose. Look at his eyes. You can touch him if you want.”

He inched closer “You have a farm, nanu, and a truck?” he asked.

“Yeh, and now a deer.”

“A deer? What’s a deer?”

“Different from a cow. Different from a sheep. A bit more like a goat, but it’s wild.” I explained. Theo inched forward to touch it “Very slowly, very, very slowly and gently” I soothed “Not his face. Come slowly from behind. Yes, yes, that’s it.”

Theo put out a fat hand and tentatively touched the deer’s haunch “That blood, nanu?” he whispered.

“Yes, he’s been hurt. But we’ll make him better. Would you like to help?” In the background I heard Olly furiously revving up the truck. “We’ll take him up to the farm and then maybe to the doctor?”

“Nanu?”

“Yes?”

“I’m concentrating. Be quiet.” He whispered, gently stroking the deer.

And so Joes found us. “Oh man! Look at that!” he exclaimed “Hey Squiggs, you okay? Man! I wish I had a camera!” he said taking us in; dishevelled muddied-bloodied mother holding petrified deer which his son was tentatively touching “What happened?”

I began the explanation as Olly roared into the field with the truck. “Squiggs, you coming back with me?” asked Joes

“No! I’m going with nanu.”

“It’s okay, It’s fine. He’ll be fine.” I said over my shoulder to Joe as I carried the deer towards the truck “Hey Squiggs, come with me. Come on. Look, you sit here.” I said indicating the dickie-seat behind the passenger’s.

“That’ll be good, nanu. That’ll be ‘portant. I’m helping you.” He replied as he scrambled on board.

With Olly’s irritable help I managed to ease myself into the passenger seat whilst still maintaining my original grasp on the deer.

“You’re mad, mum.” Olly threw at me as he closed the door and we started off across the field back to the farmhouse “You’re crazy.”

Arriving back at the farm I was able to extricate myself from the deer and settle him on a towel in the foot-well. He was young, last year’s kid, most probably he’d just been seen off by his mother to make room for this year’s offspring which would account for the dogs’ success in hunting him. Apart from the deep puncture wounds and a gash, which I cleaned, he was okay, albeit in shock.  No broken bones, healthy before this encounter, carrying enough weight.  But his breathing worried me, and he had air bubbles under the skin (subcutaneous emphysema or crepitus) which could mean his thorax had been punctured. Would he survive? I wasn’t sure, shock alone can kill. But I wanted to give him a chance.  I phoned my vets.

Sally said to bring him over. There wasn’t a RSPCA centre but there was a Wildlife Sanctuary which had started up locally. “Anyhow” said Sally “I’ve never had the chance to handle and study a live roe deer. Will you manage?”

“I think so.”…..

calmer, though in shock and ready to drive to the vets

calmer, though in shock and ready to drive to the vets

And when we landed back at the farm? We collapsed, gasping deep breaths of apparent tranquil Englishness greenness; an illusion nevertheless! In fact the countryside thrummed with industry as every farm for miles around unwaveringly and single-mindedly mowed, turned, raked and baled their forage fields in a race to make silage, haylage or hay. Unsurprisingly this year everybody was determined to beat the weather!

I was overcome. My neighbours and contractors had done me proud. Knowing my anxiety at being away they’d come in over the weekend and despite being under huge pressure themselves had worked unrelentingly to finish my harvest!  I couldn’t find the words to thank them enough. What wonderful neighbours. This was just the perfect homecoming; hundreds of bales of quality June haylage for the stock this winter and the opportunity to take a second-cut of ‘rocket-fuel’ as we’ve nicknamed it (the second-cut in organic systems is bursting with clovers, proteins and sugars; soft and palatable it’s perfect for weaning calves and freshly calved cows).

I was ecstatic! All that was left to do was to carry in the bales. This was something that could happily wait a few days.

The next day I was off to admire the fields and bales with Theo, who was ever so serious and involved in all this real ‘portant farming stuff, when there was a kafuffle in the hedge alongside the lane “Oh! What’s that Nanu?” asked Theo

“I expect it’s just the dogs after rabbits…or” as there was a sudden increase in the excitement “…it could just be a fox.”

“A fox, Nanu? A fox? In there?” Asked Squiggs aka Theo.

“Umm yes. Ness and Skye are pretty chasey after foxes. It’s because they are sheepdogs, you see.”

“Oh” said Squiggs thoughtfully “Nanu, are you sure?”

“Not sure, sure. But…” I trailed off – the dogs had started up an excited hunting yelp along the side of Rushy field. Followed by one of the most chilling screams I’d ever heard.

“Run Wiggle, run, run, run with me” I got hold of his hand and ran as fast as his legs would carry him along the lane. We reached Rushy Field gate. The screaming and yelping had reached a crescendo.

“Listen Wiggs – this is very very ‘portant. I have to run as fast as I can over there and I need you to follow me, really follow me. You mustn’t go away. Please. You must follow.” I bent down to him and put my hands on his shoulders “You’ll do that won’t you. Cos you’re my best boy?”

He looked a bit askance. I could see him sizing up the alternatives. The noise was frightening. But it could be exciting. He could go on up the lane to the bales. But maybe there was something in following Nanu. Looking at me solemnly, he nodded.

“Good boy! I’m off now.” And with that I pelted across the field whistling and calling to the dogs having no idea what I would find. Breathless I reached the other side and thank god saw Theo following. Ness suddenly erupted out of the hedge, her mouth wide and frothing, tongue lolling, wet, muddy and panting as if her heart would pop. She flung herself at my feet. Skye, just as run-out emerged higher up the field. I was about to turn and call out to Theo that all was well when I heard a loud splashing in the stream.

“Oh no” I thought and fought my way through a tangle of bramble, thorny blackthorn and low slung willow branches “Oh no” I muttered as I pushed through to the edge of the steep stream bank. A bloodcurdling scream filled my ears and there was a young roe deer buck, desperately scrabbling to get out of a deep pool of muddy water. His eyes enormous with fear, his nostrils dilated, breath jerked out of him in jagged rasping wheezes. He caught a glimpse of me uttered a spine-chilling screech, floundered and sunk under the muddy, blood-stained water.

I jumped in, scrambled to get hold of him, stop him from going under. Terrified and gasping for breath he screamed and kicked at me frantically with fear-strengthened legs and hooves as somehow I managed to put my arms around him. Then I saw. His neck, lolling helplessly to one side, puncture wounds stippling its circumference trickling trails of watery blood. An open gash along one shoulder. He screamed again and quietened momentarily in my arms.

“Nanu, nanu? What you doing?” I looked up and there was a grimy, scratched Theo looking down on us and not at all sure if this was frighteningly serious or a kind of weird Nanu game. “Nanu what is you?” he asked puzzled.

Simultaneously I heard Olly calling “MUM, MUM? What’s happened? Where are you? I’m coming!” and in the background Joe shouting “Theo, Theo! Mum is Theo with you. Mum! Theo! Will you answer? Answer me!”….

I had to show you these photos.

new born roe deer fawn in Lost Meadow

new born roe deer fawn in Lost Meadow

Walking with the dogs an hour or so ago we were coming up through some woodland at the edge of  the moor into what I call the Lost Field (it’s a small hidden meadow surrounded by woodland, silently quiet and heaving with wildlife) when we surprised a roe deer. I dropped the dogs instantly. As she bounded off I noticed liquid spraying out from her behind.

tiny, still damp and perfect

tiny, still damp and perfect

“What on earth…?” I thought. Then it dawned, we’d unfortunately disturbed her in the middle of dropping her fawn.

Gathering the dogs close to me and keeping as silent and as unobtrusive as we could we walked quickly across the field but there right in our path was the newborn fawn; tiny, minute and damply perfect. Hissing at the dogs to lie down and not move a muscle I quickly took some photos. Shaking in haste I thought the pictures would be useless. But they are OK.

I hope the doe returns

can you see its tiny pink tongue?

I hope with all my heart the doe finds the courage to return.  I did my best not to leave too much of my scent nearby, and we left without disturbing her fawn.

a blaze of hawthorn berries glow in the sunlight

a blaze of hawthorn berries glow in the sunlight

Two days…yes, two whole days of sun; gorgeous, glorious sun!
We’re smiling, grinning; no, not powerful enough – beaming? Beaming, intoxicated, euphoric and possibly a little silly.

I’ve at last sheared the lambs. Cows and calves went back out this afternoon onto the Rutleighs which are just about dry enough for them not to poach and damage. With any luck we could get onto the land by next week and do some much needed topping. Who knows – perhaps we’ll even manage to get our straw? I could be getting a wee bit carried away here.

I sat out on the bench, ate my lunch and felt too hot! I sweated walking up the hill with the cattle; my overalls clung in damp, sticky patches, my feet were hot-throb swollen in their thick socks and wellies and the nape of my neck clammy with perspiration.   Whining insects bizzed, bit, fed and sipped the salt on my skin. My eyes aren’t coping with the brightness either; they’re screwed up, squinty and watery. But I don’t mind. Oh, I so don’t mind!

a hornet drinking from an oak sap run

a hornet drinking from an oak sap run

The air has become alive with dancing butterflies, bees, hornets, wasps, dragonflies, midges, mozzies and a hundred more flying fluttering insects in a last ditch attempt to capture their fast disappearing season of life. And the countryside also thrums with frantic hum and drone of tractors, mowers, combines and balers in a concentrated endeavour to save flattened crops and grass.

this is ared deer hind with her yearling white albino calf and this years brown calf

this is a red deer hind with her female yearling white albino calf and this year's brown calf

Amid this background of frenetic activity groups of deer, some large, some small have appeared in the vast acres of uncut vegetation to graze and bask silently and peacefully in the dappled sunlight.

i've watched her and followed her progress for some time. She seems to prefer being solitary, with just her offspring for company.

I've followed her progress for sometime - she prefers a solitary existence with her offspring for company; unusual for red deer

You may remember Robert joked that Gaia was responding to global warming by making it rain more, both to cool the earth and lower the sea.  Well, maybe not.  But this week’s New Scientist reports that researchers in Switzerland have found that rainfall has been increasing by 3.5mm per year across the world.  The heat trapped by greenhouse gases has fuelled an increase in evaporation leading to more rain.  That’s not to say that everywhere has become wetter- wind has carried clouds away from some unfortunate places which have become drier, making others even wetter.  On the record of the last two years, Locks Park is definitely one such wetter place!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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