Deer keeping with Dom: Summer at Knole
The main thing happening right now is the birth of our fawns. We are expecting around 200 to be born during June and July and a few more in August. Our Sika and Fallow deer don’t tend to have multiple births although we did have one set of Sika twins last year.
I have never seen one of our herd give birth – they tend to take themselves off and look for a bit of cover, although we did have a fawn born right in front of the house a few years ago. The deer are very quiet during labour, which is a defence mechanism so they don’t alert predators who may hurt their offspring. A newborn fawn that is weak on its feet is an easy target.
Newborns are very cute but they should never be touched. When they are first born the mother will leave them hidden in the bracken and go off and find food for herself but she will always return. It is important for our visitors to understand that the fawns are not abandoned.
" If visitors see a fawn they should simply leave it be. If somebody touches it or picks it up it will have a different scent and the mother will not recognise that fawn as her own and she will abandon it. Touching a fawn is akin to signing its death certificate."
The fawns are normally walking within a few hours of being born. They rely on milk from their mother for the first few months but are usually weaned by Christmas. We should always remember that a doe knows how to look after its fawn a lot better than we do. If it needs anything it will make distress calls and its mother will come back.
The best time to see the fawns is at dawn or dusk – visitors can hear lots of bleating which is just their way of communicating.
Even after they are weaned they will stay in family groups because they are herding animals. During the rut in September and October the fawns will be at their mother's feet, part of the crowd. Post rut you tend to get buck groups and the does and fawns will go off and spend winter together.
The deer are into their summer coats now, which are not as thick and much prettier to look at. A lot of the deer lose their spots with their winter coats but get them back in summer.
The antlers were all cast during May and June and we have some good new antler growth coming through. We are looking for nice big antlers, which are a sign of good genetics. If there is a lot of inbreeding going on it shows in the growth.
Life is a lot easier for the deer in the summer – they like the warmer weather and you can often see them basking and sleeping in the sun. The deer particularly dislike the wind because they can’t use their sense of smell to locate danger. In really windy conditions they will find a high point and group together in a big herd so that they can see any potential hazards.
At this time of the year I don’t do a lot with the deer. I just keep my eye on them and make sure they are in good health. They are getting all their nutrition from the grass in the park or by jumping up and pulling buds and fresh growth from the trees.
Summer is my busiest time in the parkland though. I am busy breaking up the bracken and for the last six weeks I have been having a vendetta against ragwort which is all over the park.
We are also using the bracken rollers to keep the bracken down. We are going to try and clear the area alongside St Julian’s Road – there is a lot of bracken there hiding some lovely parkland with beautiful big old trees. If we can turn that back into grass it will be gorgeous.