Deer keeping with Dom: Summer at Knole
It's been very hot lately and we have already spotted newborn fawns taking their first shaky steps under the shade of the spreading chestnut trees. We are expecting around 200 fawns to be born during June and July and perhaps a few more in August.
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 usually much easier for the deer in the summer – they like the warmer weather and you can often see them basking and sleeping in the sun. We have seen a lot of deer at the front of the house lately, resting in the shade of the tower. We've had a prolonged period of hot weather this year though and the ground is very dry at the moment. Deer get all the hydration they need from their food so, while the hot weather continues, I am placing extra drinking troughs out in the parkland for them.
Although the deer may seem friendly, it is important to remember that they are wild animals. Please observe them from a safe distance and do not feed them when you are picnicking in the park. They receive all the food they need from the parkland and 'human food' can make them sick.
I don’t do a lot with the deer at this time of the year. I just keep my eye on them and make sure they are in good health and are getting the nutrition they need from the grass 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.
The deer are wild animals, seen at their best from a respectful distance. If you get too close, you will unsettle them. Please do not feed or pet them. The deer get all the food they need from the park grassland and from the Sackville family's Knole Estate Park and Deer Keeper.