Le Chevreuil, The Roe Deer
The president of the hunting association recently gave us a haunch of venison. The left hind leg of the 'biche' or 'chevrette' (doe) in the photo walking across our land, to glean our fallen plums might well have been that very same haunch. "Ugh", I hear the cries of many British readers. But spare a moment to consider the relationship of Man and Beast. In the fourteenth century after the Hundred Years War and the ravages of the Black Death, when the countryside in this region was depopulated, the increase in the deer and boar was a serious problem. The recolonisation of the decayed farmlands was hampered by their numbers. Even the abundant wolves could not keep the populations down. Yet, by 1907- that recently indeed, it is written [Armand Viré] that the chevreuil is unknown in the Department of the Lot. 'The clearances and the uncontrolled hunting has brought about their extinction'. But now, today, we often see several together on our pasture. Probably the fields and woods could tolerate a few more, but if they were unchecked, farming would be impossible. That our neighbours enjoy their 'sport' and also at the same time need to farm, enables us to enjoy a balance between the game and farming. If the game were to be eliminated then the woods which are their lairs might also disappear, and be replaced by fields and houses.
The deer in summer are a rich red brown, which gives way to a dull brown in winter. The males (le brocard) grow small antlers which are in fighting condition in May. At that time the bucks seek out the females and will chase them in circles around a stump making obvious paths, sometimes in a figure 8. This is the rut - (Fr. le rut - pronounce the 't'). If aroused the bucks bark, sharply and singly, a noise which, as I know, is as frightening as if the Hound of the Baskervilles were at your heels. They will mark their territory with scent from glands near the eyes and scrape at branches. After mating in July the embryos remain unattached and in suspension in the womb and do not implant in the uterus until December. It is unfortunate that deer shot in the autumn are likely to be in a sense pregnant with non-implanted embryos, and their fawns (chevrillards) will be five months old. From December the embryos grow and the biches will give birth in May the next year. This curious reproduction is contrasted with other deer species where such delayed implantation does not occur. In over 75% of births there are twins. The young fawns (faon) hide in the undergrowth singly and the mothers visit them several times a day to suckle. Most do not survive their first winter. Even so, if one fawn survives out of 10, the population will increase. If they live to March, they will stay with their mothers till the next birth. The bucks drop their antlers in November or so and then begin a regrowth. Sometimes they will mate again with a virgin doe in December and gestation will then begin at once.
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