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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....

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I haven’t dropped off the edge. I’m not shirking or dodging or avoiding. I’m not even suffering from virtual overload or writer’s block (in fact I’ve been itching to write). What I have been doing these last few weeks is getting ready; preparing.

This Wednesday I’m having my knee operated on – anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction – and I’ll be out of action…for some time…so they say. In my life there’s never, ever going to be a good time to be ‘legless’.

Over the last few weeks I’ve revelled, enjoyed, embraced, slogged, worn-out and appreciated the extraordinary aptitude and freedom (normally taken entirely for granted) my two legginess gives me. From the domesticity of making marmalade…

for the marmalade addict in our household...70 jars! (and I must be co-dependant)

…to the exhaustion of hedge laying;

Finished! the massive double hedge between Square Field and Out Across

in the summer we'll clean out the ditch and cast up the bank

from mucking out the cow palace…

cows in temporary accommodation during mucking out of the Cow Palace in preparation for calving

Cow Palace...clean, ready and waiting for the cows return

…and crutching the ewes prior to lambing to walking the dogs;

alert and ready

'Can you see a movement over there...?'

…driving the car (NO driving for SIX weeks!), handling the bobcat and the tractor…bringing in wood…gardening…doing housework…the cooking…going to work…! Even finding the first dump of frog spawn…

First frog spawn found 4th february

First frog spawn found 4th february

…and seeing pussy willow bursting its buds at the top of our lane..

Pussy willow peeping out...

I expect you’ll be hearing a lot from me in the coming weeks of my enforced incarceration!

Willow - taken by a friend on an escape-the-work visit to the coast.

Willow - taken by a friend on an escape-the-work visit to the coast.

Ahh – Willow. Willow-willow-willow!

Recently several of you have asked about Willow and how she is. Is she still as gorgeous? Is she still as wonderful?

Well, yes actually, she is and we are still quite smitten!

As you’ve probably gathered, even if you’re fairly new to my blog, I have a large rambling family and have looked after animals – humans (of all ages), livestock and other sundry organic life forms – for many, many years. There’s not an inkling of a doubt that I’m extraordinarily passionate about their mental and physical welfare but I’m not given to sentimentality or anthropomorphism.

My dogs, whether working or not, have always been brought up with clear, defined boundaries. They are treated fairly but firmly and they’ve thrived. Then came Willow.

I believed the ‘ahhh’ factor would diminish as she got older; the cuddle factor would wane as she became more robust; and the indulgence shown to her would decrease in proportion to the number of socks and loo-rolls she ruined. But no, her charm still has us in its thrall.

Maybe it was my age? The lack of small needy creatures? Age possibly, needy creature…nah. But then I realised that Olly was just as bad. So I ruled out age too. And my stiff-upper-lip-don’t-smile-we’re-english husband is similarly affected; I’ve become used to hearing him muttering sweet nothings to her as they lounge on the sofa together.

My other dogs? Jealous? No. Tolerant to the point of stupidity ‘Tick her off’ I admonish ‘if you’ve had enough tell her. Let her know!’ But they give me woefully long-suffering looks and let her continue to harass them.

Strangers pass her by without a glance until something compels them to look and then they’re captivated ‘But she’s sooo sweeet’ they coo ‘What is she?’

‘Oh, a lucher, just a lurcher.’ I say as I watch them melt.

‘Is she? Really? But she’s…oh, just…’ and they trail off with more cochie-couchie-cooing.

‘Yes, a lappet (lap-whippet), a pocket lurcher…’ I reply, tongue in cheek (you see she’s forgotten to grow).

‘Of course’ they murmur without looking up ‘Of course’.

It’s quite hopeless really. Robert’s naturally researched the condition and has reached the conclusion that she oozes oxytocins– the cuddle factor (it just can’t be us – going soft in the head).

Willow is very okay!

Willow

Willow

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.

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!”….

The weather is all too seducing. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl playing truant as I abandon  indoor chores.

“I have to go and pick up some bales from the top.” I call out to anyone listening as I guiltily slide out of the office donning wellies and sunglasses (the eyes haven’t recovered from troglodyte-sight following the last couple of years’ rain). On the bobcat I change the scraper for the grab and trundle off up the lane, dogs in tow. The snail pace of the bobcat feels just fine today, and despite the engine noise the vibrant gloriousness of the farm can be hungrily appreciated.

Mission accomplished all too quickly so I reluctantly return to my office and try to concentrate. I get sidetracked by twitter, I get sidetracked by chatty emails, I get sidetracked by the phone. I just get side tracked by anything.

Robert calls up the stairs “Want to come on a walk?”

to help new puppies aclimatise themselves with the farm and surrounds whilst keeping safe, I carry them in a rucksack in between letting them explore. Willow has taken to this means of transport like a duck to water

to help a new puppy acclimatise themselves with the farm and surrounds whilst keeping safe, I carry them in a rucksack in between letting them explore. Willow has taken to this means of transport like a duck to water

“I’m trying to work.” I shout back “Trying…” And it’s definitely trying “So yes please…hold on a second and I’m there.” I give up all pretence, close down the computer, grab socks, rucksack, puppy and dogs and I’m off.

Robert’s day time interest-of-the moment is hoverflies. Having been on his course he’s all fired up. So with butterfly net, collection jars and an insect pooter – a thing to suck up insects into a collection tube (and I thought he was talking about a computer…) – he scours the hedge and wood line of all accessible fields and moorland; this wonderful weather has been perfect for insects, especially hoverflies.

We decide on Scadsbury, an hourglass culm grassland field bordered by ancient woodland leading down to the River Lew.  Primroses dotted among the soft pink-mauves and deep purple-blues of violets spill out of the woodland into the scalloped edges of the field; nature’s own subtle embroidery.   Dancing a jig at the very tops of pussy willow trees, males of the beautiful moth Adela cuprella seek to attract mates.  This small moth, with its metallic bronze and copper wings, and flowing white antennae many times the body length, has never before been recorded in Devon but it’s common this year.  The book says it comes and goes, some years being very seldom seen if at all, and others in some numbers.

the first bluebell flowers in Scadsbury Woods

the first bluebell flowers in Scadsbury Woods

Down by the river clumps of pungent wild garlic are linked through a green carpet of bluebells teetering on the edge of flowering.

after much newness and excitement...

after much newness and excitement...

Robert finds his hoverflies while the dogs and I introduce Willow to woodlands, boggy grassland and rivers. She’s entranced while we (yes, even Skye and Ness, though they have tried their best to ignore her) are enchanted by her!

...Willow falls sound asleep!

...Willow falls sound asleep!

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.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

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